Nine essential CV details ‒ and some that should be removed.
So, you're looking for a job and want to know how to write a CV? Take a look at the top nine things you should always include in your CV ‒ plus what details you should remove ‒ to ensure your job applications impress every employer.
1. Name and contact information
The first thing to include in your curriculum vitae (CV) is your name. Let's clarify that only your first name and surname are required ‒ no middle names, please. Then put your professional job title with your name. These details act as the title of your CV. Therefore, the phrase “curriculum vitae” should not get a mention.
Your contact information sits comfortably beside your name and professional title. At the very least, you should detail your phone number and email address. Once upon a time, it was customary to include your full address too. However, as snail mail is largely a communication method of the past, there's little need to add this information. You can limit your location to your town and county of residence.
2. Personal profile
The next section of your CV is your profile. Whilst this section goes by many names in the recruitment industry, such as personal profile, professional profile and personal statement, it has one main purpose.
Your personal profile needs to give the prospective employer a snappy overview of what you're all about, covering your profession, what you can bring to the role and your current career goals. It's a short section – only about five lines – but it needs to showcase your relevance to the job and make an impact to convince employers that the rest of your CV is worth reading.
3. Core competencies
If you have a selection of skills and qualifications that make you a great fit for the role, you should introduce a Core Competencies section to make them stand out.
Typically, Core Competencies or Key Skills sections sit underneath your personal profile. Bullet point between six and 10 of your best attributes which immediately signal to the hiring manager that you are a match for the vacancy.
These skills can be hard or soft, they could be certifications or awards, they could be a list of tools or software – whatever best shows you are qualified for the role.
Not only will the prospective employer get an overview of your abilities immediately, but also, your CV will be optimised for applicant tracking systems (ATS).
4. Employment history/work experience
Another key component to include in your CV is your employment history. This section details your positions of employment in reverse-chronological order ‒ so your most recent role is at the beginning.
For each job, include your dates of employment, your job title, the company, a line about the role, and bullet points detailing your duties, skills, and achievements. The work experience you had in these roles are key components of your CV since they let the hiring manager get an understanding of your skills and experiences based on your work history.
In theory, your most recent role should take up the most room because it's the peak of your career so far and therefore showcases your best abilities. The older the job, the less detail it requires. If you have a role that's older than 10 years, you may decide to remove it from your CV completely.
5. Volunteer experience
Volunteer work can be extremely valuable on your CV, especially if it's related to the role you are applying for. Adding this type of experience is also a great way to fill an employment gap, supplement work history if you are changing careers or support your CV if you have recently left education.
When adding volunteer work on your CV, it's best to include it as a standalone role in your Employment History section, the same as any other work experience. Add your job title, the organisation's name and the dates you held the position, followed by a brief summary of your role there and bullet points detailing your main duties and achievements.
As always, tailor your volunteering experience to the job you are applying for and optimise your write-up with keywords from the job description to make its relevance clear. Learn more about including volunteering on your CV.
Like your work experience section, your education must be listed in reverse-chronological order. As a minimum, you need to include the name of your degree or qualification, the institution of study or awarding body, the grade you obtained, and the dates you studied or achieved the qualification.
If you're just starting your career, and your education is still a huge selling point on your CV, you can add bullet points explaining relevant modules, assignments, placements and skills under each institution. Read here for more detail about adding your education information to your CV.
7. Awards and certifications
You may also consider adding awards and certifications to your CV. The awards could be academic, industry, work or volunteering-related.
When writing accolades on your CV, include the official award title, the purpose of the award and what it recognised, the scope of it, and the date of recognition. For example: 'Awarded the 2015 Student Publication Association's Best of Student Media Award for “Ant Infestation at Telford Court” news story'.
Certifications are written slightly differently, limited to the official title of the certificate, the awarding body and the date it was obtained. For example, 'Hubspot Inbound Marketing Certification Course 2018' or 'PRINCE2 Agile 2016'.
By adding awards and certificates to your CV, you offer third-party validation which proves your competency and worth to prospective employers. Learn more here.
8. Professional affiliations and memberships
If you are a member of a few professional bodies, it is worth adding them to your CV to highlight your involvement in your industry and demonstrate your commitment to your profession.
Include the name of the organisation and the type of membership you have (which is often student, professional, fellow or associate). For example, you may be a member of The Law Society which you could write as 'The Law Society (Member)', or you may be a fellow at the Royal College of Nursing, which may be written as 'Fellow – Royal College of Nursing (RCN)'. There's no one way to list the memberships ‒ just be consistent.
If you are in more than three professional associations, create a new section titled Professional Memberships. If you have less, include them in your achievements or Core Competencies section.
9. Hobbies and interests
You can introduce a Hobbies and Interests section to your CV if you feel it will boost your candidacy in some way.
If you are applying for a marketing position at an e-scooter and e-bikes company, they are unlikely to be interested in your passions for football and reading. However, if you are a keen runner or cyclist, or perhaps have an interest in sustainability, those interests would be more appropriate inclusions as they show you align with the company's offering.
For those that are just starting out in their career or are changing careers, adding a Hobbies section can bring colour to your CV and give the recruiter a better understanding of your personality and abilities. Just make sure they aren't run-of-the-mill, and watch out for oversharing. Read more about the correct way to include hobbies and interests on your CV.
Words and phrases you should never include on your CV
Just as there are certain details that always belong on your CV, there are others that should not be included. Specifically, there are words and phrases that can worsen your CV because they are overused and boring, out of date, or just plain confusing. If you notice that any of these things are currently featured on your CV, it's best to remove them right away.
Prime offenders: managed, responsible for, assisted with, handled, worked
Get creative! Saying that you 'managed this', 'managed that' and 'managed something else' is pretty uninspiring to read. There are hundreds of ways of avoiding this repetition. Instead of 'managed', consider 'spearheaded', 'led', 'directed', 'oversaw' and so on.
There's really no excuse for repeating the same old vocabulary when you can create a more engaging and compelling CV with a bit of extra thought (or with the help of your thesaurus).
Buzzwords and clichés
Prime offenders: hardworking, reliable, creative, motivated, enthusiastic, team player, results-focussed, goal-oriented, passionate, proactive
If a recruiter has read one CV for a 'hardworking', 'reliable' candidate who is a 'team player' with 'excellent communication skills', they've read a thousand. Remove these cheesy words from your CV right now. They are overused to the point of meaninglessness and add nothing of value.
If you really do possess these skills, aim to show, rather than tell. This means that instead of saying you're a team player and expecting the reader to believe you, provide a solid example of when you used this particular skill.
Trendy job titles
Prime offenders: Guru, Rock Star
Whether this is part of your official job title or how you've personally chosen to describe yourself, overly creative job titles do not help your CV at all. Both humans and applicant tracking systems look for job titles aligned with the vacancy, so using a common, clear job title will highlight your suitability better.
Don't leave the recruiter guessing what you do. If you're a Business Development Manager applying for a Business Development Manager role, then describe yourself as a Business Development Manager ‒ not a BusDev Guru. You'll improve your search rating and sound more professional.
Prime offenders: mailing address, unnecessary social media links, date of birth, family situation
None of these details prove your suitability for the job. In fact, most are covered by anti-discrimination legislation, meaning that they should be ignored anyway. Plus, if you're uploading your CV publicly online, excessive personal details can also present a security risk.
As stated, cut your mailing address down to your town and county only. Ensure that your email address is sensible, and add only your LinkedIn URL and link to an online portfolio, if applicable for your field. Leave out links to your Facebook profile or mentions of your marital status.
The objective statement is considered outdated now. Remember that you would be hired to perform an employer's role, not because the vacancy suits your needs.
This is where the aforementioned personal profile comes in. It is the modern replacement of the objective statement. Learn more about how to make the most out of this overview of you.
Prime offenders: religious affiliations, political affiliations, sporting affiliations
There are some topics that just don't need to be brought into the workplace. If you're active in a particular political party or a devout member of a religious congregation, it's safe to say that, unless it directly relates to the role you're applying for, there's no place for this information on your CV. Even football team allegiances can prove controversial, so think carefully about what you're including if you do decide to add a personal interests section. There's no point alienating the reader and provoking bias for a reason completely unrelated to your suitability for the role.
Prime offenders: I, me, my, mine
CVs should be written in the absent first person, not the typical first-person. Instead of saying 'I analysed data and my reports were presented to senior management', you should say 'Analysed data and presented reports to senior management'.
This is a standard CV-writing convention, which firstly avoids the rather egocentric repetition of 'I, I, I' and secondly sounds much more professional.
Prime offenders: References available on request, referee contact details
If your references are required at any stage of the application process, the recruiter will ask for them, regardless of whether your CV includes 'References available on request'. Even worse is including the contact details of your referees; they won't appreciate your sharing their private details when you upload your CV online for the world to see, nor will they appreciate being bombarded with reference requests for jobs that you ultimately don't come close to getting.
Try to keep this information back until you are well into your candidacy and a potential employer specifically requests it. Plus, the space you save by removing this information from your CV can be used to sell yourself further to the recruiter, thereby increasing your chances of progressing to the interview stage. Here are more tips about how to best use references in your job search.
Does your CV have all the right elements? Find out with a free CV critique.
This article was updated in February 2021. It contains work written by Jen David.