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How to write a successful CV

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Your CV is more than just a record of your education and working background; it’s your chance to create a first impression on a potential employer. They will use it to look at the skills and qualifications you have gained in the past, and how these might transfer to the role you are applying for. It will also be used to get an idea of the kind of person you are: Are you organised? Do you have good attention-to-detail? Will you fit in with the team?
At University of Essex Online, we use your CV in much the same way when you apply for one of our higher education courses. In every situation, it’s really important to get your CV right because first impressions are crucial. Struggling to organise your thoughts? Our guide should get you started…


Your CV can include:

  • Your contact details – It’s essential to include your name, address, telephone number and email address. Otherwise, how will employers know how to contact you?
  • Your qualifications – Any qualifications you have should always be on your CV, whether they are professional or private. However, unless it’s relevant, you do not need to list every training course you have attended.
  • Your employment history – Make sure you include your job title, the dates you worked there, a brief overview of your key responsibilities, training you have received and personal achievements. Remember, employers like to see statistics that prove your claims. For example, if you increased productivity, by what percentage did it improve? You should also write more about your most recent/relevant jobs.
  • A personal statement – This is an optional piece of content. It can sum up your background and is a good introduction to your CV, but be careful you do not repeat yourself.
  • Your hobbies and interests – This is another optional section often added on a CV. It is not always relevant but can help potential employers see your personality and how you might fit in with their team.

Never leave a gap in your background, even if you have a genuine reason for not working for a period of time (e.g. travelling, childcare, illness). The first thing anyone is going to ask is “what were you doing?”

No matter what content you choose to include, it should be clear, to the point and well-written. Treat this task like an article or assignment, but remember that you are selling yourself and your skills. Attention to detail is extremely important so your spelling and grammar should be perfect.



As a general rule, your CV should be no longer than two sides of A4. It should be laid out in a simple format with headers for each section. Keep it simple.

Fonts should also be kept simple; choose a classic easy-to-read font like Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman. Make sure you use the same font and size text throughout, otherwise it will look confusing and unprofessional. And always make sure you use black text on a white background; there’s no need to resort to gimmicks!



There are many different templates you can use when creating your CV. Some emphasise your academic qualifications, some highlight your experience, some use reverse-date order and some are chronological. Take a look at some example layouts here and choose one that best displays your personal strengths.
And whatever layout you choose, keep it neat and simple!



It is important to keep your CV up-to-date. When you get a new job or pass a course, add it as soon as you can. And remember, at the same time you’ll need to change the tense in your writing. For example, if you no longer hold a position it should not read “my role is”, it should read “my role was”.

In summary, whether you call it a CV or a résumé, there’s no denying that this is a key document that can have a lot of influence over your future career or education prospects. But with a little bit of preparation and care, you can create something that will give you  best possible chances.

Looking for more careers advice? Check out our free eBook