I want to write a successful CV

The purpose of a CV

A CV aims to secure you an interview, but can also be used to apply for a course, show a networking contact your experience and to keep a record of your work, education and other experiences.

Different CV styles

There are three main types of CV: the Traditional CV (or reverse chronological), the skills based CV and finally the academic CV – see examples on the Vitae website (www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers/1372/Creating-Effective-CVs.html). The traditional CV is by far the most commonly used. Skills based CVs are useful if your experience and education is not highly relevant and you want to demonstrate the transferable skills you have and how they relate to the job role.

Typical CV headings

Common headings include: personal details (address, telephone, email); education and qualifications (dates, institution, type and level of qualification, subject and grades achieved or expected and significant projects); employment and/or work experience; skills (IT, languages, driving ability all with level of ability indicated); interests and activities and referees. These headings are not compulsory: select the ones that showcase your experience: e.g. instead of “employment” you may want to state “relevant experience”. Other possible headings include; achievements, awards, sponsorship, volunteering, training, positions of responsibility, conferences attended, publications and relevant technical skills and technical training.

Order and emphasis

Get your best selling points onto the first page of your CV, or higher up. Excellent work experience should at least start on page one. Put your qualifications straight after your personal details if you are a recent graduate or undergraduate with limited work experience. You can always mention a key experience in the statement at the start of your CV if you have one if it seems hidden on page two. For more impressive, more relevant experiences increase the quantity and emphasis.

Getting started

  1. Use the headings above and brainstorm examples for each. Put it all down and cut back later.
  2. Next to each piece of experience place a ranking to show how well it sells you for this job role.
  3. Now create appropriate headings, dates and titles for your subheadings. Do the headings reflect your experience and what you want to say about yourself?
  4. Check you have made the most of your qualifications. Which aspects have you missed?
  5. Now prioritise the main sections, which is most important? Use this to decide the order.
  6. Now prioritise within a section. Can you alter the sections to highlight your main selling points?


  • Keep the layout simple: use bold, font size and upper and lower case to create headings, sub-headings and demarcation between sections.
  • Use Arial or similar to maintain professionalism.
  • Use plain, traditional, round bullet points.
  • Inappropriate layout may bring your judgement into question.
  • Set the margins and tabs up at the start and stick to them or alignment will be a problem.
  • Use one or two full sides of A4. Add a third page for conferences, publications and referees for an academic CV. Print on good quality white paper.
  • Use the space well: there needs to be a balance of text and white space.
  • Photos are not normally used in the UK.

Positive language

Describe experiences using appropriate, concise, positive and convincing language. Why say “I did a project” when you could say “I led a project”. Use the language that emphasises the skills you used and relate them to the job role. Use active, positive verbs – Positive and action words.


Always adjust your CV to the role you are applying for:

  • Put relevant information higher up your CV and onto the front page and say more about it.
  • Adjust your personal statement to fit the role or career move you plan to make.
  • Describe your experiences; emphasising relevant skills, knowledge and experience.
  • Produce your CV so it fits with the style of the sector.

Disclosure of difficult information

You may find you have a disappointing grade or a CV gap, you may be a little older than most applicants or have an impairment and worry about putting the information on your CV. First, decide if you need to disclose the information, for example there is no need to reveal your age. If you do need to disclose it then do so concisely so it doesn’t dominate the rest of the CV. If you are concerned about disclosing an impairment, then read our web page on how can I succeed in getting a job when I have a disability? (see: www.reading.ac.uk/careers/careersinfo/helpsheets/helpdisabilities.asp)

Covering letters

Unlike the CV, which is a factual account of your experience, a covering letter demands enthusiasm and passion for role and organisation you are apply to. It aims to introduce you and convince them to interview you, so write one if you possibly can. Stick to one side of A4 and cover the following:

  • Who are you, why are you writing, which job are you applying to (including any job reference)?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why do you want to work for this organisation?
  • Why should they want you?
  • Thanking them for considering your CV and stating what you would like to happen next.

For each of the middle three paragraphs use three, high impact points and signpost to your CV. An enthusiastic tone and vocabulary will demonstrate your passion. Check the covering letter too and make sure there are no mistakes. Have a look at an example of a covering letter.

CV and cover letter review

Each time you use your CV, make sure you get some feedback on it from the recruiter concerned and record it so you can reflect on this and make adjustments before sending it out again. Look at our separate CV and covering letter checklist documents to carry out your own review:

CV checklist: http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/careers/2016/06/cv-checklist/ 

Covering letter checklist: http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/careers/2016/06/cover-letter-checklist/).

Want more?

  • Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk/cvs.htm) has great tips on CVs and covering letters and further examples. Their country profiles (www.prospects.ac.uk/country_profiles.htm) have a section called “applying for jobs” which typically has a section on “what kind of CV do I need” for those applying for jobs internationally.
  • Destinations® has a section dedicated to CVs and covering letters.

Permanent link to this article: https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/careers/i-want-to-write-a-successful-cv-2/