6.2 What to include (and not include) in your CV
Your CV is uniquely yours in style, content and layout – but you may find the following ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ helpful. CVs usually contain:
- personal data
- employment experience
- interests and activities
- additional skills
- career aims and personal profile (optional)
Give the name you want to be known by if you’re called for interview or appointed. However, you don’t need to give initials or middle names; they’re unnecessary at this stage and may confuse matters. Put your name in the centre in a larger, bold font instead of giving the document the title ‘Curriculum vitae’ – it should be quite obvious what it is.
Be sure to give a full postal address with a postcode, since invitations to interview are often sent at short notice and speedy delivery is in your interest. Include an email address, but make sure this reflects the image you want to project. Including the address ‘email@example.com’ will not promote a professional impression to recruiters. If you include a link to your social media profile, such as your Twitter account; again, make sure this is professional.
It’s important to give a telephone number where you can be reached or where a message can be left. Include your mobile number if you have one. If you’re employed and prospective employers can contact you during office hours, give your number and say that it’s a work number so that the caller will be discreet. Always give the full area code, number and extension so that you can be reached as easily as possible.
There’s no need to include such details as your date of birth, nationality, gender, marital status or the number of children you have. These are irrelevant on a CV, where your aim is to get yourself invited for interview. You can discuss them at the interview if appropriate, when you have more opportunity to negotiate any difficulties.
Your aim here is to stress your achievements at work. Include the nature and place of your employer’s business if it isn’t obvious from the name, but don’t give the address or the name of your manager at this stage. For more recent jobs – during the last ten years, say – give more detail about particular responsibilities, projects, assignments and results achieved. Avoid jargon, unless you’re sure that the reader will understand it.
There are different opinions about whether you set your experience out in forward or reverse date order. So much depends on the nature and relevance of your previous employment to the job you’re applying for. But everyone agrees that the most relevant job should appear at the top of the list, so that the reader is encouraged to read on.
Some possible sequences are as follows:
- Put your present or most recent job at the top of the list, with appropriate detail; then the rest of the employment history in backward or forward date order.
- Start with the most relevant work experience, even if it’s not the most recent, then work backwards or forwards in time.
- Divide your experience under the sub-headings ‘Related’ and ‘Other’. This allows you to highlight the experience that the employer is likely to be most interested in and play down other, less important, jobs.
- If you had a series of short-lived jobs and you want to abbreviate the list, you could say something like ‘In 2010–2015 I worked in various temporary positions in the catering industry’.
However you present your employment experience, make sure it’s clear and that the way you present starting and leaving dates is consistent. Don’t leave any unexplained gaps. For example, if you’ve had time out of paid work to bring up a family, state this.
How far back should you go? School or young college-leavers should be quite explicit about their education since age 11, but it’s more appropriate for more mature applicants to include a brief summary of their education, including exams passed. There’s no need to include the full address of each school or college – condense the information to dates, names and towns. Present your qualifications in the way that makes the most of them:
- If the job requires a degree or diploma, it’s best to start with that, enabling the employer to see at once that you meet the requirement.
- If you have no higher-level educational qualifications, you could list secondary school educational history in date order – that can be easier to digest than starting with the most recent and working backwards. Use the same order you used for your employment experience. If you’ve worked your way up from the bottom and lack formal qualifications altogether, you could expand your work achievements and contract the education section.
- If you’re offering professional qualifications, it might be worth specifying not only the qualification (with the S/NVQ level, if appropriate) and the awarding institution, but also how you obtained it, e.g. full-time course or day release. For a technical post or one that requires special knowledge, consider giving additional information to show that you have the relevant work experience, knowledge or training.
- Be specific about what you studied, highlighting in a covering letter or skill section the personal qualities and skills involved in completing your studies. You might find descriptions for the courses that you have studied very useful: pick out the skills that the course aimed to develop, which are often listed as learning outcomes. Learning outcomes can assist you in mapping out the skills and achievements that you gained during study. They can also help you identify the subject-specific knowledge and transferable skills you have acquired during each course. Of course, some jobs do require subject-specific knowledge (e.g. being a teacher), while others place more emphasis on transferable skills. Some look for a mixture of both. By studying, whatever the subjects are, you will find that you will have developed a range of both subject knowledge and transferable skills that many employers will value. It is up to you to identify them from your own experience so that you can present this on a CV.
- If your qualifications were awarded overseas, mention the UK equivalent so that the employer knows what level you’ve reached.
Don’t give an exhaustive list of all the training courses and seminars you’ve attended. Include useful information about training and development courses of a week or more, or training in relevant specialist skills.
Interests and activities
This section has various uses. It can show that you have a well-rounded life and don’t live for work alone; that you’re a sociable person who gets on with others; or that you keep yourself fit. Your hobbies may have given you opportunities to tackle roles and develop skills that you haven’t had scope for at work – perhaps you’ve helped out a school, run a computer club or done voluntary work that demonstrates organisational and management skills. An unusual hobby such as skydiving or family history research can be worth mentioning, even though it has no obvious relevance to the job. It gives your CV an interesting feature and makes it memorable.
The diversity of individual careers sometimes makes extra sections desirable: you can make up your own sub-headings. Include details you think a prospective employer really ought to know: if you have a driving licence, or additional skills such as foreign languages (if possible, give an indication of your level of competence), first aid training, and so on. It is also important to outline your level of IT and keyboard skills, including software you are familiar with, e.g. Word and Excel.
Career aims and personal profile
Including career aims and a skill profile can be particularly effective if you’re seeking a career change, you have an unconventional work record or you’re applying for a job for which the competition is particularly keen.
You’ll usually need two referees, and one of these should be from your present or last employer. Give their names, addresses and telephone numbers, and their status or relationship to you (e.g. line manager, course tutor). If you don’t want your employer approached at this stage, say so in your CV or covering letter. You might prefer to omit referees on the CV and put ‘available on request’.