Help and Advice

How to write the perfect CV

A good CV is vital – it’s what will get you through to the interview.

There is no single solution or template though – you’ll need to tailor it to each sector, emphasising different sections of your CV depending on what is required. Your CV should be easy to understand and in a clear, tidy format – the reader should be able to easily determine whether you’re appropriate for the role.

Things to think about as you’re writing:

Use the right tone: Be confident, but not arrogant – give details about your relevant successes and why and how you’ve achieved them. Don’t overstate without substance. Don’t use buzzwords or jargon like “highly-motivated” or “team-player” – they are overused. Stand out by giving hard evidence that will speak for itself, and don’t ramble.

Be positive: Steer clear of being negative about anything – turn things around to be positive. Present challenges which you overcame. Use words like ‘persuaded’, ‘delivered’ instead of ‘tried’, ‘argued’, etc. Any negative experiences should be referred to as opportunities for personal development, and that the lessons have been applied since.

Be dynamic and assertive: Give them the facts and figures, eg “consistent record for increasing sales” is improved by saying “Increased annual sales by x%”. Be proud of what you’ve achieved, using words like “implemented” and “exceeded” to get your point made. If you “generated £5,000 new business per week” then say that’s what you did. This works for your abilities as well. If you know you have skills, then say so.

Tailor it: Match your CV to the job you’re applying for. Move sections around depending on relevance, emphasise different aspects, use keywords. Your descriptions may need adjustment, depending on the role or sector. The person reading the CV may not know all the technical details about the role, but will be looking at particular details. For example a marketing manager looking for a graphic designer may not know the ins and outs of Adobe’s Creative Suite Products, but they’re likely to pick up on poor spelling and typos, and that may affect their decision about you.

What should I include on my CV?

Personal Details: Include your name, email, contact phone number and address, clearly positioned at the top of your CV.

Optional short personal statement: If you want to do this, use it to tell the employer about your suitability for the job. Be enthusiastic about the role and company.

Work Experience: Any work experience in the field you are applying for, the most recent first, including job title, time in the role, responsibilities and organisation name, in reverse chronological order.

Achievements: List any relevant skills and achievements from previous jobs and give examples of how these would help in the new role.

Education: List formal qualifications and any training and development you’ve had, in reverse chronological order. Include any you’ve done independently or during previous employment.

Hobbies and Interests: Include these if they are relevant to the role.

Additional Information: If you are having a career change or have any gaps in career history, include reasons as required.

How to present your CV

Keep it well laid out and looking professional – it’s your first impression. Make sure it can be read quickly, ideally no more than two sides of A4, using a clear professional font. It should be laid out in a logical order, good use of spacing and clear headings (work experience, achievements, etc). Ask a friend to proof read it for you before you send it anywhere. Avoid those typing mistakes.

Review it

It’s good practice to review and refine your CV every so often. As you change in life, you may write differently. Keep checking it – every time you change jobs, or are sending it out somewhere.

Next steps in your career

If you have ambitions for your career, you’ll need to create a plan to help you get there. It will help you focus on what you need to do to progress. You will need to give yourself time to plan and consider the details. Think about what you can do already, what you want to do and what else you need to learn.

Look at the roles you’ll need to do to get to where you want to be. What skills and experience do you need to get each of those roles? What educational courses are available either within those roles, or through academic bodies?

Work through a plan outlining the details and timescales of the roles and any courses you’ll need to undertake to achieve your goals. Don’t forget to include financial details of courses you want to undertake, in case they aren’t going to be funded by an employer. Work out a savings plan to pay for them yourself if necessary. Use the points below to help you think about what you want to achieve, and the steps you need to take to get there.

First jobs or career changes

There are a number of things you need to think about when you’re looking for your first job or wanting to change career. Think about your strengths, values, interests and ambitions. What is your chosen job really like? Find out as much as you can about it and decide whether it’s the right job for you.

Are you ready to change career?

Think it through carefully before you make any decisions. Ask yourself the following set of questions before you decide. Do you want a new role within the same company, a new employer, or a complete change? How satisfied are you with your career? Have you enjoyed/achieved/been promoted within your current career? What’s making you think of a change?

Do you enjoy your current job?

If not, have you considered moving within the company, or to a different company all together? If you think it’s what you’re doing, rather than where you’re doing it, you might need to change what you do. If you decide you want that change, and need to re-train, think about any financial commitments you have and factor that in to any plans. Courses can be taken out of working times or some are available online or remotely.

Are you motivated by your colleagues?

Are any problems personality clashes individuals, the workplace culture, or the job itself? If it’s not the people, consider a different role, either within the company or elsewhere.

Do you have a good work-life balance?

Some employers allow employees to spend time working from home, so that’s worth investigating.

Changing your career

If you do decide that a career change is right for you, here’s a list of things to consider along the way:

Location

Are there opportunities near where you live? If not, are you prepared to relocate? Consider any implications to family members.

Salary

How important is the salary to you? You may have to decide between something you love versus more pay.

Time commitment

Changing your career is likely to use up a lot of spare time, unless you’re experienced or qualified enough to make the change straight away. Consider how this will affect family members.

The job market

What does it take to get the job you want? Are you prepared to put the hours in? Some careers demand a lot of unpaid hours before you get very far. Make sure you prepare alternatives in case your first choices don’t work out.

Career progression

How do you progress within your new career? What training opportunities are there?

Working conditions

Consider what the new job would be like each day. Does the new working environment sound like something you’d be happy working in?

What’s important to you in a job?

Make a list of things that are important to you – separate them into essential and preferable.

Which qualifications do you need?

Look at the job profiles within the career you want to get a good idea of the qualifications you’ll need.

Plan your finances

Work out whether you can afford to make this change. What do you and your family need to do differently? Do you need to sacrifice anything?

Answering common interview questions

Preparation is vital to success at an interview. If you don’t prepare, it can knock your confidence and make you stumble.

Here are some example questions and ideas how to answer them:

Tell me about yourself.

This is to give the interviewer more information about you, but without giving them your life history. Keep it short, only a few minutes long. Cover education, interest in the field, work history and experience, rather than personal details.

What are your strengths?

Tell them what work-related strengths you have that will help you succeed and give examples of where you have put them into action.

What are your weaknesses?

We all have weaknesses or areas for improvement – be honest here. Take a weakness and then give a practical example of how you’re addressing that weakness, turning it into a strength.

Why should you get this job?

This is your chance to demonstrate why you want the job and why they should hire you. Position yourself as a perfect fit for the company, and ideal for the role. Use examples where you’ve achieved something in the past that could help with a current issue the company has.

What are your salary expectations?

Give a broad salary range, and make sure you’ve done your industry salary check research beforehand – go too high and they won’t call you back – but don’t go too low either.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Interviewers ask this to find out if you’ve thought about the future, ambition and to check that it isn’t a stop gap job. Tailor your answer to the organisation and the position. If a junior role, say you want to progress to a senior role, if a senior role, describe progress moving the company forward and how you could help do that. Use your strengths.

Why are you leaving your current position/Why did you leave your previous position?

Don’t lie or criticise your employer. Prepare something positive around your goals, and readiness for a new role. Emphasise benefits to the employer if you can. If you can’t think of anything else, no or limited opportunities for career progression is a good answer.

Why is there a gap in your work history?

Try to be honest here. If you were made redundant, had personal reasons, were looking after children, then say so. If you did anything during those gaps that could be used as a strength, then highlight them. If you had a break while you were looking for a new career direction, then that’s fine too.

What do you know about this company and why do you want to work here?

Make sure you do some research, be prepared, and show you’re interested in the company and the job. Mention any career goals and highlight anything in the job description that would help achieve them.

Why did you apply for this position?

This is your opportunity to show them again that you want to work for that company in that role. What do you know about the company, their values, their goals? Use that and the job description to show them you’re the right person for that role.

What’s your dream job?

Be honest, but realistic. Don’t say the job you’re applying for or something you’d be unable to get or in a different field. Focus instead on the environment of a job, for example, a friendly workplace where the role is exciting and rewarding.

Are you good at working in a team?

Give examples of how you worked as part of a team, and how you helped achieve a specific goal. If you haven’t done this in a professional role, use something from your personal life.

Describe your management style

Show you can be flexible by using a range of styles rather than just one. Give examples of different successful scenarios using different techniques.

What relevant experience do you have?

Mention all directly related experience you have. If you’re trying a different direction to your experience, match up experience with skills or situations relevant to this role.

If your previous co-workers were here, what would they say about you?

Keep this one positive and have some examples ready, highlighting strengths.

Have you done anything to further your experience?

This can be anything relevant, whether it’s further education or hobbies. Include any benefits and strengths gained by it.

Where else have you applied?

Be honest, but don’t go into details – company names are fine, but only pick a few. The interviewer is checking that you’re serious about looking.

How are you when you’re working under pressure?

Be positive and focus on strengths when answering. Give examples showing how you’ve delivered under tight timescales, for example.

What motivates you to do a good job?

Don’t mention money on this one, even if that’s the answer! Choose something like being better at the job, recognition for good work, helping others, etc.

Tell me a suggestion you have made that was implemented.

Tell them about something you suggested that was put into place and considered a success.

What is your proudest achievement?

The interviewer wants to hear about how you dealt with a big project. Make sure you are organised and articulate in your response, providing context and your role in it. Include what you did, and anything you had to overcome. What was the result and why are you proud of it?

Has anything ever irritated you about people you’ve worked with?

Don’t negatively mention any issues you’ve had with anyone, only respond that you’ve always got on fine with people. An explanation showing people skills you used to overcome a people problem at work will be in your favour.

Is there anyone you just could not work with?

You might think otherwise, but you need to answer no to this one, or be seen as picky or difficult. The interviewer is trying to work out if you’re easy to get on with.

Tell me about any issues you’ve had with a previous boss.

The only way to sensibly answer this one is that you’ve never had any issues. Don’t be tempted to moan about a previous boss.

Would you rather work for money or job satisfaction?

The job is the most important thing, but it’s OK to say that money is important too.

Would you rather be liked or feared?

Neither – be respected instead, and get the job done! If you’re feared, you won’t motivate anyone whereas if you’re everyone’s friend, the tough decisions will be tougher.

Describe a difficult work situation and how you overcame it

Give real examples from work, and show how you solved them. Turn negative things around into positive ones, for example, ‘although it was difficult, I was able to rearrange…and deliver’. Remind yourself of situations or examples from your experience, and then use them to answer similarly structured questions.

The most important thing of all is – practice first!

Questions to ask at interview

Prepare more than one, just in case it gets covered elsewhere in the interview. Try to avoid salary or benefits at this stage. Focus on what you can do for them rather than what they can do for you.

Some examples are:

  • What are the key challenges of this post?
  • Why has this opportunity arisen? Is it a new role, or has someone left?
  • Presuming I meet the requirements of the job, where can I go from here within the company?
  • Is there a good training programme for people who want to gain extra skills?
  • How soon could I start, if I were offered the job of course?
  • If I were to be successful, what would I be working on?
  • What would happen in my first week, if I was offered the job?
  • If I was offered the job, what preparation could I do?
  • What do you particularly enjoy about working for this company? Or what’s your favourite thing about this company?
  • I’m very interested in this job and think I’d be successful here. Do you think I’m a good fit for the role?
  • What are the priorities within the role over the first 3 months?
  • How would you describe the work culture here?
  • In what way is performance measured and reviewed?
  • Can you tell me about the team I’ll be working with? How many people in the team?
  • Who would I be reporting to? If I’m successful, could I meet them?
  • How much travel is expected?
  • When can I expect to hear from you? What are the next steps?

 The most important thing of all is – practice first!

Body language and dressing for success

First impressions count. Studies have shown that 55% of a person’s opinion can be determined by your physical appearance, so take care with it. It’s best to dress conservatively for an interview, and consider leaving distracting accessories, hairstyles and shoes at home. Don’t dress for a party, think neat, smart and professional.

Your body language is really important and influences how you are perceived straight away.

Make eye contact

Pay attention, engage with the situation and hold eye contact for a few seconds at a time. Don’t stare at them blankly. If there’s more than one person interviewing you, make sure you cover them all without looking like a robot. Make sure you hold eye contact with the person asking the question.

Don’t slouch

From the moment you walk through the reception door, you need to make sure you think about your posture. Sit up straight and lean forward a bit when asked a question. Don’t lounge, hunch or sit tightly in a knot. Don’t sit with your arms folded – it’s very defensive and unapproachable.

Use your hands

Not over the top, but slightly. Don’t clench fists or arm wave to make a point, and don’t bite your nails.

Don’t touch your face or hair

You may seem dishonest or untrustworthy if you do. Don’t rub your head or neck – you’ll look bored and disinterested. Keep your shoulders relaxed and make sure your body is facing the interviewer.

Smile

Smiling lifts the face and the mood, but don’t turn it into a wide teeth-filled one. Smile and nod in the right places, laugh when they do. Listen and don’t interrupt. Keep your tone even and polite, not too quiet or too loud.

Don’t move about or fidget

Keep still with both feet firmly on the floor. This will also help your posture and make you look focussed.

Mirror their body language

If you do this sparingly, it will put you on good terms with the interviewer.

Have a good handshake

Keep the pressure in the middle – too firm and you’ll seem arrogant, too weak or limp is a sign you’re not interested or confident. Also, keep the hand vertical.

The most important thing is to show respect and keep it professional.

50 common interview questions

1.  What are your strengths?

2.  What are your weaknesses?

3.  Why are you interested in working for [insert company name here]?

4.  Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?

5.  Why do you want to leave your current company?

6.  Why was there a gap in your employment between [insert date] and [insert date]?

7.  What can you offer us that someone else can not?

8.  What are three things your former manager would like you to improve on?

9.  Are you willing to relocate?

10. Are you willing to travel?

11. Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.

12. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.

13. What is your dream job?

14. How did you hear about this position?

15. What would you look to accomplish in the first 30 days/60 days/90 days on the job?

16. Discuss your resume.

17. Discuss your educational background.

18. Describe yourself.

19. Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.

20. Why should we hire you?

21. Why are you looking for a new job?

22. Would you work holidays/weekends?

23. How would you deal with an angry or irate customer?

24. What are your salary requirements?

25. Give an example when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.

26. Who are our competitors?

27. What was your biggest failure?

28. What motivates you?

29. What’s your availability?

30. Who’s your mentor?

31. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.

32. How do you handle pressure?

33. What is the name of our CEO?

34. What are your career goals?

35. What gets you up in the morning?

36. What would your direct reports say about you?

37. What were your bosses’ strengths/weaknesses?

38. If I called your boss right now and asked him what is an area that you could improve on, what would he say?

39. Are you a leader or a follower?

40. What was the last book you’ve read for fun?

41. What are your co-worker’s pet peeves?

42. What are your hobbies?

43. What is your favourite website?

44. What makes you uncomfortable?

45. Tell me about some of your leadership experiences.

46. How would you fire someone?

47. What do you like the most and least about working in this industry?

48. Would you work 40+ hours a week?

49. What questions haven’t I asked you?

50. What questions do you have for me?

Preparing for an interview and Appeasing Anxiety

Well done! You have a job interview! You are probably experiencing a tumultuous cocktail of feelings: happiness, anxiety, pride, concern and so on. There is no need to let this overwhelm you. There are ways in which you can prepare yourself for this interview, so it need not plague your mind.

  • Research! Research! Research!

Research the business and the position for which you applied. No, this does not mean you have to slave over your computer for hours, ultimately emerging as an encyclopaedia of information about your potential employer. Rather this means that a certain amount of research is essential. An interviewer will expect you to have some knowledge of their business. In their eyes, it is a question of:  why would you want to work here if you know nothing about us? The best place to look is obviously their website. Explore the site, learn of their services and scan through their blogs. An ‘About Us’ or ‘Meet the Team’ page might provide you with information about who will be interviewing you. The business may have subsidiaries or sister companies, try and memorise their names and what they do. This well-rounded foundation of knowledge will please them. There is no need for me to specify how long your homework should take; it is best to research until you feel comfortable and prepared. This may be 15 minutes or 2 hours. The aim is to work until you feel confident enough to maintain a light conversation about their business.

 

  • Look at industry news.

An extension of the first point, reading industry news will give you an advantage over the other candidates. You may be asked questions about your thoughts on current happenings in the sector. Showcasing your awareness about the industry will highlight that you are passionate about this career path and will therefore work hard, if offered the position. You will appear a well-read and enthusiastic individual who clearly wants the role.

 

  • Plan your journey, giving time for train delays/traffic.

Hopefully, your common sense has already told you to do this. Nothing looks worse to an employer than an interviewee who is late without cause. Plan your journey and allow time for minor travel disruptions. If there are major train delays, or there is an unforeseeable traffic situation, then phone ahead and let them know. Or, if you are within a reasonable distance from their offices, book a taxi from your nearest stop.

 

  • Select your outfit in advance

You may be indifferent to fashion, or you may fancy yourself a reincarnated Coco Chanel.  Whatever the case, plan what you will wear to the interview before the day arrives. Business dress-codes vary to such an extent that you can never be too sure what to wear to an interview. This depends on the role you’re applying for, the industry it is in, and the company’s own aesthetic. A safe bet is always smart, office wear. There is no need to shove your high fashion style in their faces, equally do not show up looking sloppy or unkempt. It is fine if you want to share a little personality by wearing a flash of colour, as long as you look professional. Interviewers expect candidates to look smart; suit-trousers will not make you look overdressed in comparison with the actual employees. Unless you decide to wear a floor length gown, smart clothing will work in your favour.

 

  • Write down why you are suitable for the position

A great exercise that will ground your thoughts and help prepare you for the interview is to write down why you are suitable for the position. Think about your studies and experience and how they have prepared you for this role. Why do you want this job? What skills do you possess that will help you to fill the position effectively? Try and think experiences and examples that make you different from other candidates. You may be asked questions, so it is always beneficial to have an idea of your possible responses. If you wrote something similar in your covering letter when applying for the job, refer back to this. But, it is best to avoid recycling it word for word at the interview, as this will be obvious and make you seem insincere.

 

  • Print off a copy of your CV to take to the interview.

Your interviewer is likely to have a copy of your CV at the interview to which they will refer. If they make reference to the document but are without a copy of their own, it reflects well on you to pull out a spare. You will be more prepared than them and this can hardly look bad. If you do take a spare copy of your CV, then conceal it in a bag until it is needed. There is no need to boast about how prepared you are. Nonetheless, drawing out a copy at the appropriate moment will indicate your professionalism for having pre-empted this possibility.

 

  • Write down any possible questions and make notes of potential responses.

Some of the previous tips have already pointed you towards this method of preparation. Whilst it is unrealistic to think you can fully predict a conversation, you should be able to make some assumptions regarding the kinds of questions you will be asked and the ones you should be asking! Some of questions you will be asked may include: what is your biggest flaw? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What is your biggest pet peeve? Why do you want to work for our company? Why does this industry appeal to you? How are you suitable for the role? What do you do in your free-time? As you can see, questions range from specifying about the job, to inquiring about you as a person. Some may seem completely random; it is up to the interviewer. Do not memorise stock answers. This will cause you to come across as stilted and give the impression that you are unable to think on your feet. The aim of this exercise is to give you a feel for the likely direction of the exchange and provide you with a rough idea of what will occur. When answering these questions, be honest but professional. Try and point your answers towards how you are suitable for the role. The same goes for any questions you may have! They want you to ask questions and will probably ask if you have any! Again, write down a list of possible questions for you to ask that would highlight your interest in the industry and the role.  Having an idea of how you will approach the conversation will minimise the possibility of any ‘dead-air’ during the interview.

 

  • Talk to your recruitment consultant.

Your recruitment consultant is there to help you! If they referred you for this position, then they are just as involved as you! They want to send suitable and professional candidates to an interview, as you reflect on them. They want to help you prepare! Phone them for a quick chat or book a meeting. If they did not arrange for you to attend this interview, still phone them! They want you to find a job and they will do what they can to assist you. For those who are particularly nervous, it would be a good idea to suggest conducting a practice interview with your recruitment agent. A run-through will reveal what you are doing right, the mistakes you may make and will appease your nerves, by desensitising you to the interview process.

 

  • Do not obsess and overindulge your anxiety.

A little anxiety can be a good thing, for it can motivate you to work harder. It is normal to be nervous for a job interview; you are not alone! Millions of people have been in this position. Certainly, the point of preparation is to give you a better chance at the interview, but it also works to dissipate that knot in your stomach. Say the interview goes horribly, what’s the worst that happens? They offer the job to someone else and you never have to see those people again. Obviously this is not what you want to occur, but if it does, so what? It won’t haunt you forever! Finding a job can be hard, especially when money is an issue, but this is why you return to your recruitment agent and let them help you. Alternatively, you may be nervous because you may be unsure if you actually want the role. Do not beat yourself up about this! I am not suggesting you waste your interviewer’s time. I am asking you to remember that interviews help candidates find out if a particular business is suitable for them, as well as allowing businesses to fill a vacancy. You do not have to accept the position.

Preparing for an interview means that you are putting in the effort and are trying your best. That is all anyone can ask from you. An interviewer will appreciate that you have prepared, because it shows them that this interview is worth their time. They do not want you to fail. In fact, they want you to be a good candidate because it makes the interviewing process easier for them. Finally, once you have researched, planned and prepared, feel comfortable in the notion that you are allowed to relax and think about something else! Good luck!

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