First of all, remember the purpose of a curriculum vitae (CV) is to help get you to an interview*. Therefore its contents must be targeted, focussed and error free, and it should not be longer than two pages.
Second, it should be set up in the generally accepted format for CVs unless the firm requires it to be in their own particular format or on a specified template.
Third, it should be printed on plain, high quality, white paper using a common 12 size font such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri. It should preferably not contain any underlining, italic script or odd symbols in the event it might be scanned and therefore confuse the scanning software to your detriment. Bolding is acceptable but should be limited to headings.
* Avoid using the word “résumé” which is used in America.
What your CV should contain
The information that is contained on your CV only needs to be what is required for the reader to quickly make up their mind whether you are worth interviewing or not. Generally speaking, this means your CV should include in this order:
- Your contact details
- Your work experience
- Your education and qualifications (or skills)
- Any further information which supports you as a candidate for interview
It is not necessary for your document to list referees or interests unless you think either will directly contribute to the overall aim of securing you an interview.
Your contact details
Your contact details should be easy to find and include a telephone number and an email address as a minimum. Typically this information is placed at the top of the first page a bit like a business letter header. It should not be on any subsequent pages.
Your “work experience” section
In this section of your CV you should show the month and year, job title and firm of each job you have had in reverse chronological order. It should be in this order because the reader is more likely to base a decision to interview you on what you have been doing recently. If you have had more than 10 years’ experience, you may not need to show much more than the last 10 years (unless it is relevant). Under each job, you only need to include the parts of your work experience that are relevant to the position you are applying for. If the firm/recruitment agent you are applying to has a detailed job advertisement or job description, match your experience to that description where applicable and use of some of the same wording if appropriate. It helps to include any specific facts or figures, if you can, to highlight the overall commercial value of the work that you do. Finally, the judicious use of bullets can help the professional look of this section.
Your “education” section
Your education section should also be in reverse chronological order (because the reader is usually more interested in what you have done recently). You only need to go back as far as necessary; this might mean stating your GCSE and A level grades (or equivalent), or omitting them, depending on the context. Include any awards you might have received if relevant.
“Skills”, “interests” and “other” sections
You have to decide which of these sections you want to include or possibly combine.
What your CV does not need
A large number of candidates, for some reason, take up additional space in their document with irrelevant or generic information. Let’s look at some examples:
This includes anything in your document which is not directly contributing to the sole aim of securing you an interview. For example, writing at the top of your document that it is a “curriculum vitae” arguably is obvious. Equally, writing that your referees are “available on request” is not a valuable statement insofar as it is unlikely to sway the reader either way, and therefore should be omitted. If you are applying for a position as a solicitor, you do not need to detail half a page about irrelevant experience that you have had at some point in the past. If you are returning to practice after a career break, you do not need to include vast amounts of detail about what you did during your career break, unless directly relevant. The more irrelevant information you list on your document, the more it detracts from the detail that is contributing to the aim of achieving an interview. The more irrelevant information you have on your CV, the more the reader might be persuaded that you are not capable of communicating relevant information succinctly.
Taking up valuable space with generic information is likely to be wasting the reader’s time (if indeed they bother to read it). Examples of generic information are stating that you are able to “work well both in a team environment and individually” or possessing “the ability to work to tight deadlines” – without providing any examples. Without evidence of how these directly relate to the position you have applied for, they are useless statements which are unlikely to persuade the reader to interview you.
Some other CV errors
The following are some other CV errors we have noticed:
- Not following instructions (if they are given)
- Omission of key information (e.g. contact information) or contents not reflecting essential requirements of the position
- Grammar, spelling, punctuation and typographical errors (these can be red flags to any reviewer)
- Messy, poorly laid out or inconsistent formatting (these reflect poor organisation or professionalism)
- Inclusion or insertion of a photograph (this is not necessary as it does not provide any useful additional information as such)
- Handwritten insertions (not professional looking)
Since it is hard to spot errors yourself, it is best if someone else reviews or checks your CV before you submit it.
Get in touch
For full guidance on your (legal sector) CV and an example, even if you plan to apply directly to a firm rather than using us, get in touch. We will be pleased to look through your document and provide you with any tips which may make the difference between securing an interview and not.
We are contactable on 01603 516261 or 07960 743650, anytime including at the weekend. Email email@example.com.