How to write a good CV for a job application

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how to write a cv

What is a CV?

In its full form, CV stands for curriculum vitae (Latin for: course of life). In the US, Canada, and Australia, a CV is a document you use for academic purposes. The US academic curriculum vitae outlines every detail of your scholarly career. In other countries, curriculum vitae is an equivalent of an American resume. You use it when you apply for jobs.

Because this document is named differently across different countries, a lot of folks keep asking:

What is the difference between a CV and a resume?

Let’s get this straight, once and for all:

In the hiring industry, nowadays there’s almost no formal difference between a CV and a resume. It’s the same thing that Brits call a CV and Americans—a resume.

Just like they do with chips and french fries, football and soccer, or Queen Elizabeth and Queen Bey.

So, if you’re applying to a European company, you should create a curriculum vitae. But if you’re applying to a US-based employer, you should make a resume.

 

And no, a CV is not a cover letter. A curriculum vitae is a detailed list of specifications, while a cover letter is a full-blown marketing campaign.

CV: Proper Order of Sections

  1. CV Header with Contact Information
  2. Personal Profile: CV Objective/Summary
  3. Work Experience
  4. Education
  5. Skills
  6. Additional Sections

 

How to write CV employers will want to read.

Recruitment software now scans your CV for keywords and skills mentioned in the job advertisement. This software is used by recruitment agents and many employers. This means that you should change your CV for each job application, using keywords from the job advertisement.

Two types of CV

  1. Skills-focused CV – useful for career changers, school leavers or people with gaps in work history.
  2. Work-focused CV – useful for showcasing work experience and for people progressing to the next stage in their career.

Make your CV easy to read

Recruiters take 15-20 seconds to scan your CV the first time. If you make a good impression, they will read your CV more closely.

To make your CV look good:

  • use a black, easy-to-read font in one size
  • use short sentences and break up blocks of text
  • use bullet points to list information
  • keep the tone formal
  • avoid abbreviations, slang or jargon
  • avoid photos or images
  • have strong headings and lots of white space
  • keep your CV to two pages.
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Save your CV as a Word document and a PDF

Save your CV as both a Word document and a PDF. An employer may need either one of these file formats.

Label your CV files with your name, the application date, and the job you’re applying for.

If you update your Word document, remember to also create a new PDF

What to put in your CV

A CV must include:

  • your name and contact details
  • technical and personal skills
  • work, and community and volunteer experience
  • qualifications and education
  • referees (you can include referees or note that referees are available on request).

And could also include:

  • an objective and personal statement
  • achievements
  • interests
  • job-specific information (for example, a teacher would put their teaching philosophy).

What not to put in your CV

Don’t put:

  • a photo or images
  • coloured or fancy fonts or design
  • your date of birth or age
  • your marital status, religion or bank account details
  • too much text and bad spelling
  • a funny or rude email address
  • work experience or interests that are not relevant to the job
  • lies about your experience and skills.

Name and contact details

Include:

  • first and last name (this should be in large and bold text)
  • postal address, including area code
  • phone number
  • email address.

Optional:

  • job hunting profile link, such as LinkedIn or Behance
  • your professional website or Youtube channel link.

Make sure that:

  • your email address is work-appropriate, for example, kowhaijoneswork@email.com
  • your phone voicemail message only gives your name and a request to leave a message.

Objective and personal statement

An objective gives brief details about the type of work and role you would like and the industry you want to work in.

A personal statement gives the employer an idea of who you are in three or four sentences.

You can include:

  • what you’re currently doing for employment or education
  • what attracted you to the job you’re applying for
  • your reason you’re applying for this job
  • your career goals.
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Both an objective and a personal statement are optional and sit under your contact details.

Skills

The skills you put in your CV should be the same skills listed in the job advertisement.

Technical skills

Include a technical skill section in your curriculum vitae to list skills such as:

  • driver’s licenses
  • languages
  • computer programmes.

Examples of writing about personal skills in your curriculum vitae

In a skills-focused CV, list the skills from the job advertisement with examples of how you’ve used those skills. This should be at the top of your CV.

Strong communication skills
  • member of Southwest High School debating team
  • chaired the Mount Gibson Neighbourhood Support committee for two years.

In a work-focused CV, describe your skills in your work history.

2015-2017  Customer Services Representative, Beluga Rental Cars
  • Demonstrated strong communication skills when advising customers on car insurance.

Work history and work or volunteer experience

List your most recent jobs or work and volunteer experience first. Your work history needs to include:

  • the name of the employer
  • the job title/role
  • where the job was located
  • start date and end date.

Beneath this, list the tasks you performed. Also list any achievements.

If you change jobs in the same organization, include both job titles/roles.

You don’t need to list all your work history – keep your CV short.

Examples of work history

If you choose a skills-focused CV:

July 2017-August 2018  Counter assistant  Sione’s Bakery, Auckland
  • customer service
  • increased sales of large coffees by 10%.

If you choose a work-focused CV, describe your skills more:

July 2017-August 2018  Counter assistant  Sione’s Bakery, Auckland

Responsible for food and drink and customer service in bakery.

  • demonstrated excellent customer service skills when taking customer’s orders
  • lead sales of large coffees, increasing sales to 10%.

Use action verbs to describe your work history

Use action verbs to describe your work history and skills. These are words like demonstrated, managed, lead, developed, and organized.

Gaps in your work history?

If you have gaps where you haven’t been in paid work:

  • use a skills-focused CV
  • showcase skills you’ve learned on your break such as planning, budgeting, caring for family members
  • include work experience and volunteer work in your work history
  • explain the reason for big gaps in your cover letter.
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Qualifications

List your qualifications or education in the qualifications section of your CV. You can include:

  • NCEA levels or other school qualifications
  • school subjects with grades
  • certificates, diplomas or degrees
  • micro-credentials and short work-related courses
  • work-based training
  • professional development courses, conferences and workshops
  • online courses.

Format of qualifications section

List the newest or most relevant qualifications first. Include:

  • name of the course or qualification you completed
  • name of the course provider
  • where you studied
  • start and finish date of your training or study, or the year you graduated.

Achievements

Include an achievements section in your CV if you have important achievements that aren’t covered in the skills or work history sections.

You can include such things as:

  • awards and commendations
  • successfully completed projects
  • examples of how you helped a former employer meet their targets
  • important contributions to the community.

For each example, note what the achievement was, and when and where you achieved it.

Interests

Including your interests on your CV is optional. If you do, make sure you:

  • include interests that show skills that employers are looking for such as leadership skills
  • avoid common interests such as watching TV or going out with friends.

Referees

Referees talk to employers about your skills, work history and personality.

You need at least two referees. One referee should be your current manager, team leader or work experience supervisor.

Other referees could be a:

  • former employer
  • sports coach
  • teacher or principal
  • respected community leader.

Referee contact details should include their:

  • first and last names
  • job title
  • organization they work for
  • phone number
  • email address.

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