How to write a CV - A step by step guide (Free CV template included)
We have put together a step by step guide on how you should consider laying out your CV for your next job application.
While there’s a lot of basic elements here, believe us we’ve seen a lot of applications that mess this part up.
This guide also ensures that your application will not be by passed by any automated candidate tracking systems that some companies are using. So, let’s get started & get you that interview ASAP!
P.S. - A CV template with instructions included will be available to download for free at the end of this guide.
The winning CV structure:
1. Contact information
2. Professional Summary
3. Core Competencies and Achievements
4. Professional Experience
6. Certifications and Professional Training
7. Volunteer Work/Awards
8. Hobbies & Interests
10. Format and Layout
We will also cover:
- How to explain gaps of employment in your CV
- How to optimize your LinkedIn and other social media profiles to help get your next job
Section 1: Contact information
The contact information will appear at the very top of your CV. For this section you will want to include your full name, home address, phone number and email.
Layout your contact information in the following format:
Section 2: Professional Summary
A professional summary will appear below your contact information and is normally 4 – 5 lines that summarises your most important skills, experiences and achievements related to the job you are applying for.
The employer is going to spend no more than 10 seconds looking at your CV. You need to stand out and have a summary that is related to the job you’re applying for and that quickly outlines why you are perfect for this job.
Avoid speaking in the first person. Instead of using the word ‘I’ go with adjectives instead. Rather than saying ‘I am a goal orientated professional with a decade of sales experience’ say ‘A goal orientated professional with a decade of sales experience’.
Here are some professional summary examples to help get you started:
Administrative Assistant/Bookkeeper/Clerical Officer/Receptionist
A detailed orientated and top performing administrative professional with over 4 years of experience working in diverse office environments. Proven track record in record keeping, handling appointments, taking minutes and providing support to senior management. An exceptional communicator who is known to excel in high pressured settings. Extremely competent in Microsoft Office and QuickBooks.
A goal orientated and proactive sales professional with 5+ years’ experience working within the construction and manufacturing industries. Consistently exploring new avenues to engage customers, inspiring sales teams and leading by example.
Proven track record of building a loyal customer based to achieve long term and short term organization goals along with exceeding sales targets on a consistent basis.
Seeking to increase (name of the company you’re applying to) sales KPIs through proven relationship-building skills.
Results orientated retail manager with over 5+ years’ experience developing and motivating high performance teams. Extremely strong communicator and problem solver with a proven track record of exceeding key objectives in high pressured working environments.
A motivated and committed business graduate from University College Cork with a proven ability to effectively evaluate, organise and prioritise work within an overall project schedule. Able to communicate effectively with work colleagues at all levels, including key stakeholders and senior managers, with the ultimate aim of delivering quality and value for money.
I’m looking to be part of an organisation that is passionate about its products and that offers potential for personal development and progression.
Section 3: Core Competencies and Achievements
The core competencies and achievements section will appear beneath your professional summary.
The purpose of this section is to highlight your unique achievements and transferable skills to the employer to make your CV stand out from the crowd.
Here is what you need to do:
- List competencies
- For each competency you list explain a situation that you displayed the particular competency and how it resulted in a positive outcome or achievement
When the employer looks over your core competencies and achievements you want them to think ‘This person achieved X at their previous company, I bet they are more than qualified to deliver similar results for us!’
If you think you have no achievements to date, you are mistaken. Remember that any accomplishments that portray you in a positive light will make a great difference to your CV and will only increase your chances of landing an interview.
Let’s start brainstorming – here are some ideas for you to get started:
- A time when you won an award or competition e.g. player of the year, winning a league title, etc.
- Ran a marathon
- Achieved high exam results in a specific domain
- Captain/leader of a club or organisation
- Trained/educated others
- Helped organise an event – open day, team BBQ, funfair, etc.
- Gained qualifications – certificates, diplomas, degree, licenses, etc.
- Group leader in school/college assignment
- Elected to a charity or committee
- Upskilled in your spare time e.g. learned a new language
- Promotion achieved at work/Promoted after only X months in a role
- Trained in new staff
- Track record of long term employment with zero absences
- Met deadlines consistently
- Increased sales over a specific period
- Negotiated a greater discount on company purchases
- Managed and led a team
- Redesigned and implemented more effective procedures for a company
How to include each core competency and achievement in my CV?
- List the key competency/skill
- Include an example of when you displayed the key competency/skill
- Detail what the quantifiable result was
Competency and achievement examples:
Customer service: Exceptional at dealing with customers and problem solving. Winner of two customer service awards in the past 12 months. Reduced customer complaints overall by 30% within my first year of employment.
Leader and high performer: Successfully captained my local football team to a first ever league title. I was voted player of the year for the past two seasons. Consistently got results and motivated team members to perform to the best of their ability.
Proactive: Learned Java Script in my spare time through an online training course on weekends. Extremely focused on continuing to upskill and increasing my market value.
Forward thinker and innovative: Proven track record of finding new product solutions. Proactively sought new systems to improve the aftersales process at *COMPANY NAME* which resulted in a 55% increase in repeat business.
Excellent communicator: Managed dispute resolutions successfully for small and medium enterprises by proactively understanding and empathising with all parties to find solutions.
High achiever: Completed my undergraduate studies with an average assessment result of 80%. Achieved perfect attendance during my final two years of university.
Problem solver: Lead a team of 5 people at *COMPANY NAME* to successfully complete a process improvement overhaul which focused entirely on becoming a paperless business. The project objective was reached a month before deadline.
For the best results make a list of the skills related to the position you are applying for and incorporate them in to your core competencies and achievements section.
Section 4: Professional experience
Start with your most recent job and work backwards.
- The company name and location
- The dates you were employed | from – to
- Job title
List up to 5 bullet points which concisely outline your responsibilities and match each bullet point with the employers’ requirements
The hiring manager will be drawn immediately to your duties and responsibilities so take your time describing each.
Remember to tailor the duties you performed for every job that you apply for. The goal here is to show why your previous work experience makes you the ideal candidate for the role you are applying for.
For example, you see an advertisement for a job you want to apply for. When you read the job description, review the responsibilities listed. If you see any responsibilities which you performed at your current or previous job, include them in your CV accordingly.
Word choice – avoid using ‘I’ and instead use strong, clear action verbs to detail each duty you performed at work.
Here are some examples to demonstrate the layout for the professional experience section of your CV:
Section 5: Education
The education section of your CV will give employers a very brief overview of your education and qualifications to date.
Just like the professional experience section, list your educational experience in reverse chronological order.
If you’re a recent graduate with little or no professional experience, put the education section after the core competencies and achievements section.
What to include in this section:
- Undergraduate and postgraduate degrees
- Secondary school/High school details including Leaving Certificate/GCSE results
Leaving Cert/GCSE results
If you are a senior professional there is no reason to include your Leaving Certificate/GCSE results. You may also want to review whether you want to put dates on your educational achievements at all and you might even want to only include your most recent jobs, when listing experience.
Some more mature candidates have found that taking out anything that indicates their age gives them a better chance of success.
Of course ageism is illegal, but unfortunately some mature candidates have reported that putting their date of birth on an application or including dates that expose their age, have had a negative effect on their application.
If you have recently left school or college then it’s advised to include your results within your CV.
Undergraduate and postgraduate degrees format and layout:
- Name of the qualification – e.g. BSc Computer Programming
- Name of the institution – e.g. University College Cork
- Start date and end date – e.g. September 2014 – June 2018
- Grades/results of your qualification – e.g. 2:1
- Consider adding coursework or modules related to the job you’re applying for
Below is a sample layout for the education section of your CV:
Section 6: Certificates and professional training
Certificates and professional training can help you stand out during the application process as they provide evidence of your specific expertise and skills.
As some jobs require professional licenses, we advise that you include this section below your professional summary if appropriate. For example, a safe pass certificate is required to work on a construction site, so the sooner the employer can tick it off the better.
Avoid using acronyms and instead write out the full name of the certificate to ensure the manager understands the certificate. With many large companies using applicant tracking software to screen CV's, writing out the full name of your certificate will register on their system.
Here is the acceptable format:
- Name of Certification/License
- Name of certifying agency or body
- Date obtained
- Location (If applicable)
Section 7: Volunteering and Awards
If you have volunteered past or present, get it down on your CV! Any volunteering experience shows the employer that you’re a self-motivated person who takes initiative and goes beyond the call of duty.
If you are a recent graduate with little paid work experience then consider making your volunteer work the center point of your CV.
If you are changing careers your volunteer experience may tie in to the new industry you seek to move into.
If you are returning to the workforce, listing volunteer experience on your CV will show the employer you were actively developing new skills during your time off.
How to format:
Along with stating the role, organisation, location and dates of your volunteer experience, it’s a good idea to include any transferrable skills you acquired that are related to the job you’re applying for.
August 2019 – Present
Yellow Brick Homeless Shelter, Ireland
Volunteering at the local homeless shelter, serving food and preparing clean bedding for 40 individuals. Helped organise a marketing campaign on social media to promote awareness.
If you’ve received an award that is highly relevant to your target job then don’t hesitate to include it in your CV.
Ensure you provide the following information:
- Date of recognition
- Purpose of the awarded – job related, athletic, academic, etc.
- Importance of the award – what did you have to accomplish?
- Scope of the award – e.g. national, regional, team organization.
- Date of recognition or award
8. Hobbies & Interests
We recommend including hobbies and interests at the end of your CV for a number of reasons:
- Opportunity to show off your transferrable skills
- Gives the employer an insight into your personality
- Helps you stand out from other applicants
- Makes a great basis for conversation during the job interview
Make sure the hobbies and interests add value to your CV. Add a sentence instead of using a couple of words.
‘Playing chess’ Can become ‘I enjoy playing chess, and I contribute tutorial videos regularly to an online community chess club.’
Keep this section short and sweet by just including this line at the very end of your CV: ‘References available upon request.'
10. Format and Layout
More companies than ever are using software known as an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to pre-screen CV applications for jobs. To ensure that your CV gets past the ATS and makes it to the eyes of the employer, please follow the following guidelines:
- CV in .docx format, Microsoft Word or PDF
- Small standard bullet points
- Always include the job title within your CV
- Make a list of all keywords within the job description and include them throughout your CV
- Review the job requirements section and make sure they appear within your core competencies and achievements
The ATS loves CV’s that are simple and straightforward.
Here is what the ATS hates!
Avoid including any of the below on your CV:
- Profile photos/Passport photos
- Graphics/Symbols/Icons e.g. ®️ (Prince2, Agile etc)
- Horizontal and vertical lines (except tiny dividers)
- Different fonts
- Different colours
- Graphs and tables
- Font size SMALLER than 11 points
- Hyperlinks (including links to email and LinkedIn)
- Text boxes
- Dates older than 12 years if you are 38 years or older
Check your spelling and grammar: If the ATS detects a spelling mistake your CV will likely be binned without making it to the employer. Read and re-read your CV carefully and ask a friend or family member to review it also.
Explaining Gaps in Employment
If you’ve got a gap of a couple of months out of a calendar year it’s really nothing to worry about. Planning and preparation is important if you have multiple months or years out of employment.
Employment gaps are quite common so don’t get stressed. Hiring managers deal with similar situations to yours for a living. The solution is to show the employer that you are enthusiastic and ready to return to the workforce.
Here is a number of ways to help you deal with gaps in your CV:
Scale back your experience: If you are an experienced professional there is no need to include your work history from over 15 years ago. This will help clear any old gaps.
Dates of employment: Omitting the months on your start and end dates of employment is acceptable. This will help keep gaps in your CV to a minimum.
Explaining a current gap: A noticeable gap in your CV can be explained within your cover letter and always suggest why the job you’re applying for is the perfect opportunity for your return to the work force.
Currently unemployed: Be proactive if you are currently unemployed. Look at working in a voluntary position or explore learning courses. Demonstrate to a future employer that you’re making the most of your time unemployed.
Be honest: During the application process be honest about your employment gaps. Of course in some situations being discrete may be your best choice, but trying to lie or hide will only shine more light on your employment gap.
Be optimistic: Re-frame the gap when speaking with the employer. ‘I wasn’t able to find a job’ can become ‘I made a decision to take some time out to reevaluate my career goals and focus on pursuing the industry I am most passionate about’.
LinkedIn & Social Media Presence
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and matches what you have included on your CV. Hiring managers are most likely going to visit your LinkedIn profile so ensure it’s up to date so you can make a long lasting impression. Here are some steps to help make your profile stand out:
Profile photo: Professional head shot or a photo related to your industry.
Headline: If you are actively looking for a job edit your profile and include the job title/industry you are actively seeking opportunities in.
For example: ‘Actively seeking new opportunities in finance and accounting.’
Privately signal to recruiters that you’re open to new job opportunities: LinkedIn has a feature that will tell hiring managers and recruiters that you are open to new job opportunities which can help open doors in your search for employment. Click here to switch it on for your personal profile.
Profile summary: Summarise your CV in this section and include keyword competencies and achievements as recruiters and employers are constantly searching for keywords on LinkedIn.
For your profile to be found in the search results your summary must be 40 words or more. Unlike your CV, it’s fine to use the word ‘I’ throughout your summary.
To make it easier for recruiters and employers to scan your profile use bullet points to highlight your skills and achievements.
There is also an option to upload files. Attach your up to date CV, related project work, certificates or awards.
Other Social Media Profiles
It’s probably a good time to review all of your social media accounts including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and here’s why:
A CareerBuilder study from 2018 which interviewed over 1000 hiring managers and human resources professionals discovered some alarming responses from employers using social media to aid the hiring process:
- 70% of employers use social media to research job candidates during the hiring process
- 57% of hiring managers found content that caused them not to hire candidates
Employers are not just using social media to evaluate potential new employees, but also to check on their current staff!
- 43% of employers surveyed use social media to check on current employees
- 34% reprimanded or fired an employee based on content found online
The below screenshot taken from Twitter is an extreme example of how social media can swipe an employment opportunity from the palm of your hand.
Back in 2018 a young lady by the name of Naomi got a little too excited when she was accepted for an internship at NASA. Naomi unknowingly blasted some profanity at a former NASA engineer which resulted in her losing the internship opportunity.
The moral of the story - be careful posting on your personal social media pages as you never know if an employer or future employer is watching. As a precautionary measure it’s a good idea to change your profile settings from public to private and avoid getting into heated debates online.
Remember that your chances of finding employment are really high now as we have almost reached full employment in Ireland! Best of luck with your job search from the team at JobAlert.ie.
Download your free CV template with instructions HERE.
Do you need help putting your cover letter together? Check out our guide here which includes step by step instructions and a free cover letter template.