Writing an Effective CV or Resume

Writing a CV can be a very difficult process. There are so many conventions and it is easy to get confused and just send one out without much care and attention. It takes a long time to perfect a CV, but it is a very valuable tool and essential in your job hunt! The CV can be the only piece of information about you an employer usually has. An employer should look at your CV and think that you person can do the job they are applying for.

There are many different types of CV, which suit different individuals and circumstances. The most common and accepted is the chronological CV which presents your information in order of date.


General Tips for CV Writing

  • Keep it relevant to the job you are applying to, employers will not  skim your CV looking for significant information. If the information they need is not immediately apparent, they will not look for it.

  • If you want your CV to be most effective, you should tailor it to the job and organisation you are applying to. You will get lots of information on company websites, company literature, job adverts etc. about the 'type' of person working in the organisation and be able to adapt your CV to match this.

  • Your CV should be a story of what you have been doing in your work life, keep it interesting, you don't want employers to think that you have done nothing exciting!

  • Don't include things that you did at school, or years ago. Employers are interested in what you are doing now.

  • Make sure that there are no spelling, grammatical or formatting errors - get as many people as you can find to proof-read your CV.

  • Do not include contentious information, or information that will lead people to stereotype you.

  • Do not have unexplained gaps in your work history. If you have been travelling, have had time off to care for a child or relative, put this information in. If you leave it blank, the employer will assume the worst!

  • Keep it as short as you can - preferably to two sides of A4 paper (make sure the paper is good quality)


General Tips for Covering Letters

Covering letters are also difficult things to write. General advice would be if responding to an advertisement:

  • Observe the custom for writing business letters, with your address on the top right and the recipient's address under this on the left.

  • Always address a person (you can phone the organisation to ask who to address your Covering Letter to).

  • If the job advert has minimum educational or experience requirements, mention that you have these requirements in your Covering Letter.

  • Never say that the company can benefit you, say how you can benefit the company, give an example of where you have benefited a company in the past.

  • Keep the Covering Letter short, employers often do not have the time to read long Covering Letters, should be one Side of A4.

  • The Covering letter should have a polite, friendly, yet formal tone.

Before you write your CV and start applying for jobs, it would be highly beneficial to think about your marketing strategy. In other words, what are your key selling points and what would make an organisation want to employ you. You need to be able to pinpoint your major strengths and skills, so if you are asked questions about them you are able to respond appropriately.

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities
To help you it may be useful to make lists about:

1. What you know

a. Knowledge about the Industry
b. Knowledge about the Job
c. Specialist Knowledge about the subject

2. What you are able to do

a. Particular Qualifications
b. Competencies

3. What you have experience doing

a. Work Experience in the area.
b. Experience of work in general.

Ask your friends and relatives about your best qualities and ask them how they would describe you. This will enable you to find out how people perceive you and make you more aware of how you present yourself. This is a very valuable learning experience and may give you the motivation to change less appealing perceptions before you start going to selection events.

Many organisations use competencies in their personnel selection. Competencies are defined as ‘a motive, skill, aspect of one’s self-image or social role, or a body of knowledge’ (McClelland, 1973)

Typical competencies organisations look for are

Interpersonal Communication Skills
Involving interacting, listening and conversing with other people in order to develop and maintain relationships with them. It may involve giving advice to others, bargaining, negotiation, influencing and encouraging people at work. This may also involve verbal and non-verbal communication, writing and presentation skills.

Team Working
Team Working involves working with others to complete an activity, task or project, or solve a problem using communication/interpersonal and organisational skills. Participation in a team often involves using influencing and persuasion skills, as well as bargaining and negotiation skills, whilst ensuring cooperation rather than competition with fellow team members.

Planning and Organisation
Planning and organisation involves preparation to make sure that all available eventualities are considered, searching for and communicating relevant information to others, and the evaluation of all available evidence. It may also involve coordinating people and other resources in a methodical, logical, and systematic manner with a close attention to detail.

Problem Solving
Problem Solving involves identifying that a problem exists and accurately defining what the nature of the problem is, gathering and evaluating problem relevant information, generating and evaluating possible problem solutions, implementing solutions and monitoring the effectiveness of your actions by setting objectives and milestones.

Adaptability and Resilience
This involves being able to deal with ambiguous or conflicting information, handling conflict and maintaining levels of performance in high-pressure situations. It also involves being able to cope with the demands of change or the unexpected, using personal flexibility, assertiveness, confidence, enthusiasm, responsiveness, objectivity, drive, and judgment.

It may be useful to keep these definitions of competencies in mind so that if you are asked a question on an application form or in an interview, you are able to recall what makes up a particular competency.

Key Selling Points
Thinking about your Key Selling Point is an important part of your preparation for your job search. This is the one thing that makes you stand out and makes you special. You have to answer the question:


This is a very difficult question to answer, but it can be easily answered using information about your knowledge, skills and abilities.

Q. What do we have at the Career Psychology Centre that can help you identify your own personal characteristics and help you work out ways of addressing the development areas you may have in relation to a particular type of work? 

A. The Career Development Report is designed to help you. After completing the on-line Work Personality Questionnaire you are presented with an in-depth personality assessment report, which you can then use to develop your own understanding of yourself, and as the springboard to embark on your own personal development using the Career Development Workbook.

As you have already gathered lots of information about yourself, the type of work you would be interested in doing, and the organisations you would like to work in, you will find it very easy to write an effective CV and Covering Letter. The difference between a good and poor application is the amount of time spent on the application, including researching the position and organisation. Applications fail because the person reading the CV thinks that the candidate lacks the qualifications and experience required for the job.

The Covering Letter and CV, or application form, are your crucial marketing documents. They are the only items an employer has to base their decision on whether to invite you to a selection event or not. Remember, the employer is looking for what you can do for them, rather than what they can do for you.

Preparing a generic CV and Covering Letter before you start your job hunt is a good idea, as all you will have to do is adapt it to fit the organisation you are applying to. It would be a good idea to invest in some good quality stationary, including envelopes that do not require you to fold your CV, so it arrives in good condition.

Sending a CV by email is a tricky thing, as employers are anxious about receiving computer viruses by email, and some may be reluctant to open your attachment. A way round this is to remove all formatting and put your Covering Letter and CV into the main body of your email. You should email this to a few of your friends and ask them to send it back to you to check that it does not get corrupted.

Covering Letter
This is the letter that will invite the person opening your letter to read your CV. It introduces you and sets the tone of your application.

  • Write it as you would write a formal letter; make sure your spelling, punctuation and grammar are immaculate

  • Make sure you address the letter to a person. You can find out the name of the person who deals with recruitment by calling the organisation.

  • You can keep the general layout the same for all organisations, but it is imperative to tailor each Covering Letter to reflect the things the organisation is looking for.

  • Flatter the company/employee and show the reader that you have done your company research, mention any news articles that you have seen about the company.

  • A very important piece of advice would be to say what you can do for the organisation, not what the organisation can do for you.
     For example do not say:
    ‘I am looking for a position that will enable me to practise what I have learnt on my course and help me achieve experience in this field.’
    You can make the same statement more useful to an employer by phrasing it like this:
    ‘As I have recently completed my course, my up to date knowledge, fresh views and new ideas may be highly advantageous to your company.’

  • The Basic outline should be:  You should take me seriously because…/ I have the skills you need/are looking for…

Curriculum Vitae/Resume

  • Your CV should give a complete chronicle of what you have been doing in your Career in the past; in particular, what have you been doing over the past 10 years.

  • It is up to you how you present the information, you should aim to make your qualifications and experience look outstanding.

  • Your CV should only be 2 pages in length, unless you have had a lengthy Career, where you should only include information that is relevant to the job you are applying for.

  • Tailor it for each application; each job application requires different things.

  • There are many different CV types and ways to format them. You have to decide the best way to present yourself.

  • Get as many people as you can to proof read and check it for spelling and grammatical errors.

Q. What do we have at the Career Psychology Centre that can help you choose the correct CV layout to best present your information and avoid common mistakes?

A. The Personal CV and Resume Writer Downloadable software that will help you write your CV and Covering Letter. You only have to enter your information once to have your basic CV. CVs can be easily edited, kept up to date and tailored using the built-in editor, or the information can be easily saved and edited with a word processing program. It can help you avoid common mistakes like...

  • Using the wrong CV Layout Type for your individual circumstances?

  • Writing a CV with inappropriate or irrelevant content?

  • Writing a CV with key information missing?

  • Failing to make the most of your own unique history and producing a CV which looks just like everyone else's?

  • Padding your CV with useless information because you struggle to find interesting

  • Using only a single CV for different job applications, rather than tailoring it for each different job application?

  • Not keeping your CV up to date?

  • Having too many CV's and losing track of them?

  • Failing to make the most of non work related experience?

  • Not adequately describing your own behavioural strengths?

  • Writing inappropriate or badly produced covering letters?