How to Write an Impressive CV and Get a Better Job: Our 11 Step Checklist

How to Write an Impressive CV and Get a Better Job: Our 11 Step Checklist

Recruiters will take roughly six seconds to make an initial decision about your CV.

That means that you have just six seconds to impress or your application will go straight in the bin (or the ‘deleted items folder’).

As recruitment consultants we see thousands of CVs every year and believe me – few job seekers manage to take advantage of those 6 seconds.

Sometimes, a creative edge will do the trick  (you could always send your partner to deliver your application, whilst dressed up as the mad hatter).

But in general, there are just 11 things that recruiters genuinely want to see – work your way through this checklist to find out whether your CV is up to scratch…

1. General Information.

Don’t go crazy with your personal information! There’s only a few things recruiters genuinely need (and want) to know…

  • Your Name. First and second name will be grand.
  • Location. At this stage, recruiters don’t need your full address so including it just wastes precious CV space!
  • Mobile Number: For obvious reasons. If you don’t have a mobile (very unlikely I know) then use your house number.
  • Email Address. In case the recruiter would prefer to contact you via email (they might have further information to send over).

Don’t make the cardinal mistake of leaving out any contact information.  You’ll be surprised how many people do this.  You’ll see a really good CV, but all you have to go at is a name – no phone, no email, nothing.

Never create a barrier for someone to get in touch with you – it might be your dream job and you might be the perfect person for it, and the last thing you want to do is give the recruiter any excuse to bin your application and move onto the next one.

If you’re applying for more creative or digital jobs, it might be worth including links to your active social media, blogs, websites, portfolios etc.

Recruiter Pro Tip:

These days, almost all recruiters will check out your LinkedIn profile if they’d like to take your application further so make sure it’s up to scratch (and that you aren’t making any of these silly mistakes).

It’s crucial that your profile is up-to-scratch, up-to-date and reiterates the information you’ve included on your CV.

You’ll lose a recruiter if you apply for a marketing position but your LinkedIn expresses your ‘keen desire to work in journalism.’

Despite anything else, if you hand over too much information, you could put yourself at risk of identity theft (some job adverts are created for this very reason!).  So avoid sending across your mother’s maiden name, any favorite passwords, and your blood type…  You have been warned!

2. Personal Statement.

You’ve got just a couple of short sentences at the start of your CV to make a good impression and answer the recruiter’s ultimate question:  Who are you and why would I want to hire you?

Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder than it sounds and many candidates get it wrong… sometimes it’s best to just omit this section altogether!

But if you want to do it right, we have just three main tips:

  1. Think of the top 3 attributes the recruiter will be looking for and prove that you own those attributes.
  2. Write with passion: ‘I am interested in the position…’ sounds more like a boring cover letter than a fantastic CV opener.
  3. NEVER use terrible clichés and buzzwords like ‘Dynamic, innovative and creative graduate looking to start a fulfilling and challenging career in publishing.’

About me on CV of a graphic designer/photographer

3. Work Experience.

Include ALL of your previous work experience, in reverse-chronological order starting with your most recent/current employment.

Some will obviously need more detail than others, but it’s always good to list everything you’ve done briefly – it shows that you’ve (hopefully) got a good track record and worth ethic.

Each experience must include…

  • work experience section of a CVStart and end dates (month and year should suffice unless it was very temporary work).
  • The company name.  Recruiters might recognise the brand or want to research the company.
  • Your job title.  Sounds simple enough, but people still forget this key detail.
  • A one-liner introducing the company (what industry is it etc…)
  • Roughly 5 bullet points about your key responsibilities and achievements during your time at that workplace – don’t go crazy with this.  Ideally you want to leave the reader wanting more, so just pick the most relevant points for the role you’re applying to.

Your most relevant work history (usually your current one) should be the most detailed.  The least relevant (for example, part-time jobs taken in college/university) can be described with less detail, or even just listed if you’ve got a lot of experience in more relevant things.

Focus on significant and relevant achievements, results and stats!

If you made the company £100,000, tell recruiters that!  If you got a promotion, shout about it!  If you learned extra skills which will help for the advertised role, certainly emphasise that!

4. Gaps.

If hiring managers come across too many unexplained gaps in your working history and can see no explanation, they could become suspicious.

They’ll think you’re hiding something and for a lot of people it’s more hassle than it’s worth to find out what exactly.

If you decided to travel the world for a few months, mention it.  If you were made redundant, just add a little line to explain the situation.

If you were sacked from a previous company then it is of course going to be a lot more difficult to explain but you should still include the experience on your CV and prepare yourself to answer the question!

Be as honest as possible otherwise it will come back and bite you on the backside.

Recruiter Pro Tip:

The best way to avoid having to deal with the ‘gaps’ question?

Don’t have any gaps!  When you become unemployed, try and fill your time with impressive and meaningful activities.

Volunteer, take part in a course, learn a language… make it obvious that you didn’t sit idly by and watch time pass, but did something productive in an unlucky situation.

5. Education.

Perhaps most recruiters aren’t bothered about the grades you received for every single GCSE, but some will!  And much like our previous ‘gaps’ section, withholding information is suspicious.

Start with your latest educational triumphs and work backwards, always including…

  • The name and location of the institution.
  • Your start and end date.
  • The final grades you achieved.

It’s a good idea to include a brief description of any relevant modules you took too, for example, if you took a marketing module at university and are applying for a marketing position, emphasise it!

education section of the cv with all relevant information and modules
Remember, focus on things that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.  Taking a module is ‘Existentialism’ may seem impressive to you, but would your potential employer really care?

6. Key Skills.

skills based cvThis section is more of an optional bonus, but it could make a real difference, particularly if your experience or education are particularly scarce.

CVs are all about playing to your strengths so really have a think about everything you’ve done, the skills you’ve learned and how those skills would relate to the job at hand…

For example, have you learned to deal with conflict during your part-time job at university? To communicate in front of lots of people by doing drama at college? To organise events as part of a social club?

Everyone will gain certain skills during their lifetime and they don’t necessarily have to come from work experience.

7. Interests and Activities.

Despite what some people might say, employers do want to know that you have a life outside of work too!

Adding a short section about your hobbies, at the end of your CV (it’s obviously not the most important thing) if written well, can highlight personality traits that would be relevant to the role.

For a sales role, you could include a section about competitive sports you take part in.  If you’re applying for a third sector job, voluntary work will definitely be of interest.

hobbies and interests including 'socialising with friends'
Warning:  Recruiters don’t want to know the 20,000 things you do in your spare time of course and if you waffle on too much you’ll lose them (despite anything else they’ll wonder if you even have time to fulfill the role) so consider the role and mention hobbies that you think would genuinely impress them.

Oh and NEVER use the dreaded phrase: ‘I enjoy socialising with friends’.  As Reed rightly note, this is a real pet peeve for recruiters.  I mean, come on, who doesn’t enjoy socialising with friends?

8. References.

Some sources will advise you not to include references on your CV and I can understand why; with limited space to sell yourself and a high chance that they won’t even be contacted…what’s the point?

There is a point!  It adds credibility.  Marketers call things like this ‘social proof’ and is close as you can get to a testimonial.

Even if the hiring manager has absolutely no intention of contacting your current employer, at least they’ll know that the option is there.

It’s not necessarily a negative if you don’t include them, but it’s definitely a positive if you do; you’ll just seem more trustworthy.

Stick with two former employers, from your two most recent (or relevant) workplaces.

9. The Intangibles.

There are a few intangible things that a recruiter will be looking out for within your CV; attributes that you can easily portray if you get a little more creative with your CV.

The three biggies are…

  • Personality. No one wants to work with an arrogant, or boring colleague, so make sure you’re coming across fun, friendly and down-to-earth. (If you’re not sure, ask someone to proofread and check for you.)
  • Attention to detail. Nothing is worse than a CV riddled with mistakes.  It implies 2 negatives:  1 – you don’t have a good eye for details and 2- you’re too lazy to check your CV.
  • Passion.  Customise each CV you send out specifically for the job; show that you’re genuinely passionate (and not desperate) and that you’re not simply CV-blasting a load of companies.

Don’t go overboard with your CV…you don’t need to go into this sort of territory; it’s just embarrassing. But do be yourself.

10. General Admin.

Just a quick nag…

There are a couple of general admin mistakes that we come across all…the…time and (especially if you catch recruiters in a bad mood) they’ll ensure that your CV is put straight in the bin!

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Make sure you…

  • Get rid of the ridiculous email address. No one is going to be impressed by an email from ‘’ – it just looks incredibly unprofessional.
  • Name the file something sensible. Heads up – it’s obvious that you’re just CV-blasting when you call the file something like ‘CVMarketing.’
  • Check that personal information is up to date. You would be surprised by how many wrong numbers we receive – it’s incredibly annoying.
  • Get someone to proofread your work. I’ve already mentioned this above – but it is literally so important to make sure that it reads well and there are no grammatical or spelling errors.
  • Don’t depend on your Cover Letter. Yes – you should write a great cover letter highlighting your best qualities  (find out how, here) but – because many employers won’t take the time to read it – you must make sure that your CV is just as fantastic as a standalone self-advertisement.

11. Layout and Format.

A creative cv with personal information, then skills, then experience, then education at the bottom (in order of relevance)

Creative, yet perfectly ordered for relevance!


The big question on everyone’s lips: does the order of my CV really matter?

Yes. It does, a lot.

Basically there’s no set template that you should follow, it’s just all about including relevant information sooner and less relevant later.

Don’t leave game-changing workplace achievements at the bottom of your page, below your education, just because it looks good; include more important information first.

You have no idea how far down the page recruiters will actually get!


When it comes to CVs, there are a few pet hates that most (if not all) recruiters share and they’re all to do with format…

Recruiter Pro Tip.

  • DO NOT use a ridiculous font.
  • DO NOT go bullet point crazy. Mix it up a little bit.
  • DO NOT use ridiculously long paragraphs. We just don’t want to read them.
  • DO NOT write in coloured font (unless you’ve designed a special creative CV).
  • DO NOT make mistakes.

My personal preferences (along with most of my colleagues) are standard fonts like Arial and Calibri, black font with occasional headers in Bold, written up on a Word document and condensed to roughly 2-3 pages.

Summary: What Not To Include…

We’ve written a comprehensive blog on the 20 reasons your CV will be rejected, so check that out for a detailed run down of the biggest issues we come across time and time again.

For now, here’s the highlights:

  • Don’t attach a photo!
  • Make sure all information is there and accurate.
  • Don’t make mistakes.
  • Keep it to about 3 pages (tops).
  • Don’t lie.
  • Sack off the silly fonts.
  • Use short and snappy paragraphs that employers will actually want to read.
  • Create a bespoke CV for each vacancy with a cover letter!
  • Keep it chronological.
  • Don’t write your CV in third person.

Does your CV hit the mark or are you missing vital information? (Or including useless information!)

Use this checklist to find out if your CV is up to scratch, today.

Good Luck!

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2 years ago

You say: “Get someone to proofread your work. I’ve already mentioned this above – but it is literally so important to make sure that it reads well and there are no grammatical or spelling errors.”

But you also say: “But if you want to do it write, we have just three main tips”

You might want to proofread, and do it “right”