Blue Arrow blog picture of a CV and pen

How to write the best CV

Finding work can be a long, hard process that seems to thrive on chaos. At first you are lulled in to the idea that you are in control, you get to choose where you want to work, when to submit your CV, you even get to play the field and be a serial applicant across many opportunities. You are a job hunting god who is determined to take the job market by storm and land a position come hell or high water. 

After a while, you have experienced the super high, highs and the impossibly low, lows that can come with job hunting and you realise that once you have submitted your CV you are no longer in control of what happens from here.

The question is, how do we make the most of our CV so when it leaves our hands it represents us to our full potential and continues to work on our behalf?

Let’s take a couple of steps back to gain some perspective. The answer is usually staring us in the face, we just need to go back to the beginning and retrace our steps to find it.

According to legend, it was Leonardo Da Vinci who created the first CV, back when he was hoping to work for the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza.

The story goes that in 1482 Da Vinci needed a way to be awarded an audience with the Duke. Once Da Vinci was able to meet him face to face he knew he stood a good chance of impressing him enough to receive an offer of work. 

Always one to think outside of the box, Da Vinci sent the Duke a letter detailing some of his inventions for a military campaign and advertised how useful he could be in this setting. Even though he had clearly invented many more things and could have been extremely useful in many areas, he had streamlined his pitch to be extremely specific to the Duke and the work at hand. This was Da Vinci’s opening line

“Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavour, without prejudice to anyone else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.”

That is an impressive opening statement if ever I saw one, personal, direct and ambitious without a hint of doubt over his ability to do the job.

Similar letters continued to be used throughout the 16th century by British aristocrats hoping to propel themselves further but, outside of aristocracy there was no real need for formal CV’s. Social class tended to dictate your career prospects and a CV was not about to change that, regardless of how well written it was.

By 1930’s CV’s had become common practice but soon took on in a more formal arrangement, detailing your height, weight and marital status followed by a short list of your skills, tricky to master without sounding conceited. I admit this is not a hugely imaginative approach but still, it was the 1930’s and it was a good place to start. 

The 1960’s was an era of freedom, love and creativity. People were no longer simply identified by their height, weight and gender, instead we celebrated the importance of individuality. Our likes, dislikes, hobbies and past times became popular new additions to the CV.

60 years on, technology has progressed in leaps and bounds, allowing us to create fancy eye-catching designs with relative ease. We can add and remove information quickly and yet we still continue to submit our CV again and again without addressing what could be improved. 

"The definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results." - Unknown
The truth is, every time you apply for a job your CV is buried deep in a pile of other CV’s that all look just as fancy and contain the same fact-based information. Despite what you might think, the ones that stand out are not always those that are the brightest colours. 

How you write a great CV is not a closely guarded secret, the clue is actually in the name. Curriculum Vitae (CV) translates from Latin quite literally into ‘the course of my life’, this means expressing your story from a professional and personal perspective to provide a potential employer with an insight into who you are and where you have been, what you have experienced and subsequently learned along your journey. 

How many times did your parents tell you, “it’s not what you say, it is the way that you say it that is important.” On this occasion, I have to admit, they were right.

By approaching the CV from the course of my life angle it provides us with a renewed perspective, with the freedom to be expressive and creative in how we communicate. 

So, how do we write a CV that stands the best chance of securing you an interview?

1. Be specific

As tempting as it is to create one CV that you shoot out to as many employers as possible resist the urge. Ensuring that you have tailored your CV to be relevant to the job or the employer will go a long way to showing attention to detail and a real desire for the position so do your research and refer directly to the role and employer where possible.

2. Add a little bit more

Simply listing your work experience is not enough, there is so much more to your working history then simply the positions you filled. Every role brings its own challenges, experiences and lessons to learn. Elaborate on your working history by sharing these insights and show your new employer that you value the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience through your work.

3. Little white lies

Everyone does it, a little white lie here and there never hurt anyone right? Wrong! Please don’t do this, as my grandma used to say “the truth will always come out” the last thing you want is to land a job then lose it when they find out you embellished a detail or two here and there… which they will.

I am sure you are much more amazing then you realise, you don’t need to bend the truth, expand your experiences or enhance your qualifications to land the job you want, just be true to yourself and them and everything will fall into place.

4. AWOL

One of the most common mistakes (aside from not using a spell checker) is leaving a gap in your history section. If you didn’t work for 6 months you do need to say so, don’t leave it for a cynical employer to make their own assumption as to where you were.

Did you go travelling or take time to care for family? Perhaps you were struggling to find work. Whatever you were doing try to shed some positive light on to this time. Did you spend your time refining your CV, learning skills online, researching career options? I am sure you get the picture. 

5. Let’s get personal

Going back to my earlier point of providing an employer with an insight into who you are and where you have been, what you have experienced and learned along your journey, your personal statement is the perfect place to get your creativity flowing and really tell your story. I wrote a whole post about this not too long ago so do pop over there to take a look at how to write the perfect personal statement.

6. Resources

Creating a new CV or updating an old one can be daunting, that blank page is enough to prevent anyone from getting started so using free CV templates and guides are a great way to help you to create a professional looking CV quickly. You can download free CV templates here or check out a range of tailored CV templates here.

7. A little help from a friend

Asking a friend to look over your CV and check for errors is really helpful. Having that extra pair of eyes to find things you may have missed is reassuring. Don’t worry if you don’t have someone you can call on. You could pop into your local Blue Arrow branch, our friendly, knowledgeable branch staff will always be happy to take a look for you. 

8. Work experience vs education

Which one do we put first on a CV? I was always taught that education comes first followed by employment but like many things just because that is what my school told me, it doesn’t necessarily make it right. The truth is, it depends on your situation and the relevance of each to the job you are applying for. 

For example, if you have recently completed a course that is relevant to the job you are applying for then you should list education first. If not, then your work experience will probably be more relevant so list this first.

9.  Jargon busting

Now that we have the ability to upload our CV to job sites and be approached by employers, there is an argument for using keywords and industry relevant buzz words in your CV to help you to stand out in what has become a very crowded online space.

While I do feel there is some truth to this, I do think it is important to avoid using too many buzz words or too much jargon as it can start to appear forced and impersonal. 

It is more important to write in the same way that you would speak, keep it natural and free. It is always better to say that you enjoy working with others than it is to say I am predisposed to facilitating collaborations with compatriots.

10. Got your number

It is important to make sure you have included all of your contact information and that it is correct. The last thing we want is for you to impress an employer who has no way to contact you. Make sure you have checked that your name, phone number, email address and personal details are all correct and up to date before pressing send.

I hope I have inspired you to create or re-vamp your CV. Don’t forget that we have some free CV templates for you to use here and a selection of tailored CV templates here if you need them. 

You can keep up with my musings by subscribing to my nifty newsletter. If you want to get in touch you can email me at Caree.R@bluearrow.co.uk or jump over to our Facebook page where you can join the community discussions or just say Hi!

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Free CV Templates

Our free CV templates and guides will help you create a professional CV quickly. Click here to download your free CV template.