The Ultimate Guide to Building a CV

Tue, Apr 26 2016

When applying for a job, it is vital that you have prepared a professional Curriculum Vitae (CV) that conveys your academic qualifications, employment background and key skills to your potential employer. Many candidates underestimate the value of a strong CV and, as a result, they significantly hinder their chances of acquiring their preferred job. Irrespective of whether you have just finished your academic studies or whether you have worked in your preferred field of industry for several years, your CV needs to present a bold and clear message to your potential employers. This is where the following guide can help. From explaining the key elements of your CV and learning how to explain a gap on your CV, to demonstrating a step-by-step guide on how to write a competent CV, this valuable resource will equip you with all you need to know in order to successfully represent yourself via your CV thereby substantially improving your employability prospects.

Why do people fail to get shortlisted?

The submission of a CV is usually the initial stage of any selection process. Most employers will place a job advert either in a newspaper or online with brief details of the job attached inviting people to apply for the post by way of submitting their CV. The vast majority of people will send off their ‘generic’ CV by email and then wonder why they never receive a reply. When you own a business you have to make sure that every minute of your working day is used to promote growth and profitability for your company; sending out acknowledgment e-mails and letters to submitted CV’s does not fail into either of these categories. So, as a job applicant you have to understand how your average business owner or head of department operates – in a nutshell, they are very busy people and as such you need to make your CV as appealing and as effective as possible. If you do this, then they will notice your CV and you will get shortlisted; it’s as simple as that!

What makes an effective CV?

In simple terms, an effective CV is one that matches the person specification and the requirements of the job you are applying for. Your CV should be used as a tool to assist you during the selection process and it should be centred on the following areas: creating the right impression of yourself; indicating that you possess the right qualities and attributes to perform the role of the job you are applying for; gabbing the assessor’s attention; being concise, succinct and clear; and providing evidence of your relevant skills and qualifications.

The most effective CV’s are the ones that make the assessor’s job easy. They are simple to read, to the point, relevant and they also focus on the job/role that you are applying for. CV’s should not be overly long unless an employer specifically asks for this. Most people are guilty of creating one CV and submitting it for many different jobs; this is a big mistake. Although it involves additional work, your CV should be tweaked, amended and updated for every job you apply for.

Before you begin to start work on your CV it is a good idea to have a basic idea of how a job/person specification is constructed. A job description/person specification is basically a blueprint for the role you are applying for; it sets out what the employer expects from potential applicants. One of your main focus points during the construction of your CV will be to match the job/person specification using keywords and phrases. Most job/person specifications will include the following areas:

EXPERIENCE REQUIRED: previous jobs, unpaid work experience, life experience, skills, knowledge and abilities: for example, languages, driving, knowledge of specialist fields, ability to use equipment, plus some indication of the level of competence required, and whether the person must have the skills or knowledge beforehand or can learn them on the job.

QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED: exams, certificates, degrees, diplomas (some jobs require specific qualifications, but most do not and it can be fairer to ask for the skills or knowledge represented by the qualification rather than asking for the qualification itself).

PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES REQUIRED: such as strength, ability to lift, willingness to work in a hectic busy environment or on one's own.

PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES: such as being able to work weekends or evenings or even to travel.

Whatever requirements you are asked to meet, you should try hard to match them as closely as possible, providing evidence if possible of your previous experience. The first step in creating an effective CV is to obtain a copy of the person specification and the job description. You then need to highlight the key skills, qualities and attributes within the document(s) and write them down on a separate piece of paper or word document.

Once you have created your list detailing the requirements, skills and attributes for the job you are now able to start creating you CV and building it around the list you have compiled. By following this process for every job you apply for you will be greatly increasing your chances of success. Every great CV will contain a personal statement which describes your own personal qualities and the reasons why you have applied for the job. It doesn’t have to be a long statement, but sufficient enough to tell the reader that you are the person they need to interview. 

What is the person assessing your CV looking for?

As previously stated you should ensure that you make the assessor’s job as simple as possible. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the assessor. How would you want an applicant’s CV to look? You would want it to be relevant to role they are applying for and you would want it to be neat, concise and well organised. For the majority of jobs out there, there will be a job specification and/or person specification. You need to spend some time thinking about the type of person they are looking for and how you can match the specification that is relevant to the job you want as already covered. Most job specifications will list the essential/desirable requirements in terms of education, qualifications, training, experience, skills, personality and any other special requirements.

Find samples for person specification and personal statement here

The key elements of a CV

Let’s now take a look at each of the above sections and what you need to include:


When completing this section you should include the following details:

Your full name


Date of birth


Contact telephone numbers including home and mobile

E-mail address


To begin with try to write a brief but to the point statement about yourself making sure you include the keywords that best describe your character. Some effective words to use when describing yourself might include: ambitious, enthusiastic, motivated, caring, trustworthy, meticulous, sense of humour, drive, character, determination, will to succeed, passionate, loyal, teamwork, hard working. The above words are all powerful and positive aspects of an individual’s character. Try to think of your own character and what positive words you can use that best describe you. Within your profile description try to include a statement that is relative to you and that will make the assessor think you are the right person for the job. 


When completing this section try to ensure that it is completed in reverse chronological order. Provide the reader with dates, locations and employers and remember to include your job title. Give a brief description of your main achievements and try once again to include words of a positive nature, such as: achieved, developed, progressed, managed, created, succeeded,devised, drove, expanded, directed, ... It is also a good idea to quantify your main achievements, such as: “During my time with this employer I was responsible for motivating my team and organising different activities.”


When completing this section include the dates, names and locations of the schools, colleges or universities that you attended in chronological order. You should also include your qualifications and any other relevant achievements such as health and safety qualifications or first aid qualifications. Anything that is relevant to the role you’re applying for would be an advantage.


Within this section try to include interests that match the requirements of the job and ones that also portray you in a positive manner. In order to assist you I will now provide you with some sample hobbies and pastimes and details of how they can improve your CV:

Reading – This demonstrates you are an intelligent individual who looks for ways to improve their knowledge of subjects. It also shows that you are capable of relaxing, which in turn improves health.

Visiting the gym and playing sports – These demonstrate you a team player as well as having a desire to keep yourself fit. If you keep fit and healthy then you are less likely to take time off sick.

Playing a musical instrument – This demonstrates you have the patience and ability to learn something new. It also demonstrates you have the ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

Voluntary work – This shows you have a dedicated and caring nature. Putting voluntary work on your CV is very powerful.


Within this section of your CV you can include any other information that is relevant to your skills or experiences that you may feel are of benefit. Examples of these could certificates of achievement from work or school.


It is good practice to include two references at the end of your CV. Try to include your current or previous employer, providing you know that they are going to write positive things about you. Be careful who you choose as a reference and make sure you seek their permission first prior to putting down their name and contact details. It may also be a good idea to ask them if you can have a copy of what they have written about you for reference later.

Here are some sample CVs;

and a step-by-step guide to writing your CV that can be really helpful.

How to explain a gap on your CV

Unfortunately, many employers will overlook viable and qualified candidates if their CV demonstrates that they have periods of time wherein they have not been employed, even if they have proficient abilities and would thrive well within their company's environment. Therefore, you need to convince your prospective employers that you are still an exemplary choice for their company. In order to do this, you need to be prepared to confidently answer any interview questions in relation to employment gaps in your CV.

1. Formatting your CV effectively

Although you cannot hide an employment gap from your potential employers, you can format your CV in such a way that appears more promising. For example, you can omit the month and only display the years in which you have been employed. If you can provide a diplomatic answer for your CV gap, you will present yourself as professional as well as assuaging any worries your employer may previously have had about your CV gap.

2. Illness

If your employment gap is the result of a period of illness, it is advisable to respond in a manner which implies you are now in a healthy condition and are enthusiastic about returning to work. For example:

"Due to a medical condition I was unable to continue work in my previous position. However, I have now recovered to full health and am enthusiastic to recommence full time employment".

When it comes to unemployment gaps due to illness, prospective employers simply want to be reassured that you are able to fulfil all of the duties of your job with the same ability and determination of an able-bodied person. Subsequently, during your CV and throughout the interview process, you should focus upon solidifying to your employers that your health has now recovered, that you are capable of returning to full time employment, and that you are excited to do so.

3. Redundancy

Alternatively, if your unemployment gap is the result of redundancy, it is advisable that you focus on the work skills and benefits which your previous position granted you:

"Unfortunately, as the result of budget cuts my previous employer was forced to issue a series of redundancies. With regards to redundancies, my previous employer advocated a ‘first-in, last-out’ policy. Due to the fact that I had not been working for the company as long as my fellow colleagues, I was made redundant. Despite these circumstances, I believe that the position equipped me with a variety of teamwork and time management skills, as well as introducing me to the operations of the industry as a whole".

Today's tough economic climate means that employers understand the perils of budget cuts. Therefore, if you can present a professional and rational answer which does not insult your previous employer, you can reassure your future employers that you were made redundant as the result of universal budget cuts, rather than your personal abilities or work ethic. As a result, you will still present yourself as a promising candidate for the job.

4. Caring for a family member

If your unemployment gap is the result of caring for a sick family member or children, your response should be focused upon your ability to competently resume full time employment:

"For the past (insert period of time absent from work), I have been caring for a sick family member. Fortunately their health has now fully recovered and I am enthusiastic about resuming full-time employment".

"For the past (insert period of time absent from work), I have been caring for my children. However, now that my children are in full-time education / I have arranged full-time childcare, I am now able to commit myself to full-time employment".

It is fairly common for people to take time out of work to care for a sick family member or to care for their children. As long as you can reassure your potential employers that these responsibilities will not hinder your work duties, then these types of CV gaps should not hinder your chances of gaining employment.

5. Voluntary work/travelling

If you can provide a cogent and professional reason for your CV gap which outlines your strengths and relevant credentials, employers will be motivated to hire you and will remember you in the future as a prospective candidate. Therefore, when explaining your CV gap, present it as a period of skills acquirement and personal improvement. For instance; if your CV gap is the result of participating in voluntary work or travelling abroad, then you can emphasise how these experiences enabled you to acquire valuable skills. Many employers look favourably on candidates who can speak another language, have participated in voluntary work or who have studied additional educational courses. For example:

"Before embarking upon a new job opportunity, I felt the need to broaden my cultural experiences and global perspective. During this time I was fortunate to travel across the globe and experience new cultures. By doing so, I have gained a broader perspective on life as well as consolidating my linguistic skills. These are attributes which I am enthusiastic to apply to this position and I relish the opportunity to focus on the challenges ahead".

"Volunteering at (insert location) for (insert period of time) has enabled me to gain a greater understanding of different cultures and alternative perspectives. I have developed a deeper respect for the needs and ideals of others, as well as improving my ability to work in a team and create a product which will benefit multiple lives. These are qualities which I feel confident to apply to my next avenue of employment".

6. Omitting irrelevant information

You do not need to include your entire work history on your CV. In fact, by omitting irrelevant items of information, you can detract attention from any employment gaps. It is better to provide a brief yet relevant CV which does not imply that you have had any periods of unemployment rather than include an extensive amount of information which will emphasise any periods during which your were not working. 

7. How to positively present your unemployment gap on your CV

Any activities which demonstrate social skills are helpful. For example: skills such as teamwork, organisation, discipline, customer relations, time management and multi-tasking are all appealing to employers and will encourage them to consider you as a viable candidate for their company. Irrespective of whether you amassed these skills whilst volunteering, travelling or studying during your CV gap, you can still list these experiences just as you would any other job. By assigning these experiences or courses with a job title, company name, job description, and dates of employment, they will not appear as a gap on your CV. By presenting your CV gap as deliberate and productive, you will present yourself much more favourably to potential employers as opposed to them thinking that your CV gap is a negative factor.

8. Emphasise your transferrable skills

Many candidates have an employment gap on their CV because they have chosen to change careers. In these circumstances, you can focus upon the transferrable skills you possess in order to explain your CV gap. Employers value candidates who can adapt to suit any situation, and if you can demonstrate within your CV that you are able to transition between different careers, then you will be able to detract attention from your period of unemployment and substantially bolster your chances of being considered for a job. In order to achieve this, scrutinise the job specification of each position for which you apply. From this specification, locate the primary qualities and attributes which are valued for this position. Consequently, you can evaluate your previous job history and capitalise upon any skills and qualifications which are transferrable to this new position. As a result, when writing your CV you can highlight specific credentials and convey how you have changed careers because these skills and qualifications are more suitable to a new avenue of employment.

To conclude Richard McMunn leave us with some expert tips and advice.

Or if you have a graphic designer as a friend, check out this unbelievable resume from one creative mastermind.

Find the complete content of the guide to build a CV here.

Author: Richard McMunn, Managing Director of the publishing company 


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