If you are planning to start the new year with a change of career, there’s a good chance you’ll be sending out your CV to prospective employers.  But is your CV going to help or hinder you?

There is a great deal of theory on the subject of writing CVs.  Some say it shouldn’t be more than one page, others no more than two pages.  There’s advice on what to include and what to leave out, and so it goes on.  I’m going to climb on my soapbox here and say ‘Balderdash’!  Ultimately, a CV is a marketing tool: its purpose is to promote and sell a particular product.  In this case the product is—you.  CVs come in all shapes and sizes, and in many different formats.  A family friend was job-hunting recently and wasn’t getting interviews, never mind finding a job!  Her CV was a mess.  We gave it a bit of the WORD-right treatment and she took up her new position a few weeks later.

Imagine buying a new car, something a bit up-market, and you’re looking to spend £20 – £30K  or  more.  You want information. You’ll probably be given a well presented brochure, full of information about the car’s features, specifications, and benefits.  After all, you’re spending a lot of money, and you want to be sure you’ve got the right model.  Yet many people, when looking for a new job, expect the employer to be interested in a one page ‘brochure’ which gives them little information, and is generally printed on a scrappy piece of copy paper.  Your new employer will be spending a lot of money on your salary, and getting the right person is more important than getting the right car.  So when it comes to your CV, start thinking about yourself as a prestigious and expensive sports car, and market yourself accordingly.

Stand out in the crowd!

Let’s say I’ve just advertised a really peachy job, and within a few days have 50+ CVs on my desk.  Do I have the time (or the inclination) to read all these CVs?  Unlikely! So how do I make an informed decision about which applicants to shortlist?  I will probably scan the CVs and select the ones which look most interesting.  Therefore, it’s important to get your key information on the front page and create a good first impression.    You need a decent sized, easy to read font, good formatting, bullet points, and lots of white space here.  It will make your CV easier to scan, and if you’re applying for the right jobs, should help get you into the shortlist pile.

Blow your own trumpet!

Applying for a job is no time to be bashful.  You’ve got to sell yourself and all your skills and talents.  It’s a good idea to sit down and write a list of all your selling points.  For example, have you been made employee or student of the year at any time?  Have you received any commendations?  Are you involved in any charity work or did you run the London Marathon in record time?  These are all things which say a great deal about you and can be mentioned in your CV.  If you’ve got it—you need to flaunt it!

What to put in … and what to leave out?

Salary –  I would suggest leaving this out.  If it is asked for you, can always give the details in the covering letter.

Age or Date of Birth – This is a matter of personal preference.  Personally, I would leave it in, particularly as the legislation to prevent age discrimination came into force in October 2006.

Education – This depends on your age.  If the CV is for a younger person with little or no working background, it’s important to give this information.  For someone older, it’s not so relevant.

Reasons for Leaving –  Again I would suggest leaving this one out.  It is a frequent interview question, so if they want to know—let them ask!

References – Forget them!  They’re not necessary for a CV.  If you get a job offer, you may be asked to provide referees, but it is very unlikely they will be taken up simply from a CV.

Outside interests –  Don’t forget to list your outside interests and hobbies, but don’t just write ‘sports’ or ‘reading’.  Tell your prospective employer more.  If you play football or netball, you’re likely to be a good team member.  If you coach mini rugby or volunteer your services to a local charity, include it in your CV.  All these things present you as a ‘well-rounded’ person and set you apart from your competitors.


Let’s just go back to the mountain of CVs sitting on someone’s desk.  You want your CV to be looked at, so good presentation is vital.

  • Never fold up your CV or squash it into a small envelope, instead invest in some good quality A4 sized envelopes.
  • Use a good quality paper.
  • If possible, insert it in a folder of some sort. There are some professional-looking folders about if you shop around.  Do be sure to check the application details first.  They occasionally ask for the CV not to be bound.  In this case they may need to make photocopies for internal distribution.
  • Be adventurous—think about using coloured paper!  This might depend on the type of job you’re looking for, but it will make your CV stand out from the others.  Using coloured paper can be quite acceptable if you’re in a creative industry, for example, marketing or graphic design.  On the other hand if you’re an accountant, it might not go down so well!  (Many years ago I was short-listed for the position of Editor of a Yachting Magazine.  I knew little about editing in those days, and still know nothing about yachts!  I can only assume it was the pink paper and black folder which did the trick!)

Finally, good luck with your job search and do add a comment to let us know how you get on.

Blog post by Joy McCarthy