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How to... Write a CV

Your career; CVs

There is no such thing as the perfect curriculum vitae (CV), says Nick Isles, head of external affairs at the Institute of Personnel and Management. But following a few sensible guidelines can maximise your chances of securing that all important interview.

'For a start,' Isles says, 'don't take the 'one size fits all' approach.' In other words, you need to tailor your CV to suit the vacancy for which you are applying. 'Really examine the advertisement,' he adds, 'and find out as much as you can about the organisation.'

As a CV is one of the most important documents you will ever prepare, it is worth ensuring it looks good. It should be neatly typed, well spaced and completely free of spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Keep it short and to the point, recommends recruitment agency Anders Glaser Wills and certainly no longer than three sides of A4 - ideally two.

Your employment record - the key part of any CV - should start with your most recent position, just as your educational background should give details of highest qualifications first. If you have a higher qualification, don't bother mentioning O Levels or GCSEs.

Since most recruiters spend only a few seconds reading a CV, the content must be immediately accessible and relevant. 'If you have to search for basic information you soon lose interest,' says Tony Jay, recruitment manager for Kvaerner Construction.

Explain why you are the best candidate for the job in your covering letter, Jay advises. Covering letters provide you with an opportunity to use clues from the advertisement and show enthusiasm, as well as highlighting your relevant skills and experience. Again, keep these short - no longer than a page of A4 - and type them if your handwriting is difficult to read.

Kvaerner, like most large organisations, electronically scans the hundreds of CVs it receives every year (a good reason to avoid coloured paper and fancy folders), so the inclusion of key words and phrases - 'claims', for example, or 'dealing with subcontractors' - will ensure yours gets noticed. 'About half the CVs we receive are by email,' says Jay, 'so it's advisable to gear yours to this.'

Compiling an online CV is something of a discipline in its own right and is even harder than writing a standard CV, says Bella Hubble, head of online careers hub

Her tips on how to compile an online CV include avoiding verbs in favour of nouns (job titles, technical skills and levels of education or experience) as well as 'sprinkling the document with buzzwords'. Anders Glaser Wills similarly recommends 'putting a name to your skills and attributes, rather than expanding your claims in descriptive language'.

Hubble also suggests pasting your CV into the body of an email message: 'Most employers ignore attachments because they worry about viruses and don't want to waste time with files their computer can't translate,' she says.

Key points

Tailor your CV to the vacancy

Find out as much as you can about the company or organisation

Your CV should be neatly typed, well spaced and completely free of spelling mistakes or grammatical errors

Start with your most recent position and highest qualifications

Ensure your CV is suitable for appearing online

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