Tips for writing a winning CV

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A CV, like any personal document, is something that is unique to you; a reflection not only of your career experience and achievements, but of your personality and presence as a marketer and team member.  It’s the passport to your next move and well worth spending a little time to make sure it’s working as hard as it can for you.

 

Whilst it can be tempting to throw the kitchen sink at the CV writing task, and include every GCSE grade and position of responsibility you have held since you were at school, it does not need to be a big headache. Very often, less is more, so perhaps start by thinking about your highlights from each role as a framework and build it out from there. Easier to add relevant sections if needed, but much harder to remove them once you have spent hours listing every responsibility and task since primary school! There are no hard and fast rules, but here are some suggestions from the people who spend their days reading and assessing CVs, we hope you find them useful.  

Basics

  • Choose a sensible font and text size – it does not have to be boring, but avoid anything too fussy or bold.
  • Think about colours - choose something easy on the eye with good contrast. It does not have to be black and white, but avoid lighter colours like grey for text, and keep it to 2 or 3 colours overall.
  • Consider what the document will look like if reproduced as a JPEG, enlarged etc. Is there enough definition?
  • Try to avoid making the design the star of the show (unless you are a designer, of course!). Avoid fiddly borders and features that distract from the information you want to convey.
  • Think carefully about using personal logos, images, graphics, bar charts, text blocks, columns etc. Company logos and small brand images are fine, but a bar chart showing how you rate your skills is not the best use of space and can be difficult to read.
  • Keep some space around paragraphs and bullet points – there is no point in having a two-page CV if everything is packed into big blocks of tiny text. Better to allow yourself an extra half page with clear space between lines and paragraphs.
  • Should you include a picture of yourself? This one is entirely personal, but if you do, opt for something professional, with only you in it - not your partner, child or family pet, and not out on the town with your mates wearing your team football shirt!

Content

Choose a clear and logical layout, starting with your name and contact details (mobile number, email and the city or town where you are based). You can put this in bold, in a larger font, centred or justified to the left as you prefer to create the impact you want. Make sure your email address is professional; create a new one if necessary. You can also include your LinkedIn profile here, if you wish.

If you are not a UK national, It’s very important to set out your visa status clearly at the top of your CV; what type of visa do you hold, Until when (date) is it valid?  Does it allow you to work full time? Can it be extended? Will you need sponsorship? Clarity on your CV really helps recruiters and hiring managers, and avoids awkward situations further down the line.

If you opt for an introductory overview of your career achievements, skills and motivations, keep it brief and relevant; ideally a short paragraph of no more than half a dozen lines. You want to draw the reader into the main content of the CV, so save the exciting stuff for later.

You can put your education at the beginning or end of the document, whichever you prefer (if you are a recent graduate or particularly proud of your accolades, at the beginning may have more impact), but make sure It’s somewhere on the CV.    

Career History  

Work reverse-chronologically, starting with your current or most recent role. State the company name, the city or town, and your position. Include dates worked ‘from’ and ‘to’, not forgetting the month as well as the year. Better to be transparent about any gaps, with a brief explanation. If you have held more than one role at the same company, list each one separately.  You could head the section with this company and the total time spent there, with individual roles underneath as subsections for clarity, stating the reason for the move, such as promotion, if not obvious.

For each role, it’s a good idea to give a brief overview of the company, and your role within it, then list your responsibilities and achievements. Pick out 4-5 key points for each section, with each one occupying no more than a few lines (bullet points rather than paragraphs!). Try to include some numbers; What is the value of the brand you manage? (RSV) What size is your A&P budget? Are you solely responsible? What specific results were achieved from activities you led? Also consider including elements such as the team structure, who you report to and if you have any direct reports.       

Devote most of your time and space to your most recent roles, making sure that you explain your contribution to projects, which team members, departments and stakeholders you worked with and any specific challenges that you had to overcome. Name any brands you have worked on, as well as grocery accounts such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s etc. Highlight your experience with market and insight data such as Nielsen, Kantar, IRI, Mintel, and your analytical capabilities and expertise with packages such as Excel and Power BI. For earlier roles, taper them off in content as your career progresses and they become less relevant, freeing up space for your more recent work. Roles more than a decade ago can be summarised in one or two lines.    

Do explain any notable gaps in your CV, but there is no need to list your reasons for leaving each of your roles. It’s also a good idea to highlight any contract work, especially if they were short term.

 It’s a good idea to have a ‘master’ CV containing all your core information, that you can edit as your career progresses, and perhaps tailor for specific roles.You might also want to keep a small portfolio of CVs for different types of roles, for example ‘Innovation’, ‘Communications and Campaigns’ or ‘Strategic leadership’, but don’t get too hung up on editing your CV for every role you apply for.  

 

Interests and Personal Information

Keep it top line. It’s good to include a brief insight into your interests, especially if they’ve formed a key part of your story such as semi-professional sport, major events such as marathons, or particularly interesting travel expeditions.Charity work and volunteering are also worthy additions, but think carefully about including anything overtly political. There is no need to make up hobbies or sports to fill the space. If you enjoy reading, gardening and weekend walks, that’s more than enough! Try to steer clear of too much personal information or anecdotes about your life. There's no need to list your kid’s/dog’s/ partners names and ages and what books you’ve read this year.  A few points of interest to act as an icebreaker are all you need.    

 

In summary, a CV is a working document which evolves over time so do not be afraid to chop and change as you develop new skills and older ones become less relevant. Keep it relevant, focused on skills and achievements, and organised into logical, easy to read sections. And even if you are 100% happy in your current role, It’s well worth keeping your CV up to date as you never know when that dream job might come along!