A CV is your personal marketing tool, so needs to be a summary of your relevant experience and skills, which will persuade an employer to interview you.
We have listed the key principles to follow, however, a CV is a personal document and people will have different opinions. Ultimately it’s your CV, and you have the final decision about the presentation and content.
A CV is sent in response to a job advert asking you to send a CV and covering letter or is sent by you as a speculative application. A speculative application can help you to find opportunities before they are advertised or may even persuade an employer to create a new job.
If you have to develop a design portfolio to accompany your CV, for example for roles in architecture, visit our design portfolio page. For portfolios used in medical recruitment, please visit our medical page.
How to make your CV stand out
Cathy Sibley, Employability Education Projects Officer, gives her top tips on how to make sure your CV stand out and placed on the interview pile.
What happens at a CV review?
Watch our video to find out what areas of your CV the adviser will focus on. Check out the advice below before your appointment.
What should I do before I start creating my CV?
It is tempting to rush straight into writing your CV but a couple of quick tasks before you begin may save you time in the long run and help you tailor your CV appropriately.
- Investigate the employer and the business sector. You should try to demonstrate your understanding of both of these throughout the application process. This is known as commercial awareness.
- Research what the employer is looking for. Start with the job description - what skills and experience are required? Demonstrate you have the experience and skills by using examples from your degree, previous jobs or internships and extracurricular activities.
What are the different types of CV? Includes example CVs
Chronological and skills-based CVs
A chronological CV means you list your work experience in chronological order - from most recent to past - providing examples of your skills. Make sure you highlight the most relevant.
Chronological CV - example
A skills-based CV focuses on your skills developed through extra-curricular activities, work experience and your degree. It shows how your transferable skills match the job description.
Skill-based CV - example
Which CV format should I use?
- If you have relevant work experience and especially if it’s with an employer relevant to the career you’re applying for then a chronological CV may work well.
- If you’ve got very little direct, relevant experience in the job you’re applying for, then a skills-based CV can be a good way to show how skills you’ve gained from other activities are transferable to the job you’re applying for.
CV for an international student
- CVs should be one or two pages long. CVs for academic roles may be longer - find out more on our Postgraduate Researcher website
- Some organisations will specify that they want a one-page CV, but it’s usually up to you to choose
- The Academic Language and Communication Skills (ALACS) team can support you with language choice, formality, sentence and paragraph structure, to help your application stand out
- Experience (including paid work, internships and volunteering.) gained outside of the UK is valid for a UK CV, just make sure that the experience is relevant
International student CV example
CV with little in-person experience as a result of the pandemic
During the pandemic, there were fewer opportunities for in-person internships, part-time jobs and volunteering experiences but online activities boomed. From these online activities, you will have developed a range of new skills, for example collaborating online and communicating using a range of new platforms.
We have created a CV and covering letter in response to a job vacancy to highlight how you can showcase your experience gained during the pandemic and skills developed. More on covering letters.
Other CV examples
LinkedIn profile - your digital CV
LinkedIn is a professional networking tool where you can connect with individuals, groups and companies. If you have a LinkedIn personal profile, you can showcase your experience, knowledge and skills and use it to contact others. It's basically your digital CV. Find out more about LinkedIn and get advice from our team on creating your profile.
How should my CV be formatted?
At first glance your CV needs to look impressive. It should appear neat and stylish and demonstrate that you have taken care to ensure excellent presentation.
- Always check spelling and grammar
- As a guide, a two-page CV is the accepted norm. However, some industries prefer shorter one-page CVs that are very concise, whereas an academic CV tends to be longer and can include more information
- Avoid a very text heavy appearance – be concise and use short bullet points, try not to use lengthy paragraphs
- Be consistent with formatting – emphasise headings by using a larger text size and/or bold. Choose font styles carefully, they should be easy to read. Align text neatly
- Use creativity with caution – it may be appropriate to introduce colour, graphics, or images when applying for certain roles and this can really help to get your CV noticed
- Try to draw attention to the most relevant items on your CV by locating them on the first page, by doing this an employer should be able to quickly see that you are a strong candidate and have the necessary attributes
What should I include in my CV? Includes checklist for review
Once you've read through this information and drafted your CV, use our CV checklist to review the content.
- No need to put a title to your CV. Just include your name, email and phone number as it’s obvious what the copy is
- Use a professional sounding email address and remember that your university email address will not be available after you graduate.
- Consider including links to your LinkedIn profile, personal blog, or professional Twitter page if the online content is appropriate.
Personal statement or career objective
If you decide to include a personal statement or career objective, then it should be a couple of sentences that states clearly who you are, what you have to offer and why you’re applying for the job or career area.
Avoid cliché buzz words like hardworking and responsible – would anybody say they weren’t hardworking and responsible?
Education and qualifications
List dates, institutions and overall grade with most recent education first. If it’s relevant to the job you’re applying for, include details of:
- titles of relevant modules studied
- the title of your dissertation or a significant piece of work
- key academic or transferable skills gained
- work placements or industry experience included in the course
- any competitive scholarships or academic awards achieved
Employment history and work experience for a chronological CV
- Stress any work experience that is directly relevant first.
- List the employer, location and dates and then bullet point your main responsibilities and key achievements.
- If you have had a lot of general part-time work experience and are short of space on your CV, you could group these jobs together and list the key skills you feel you have gained.
What if I don't have any experience?
- Make a list of all your activities such as your degree; any work or placement experience, spare time activities and sports
- Analyse the transferable skills you are gaining from these experiences and use them as examples for your CV.
- Have a look at this blog post for some great ideas.
- You could book an appointment to talk about this with an adviser.
Skills profile for a skills-based CV
- A skills profile lists the key skills needed for a specific job and gives examples from across your experience that shows you have these.
- From the job description, decide what the most important three to five key skills required are.
- Use these key skills as subheadings.
- Under each subheading give brief, bulleted, examples of how you’ve demonstrated this skill.
Additional qualifications and skills
Other qualifications such as language qualifications, IT skills, medical or first aid qualifications and having a driving licence could go in this section.
You can include details of any other significant achievements but consider the relevance of these and suggest how your achievement can be transferred to another context.
Positions of responsibility
If you include significant positions of responsibility, remember to consider the relevance of these and suggest how your experience can be used in another context.
Read our blog: References - What, Why, Who, When, Where
- On your CV you can either list your referees’ name, job title and contact details or state ‘References available on request.’ If you’re running short of space it’s not even crucial to do this as employers assume you will have referees available.
- Ideally have one academic referee and one from a work situation or a position of responsibility. Make sure you have asked your referees and if you get an interview, let referees know and send them details of the job you have applied for.
How can the language I use make my CV stand out? Includes list of action verbs
How you use language is important. You can dramatically strengthen your statements by using simple language techniques effectively.
Make verbs work for you
- Use active verbs rather than passive verbs. For example: I organised a programme of speakers, I motivated the team or I analysed research data
- Combine action verbs to further emphasise your achievements. For example: I researched alternative options and negotiated a better deal, I managed the project and delegated responsibilities to team members or I designed and implemented a new system
- Use the list of action verbs provided to ensure that you demonstrate a range of experience and abilities.
- Avoid weak verbs, for example: I tried to.., I hoped to... or I attempted to...
Go to our list of action verbs
Add detail to your examples
Explain your contribution clearly by adding appropriate details. This will help to quantify the level of your actions and emphasise your achievements. For example:
- Increased sales by 25%
- I organised a charity ball for 150 guests and 12 VIPs
- I resolved customer enquiries efficiently by responding to all enquiries within 24 hours
- I achieved consistently positive feedback from customers; 85% ranked the service they received as excellent.
Cut the padding
Try not to use overly long sentences or lengthy paragraphs. It is important to be concise in order to quickly impress.
Unlike writing an essay when putting your CV together it isn’t essential to use joining words such as: ‘however’, ‘furthermore’, and ‘nevertheless’.
And, it is also useful to limit your use of stock phrases such as: ‘as a result of this...’, ‘in response to this...’, ‘in order to...’
From an employer's perspective
When looking at job applications I'm as interested in the contents of the CV and cover letter as I am academic performance.
Clearly, good grades are a litmus test for taking the conversation further, but I want to know more about what you can bring to our company and how we can develop you too.
Extracurricular activities, self-development and society interactions are a few of these indicators of a great candidate.
Aaron Dicks, Managing Director, Impression (Digital Marketing Agency) Nottingham
Frequently asked questions including CVs for countries around the world
How long should a CV be? Should I put a photograph on my CV?
Usually two sides of A4. There may be specific industry sectors such as finance or consultancy who will specify a one-sided CV.
No, don't include a photograph for a CV targeted at the UK job market. UK convention is also not to include date of birth, marital status or race.
Use a modern font such as Arial, Verdana or Calibri with the font size 10 or 11 for the main text, 14 for sub-headings and a larger text size for your name at the top of the page.
I'm applying for jobs outside the UK, what should my CV look like?
CVs, or resumes as CVs are often called in other countries, may have different conventions around presentation and content.
Photographs and dates of birth are not required on UK CVs, yet in Asian countries they may be a requirement.
If you’re writing a CV aimed at an overseas job market, then take a look at Passport Career for guidance on writing a CV for over 80 countries.
Go to Passport Career - free access for Nottingham students and graduates
What about being more creative with my CV?
Very creative CVs are generally used be people going for creative jobs in design. If you’re interested in looking at some different CV templates, take a look at Canva
I want to thank Harriet Akehurst as she helped me build a perfect CV from scratch for my career in research. The Careers team is very professional and made me feel comfortable as an international student.