CV – basics of template presentation, structure

Presentation and sequence of items with your CV are very important, as it is in advertising, and most people get it wrong, which makes it easier for you when you get it right. When you are selling anything you need to get to the key points quickly. The quicker the reader can read and absorb the key points the more likely they are to buy. A well presented and well-structured CV also indicates that you are professional, business-like and well organised. The structure suggested below sells your strengths first and provides personal and career history details last – most people do it the other way round which has less impact. Structuring a CV like this you can immediately stand out from the others and make a much better impression.

For all but very senior positions your should aim to fit your CV on one side of standard sheet of business paper. For large corporation director positions two or three sheets are acceptable, but a well-presented single side will always tend to impress and impact more than lots of detail spread over a number of sheets. Always try to use as few words as possible. In CV writing, like advertising, “less is more”. This means you need to think carefully about the words you use – make sure each one is working for you – if any aren’t, remove them or replace them. Never use two words when one will do.

Here is a free CV template in MSWord – single sheet format, UK A4 paper size – into which you can insert your own details – adapt the template to suit your purposes. Refer to the CV words and phrases examples below to help you develop and craft your own special CV.

Creating your own CV templates to use for different career moves can save you time in writing different CVs for different types of jobs.

Changing CV words and phrases to suit different jobs is important. Writing and keeping file copies of your own different CV examples and CV templates can save you hours of work, and will help you to be able to produce an individually ‘tailored’ CV for each of the different opportunities as they arise.

Refer also to the writing technique page on this website – it explains about use of fonts (typefaces), colour, headings, capital letters, positioning, etc.

A 2004 UK survey by the Royal Mail postal service of HR departments in large organizations in the legal, retail, media and accounting sectors, identified these other CV pointers:

Incompletely or inaccurately addressed CVs and CV cover letters were rejected immediately by 83% of HR departments.
CVs and cover letters addressed to a named person were significantly favoured over those addressed to a generic job title by 55% of HR departments.
And, interestingly, over 60% of HR departments said that the inclusion of a photograph with the CV adversely affected their opinion of the applicant.
Many of the principles above and on the remainder of this page apply to video CVs, when and if you make one. When you do, you can post it free on the Businessballs Community, where a growing audience awaits what you have to offer.

cv structure options

While certain CV writing principles are quite fixed and widely accepted, a few issues are open to interpretation and are a matter for personal decision. The main examples of variation and choice explained in this section are:

The level of personal detail to include in a CV

Where to show your contact and address details on a CV

Whether or not to included the words Curriculum Vitae or CV in the CV heading

In deciding about these and any other structural options, consider the specific purpose and circumstances of your CV at the time, because this often determines how best to structure it. Additionally, since you should ideally be using different versions of CVs for different purposes, try to keep a record of what works best, so you can refine a set of rules which are optimal for you and the job markets you are targeting. Also seek feedback from interviewers and employers – and anyone else with relevant experience – as to what can be improved in your CV, so that you can progressively develop your understanding of what sort of CV formats are most effective.

personal details in your cv

First – the rules for this should be different for printed CVs sent through the post, electronic CVs passed to a safe trustworthy recipient, and electronic CVs and personal data uploaded onto job websites.

In terms of CVs which you send or convey to secure and trustworthy recipients:

You will see from the CV examples and templates that I advocate reasonably open and full disclosure personal details on a CV.

You must decide for yourself if such openness is appropriate for you and your situation and the vacancy.

Employment laws, particularly relating to equality and discrimination (age, gender, etc) have implications for interviewing and selection.

Consequently the applicant has more freedom today to withhold certain personal information on a CV about age or date of birth, marital status, children or dependents. It’s entirely a matter of personal opinion and judgement whether to include such information.

There is no law which compels or prevents the inclusion or withholding within your CV of personal information that is subject to equality and discrimination legislation.

However, the reality is that while there are laws in most countries against discrimination, identifying and proving such discrimination is virtually impossible at the application stage. So the only initial defence is to withhold the information – or to make it a selling point.

The dilemma for the applicant therefore is whether to be open and up-front about personal information that (you fear) could put off an employer – regardless of the legality of such a reaction – or to withhold the relevant personal information in the hope of being short-listed for interview and overcoming any prejudices at that stage.

On which point, be careful about your assumptions – while prejudices obviously exist, your fears can be vastly worse than what actually happens. See Murphy’s Plough for example.

Another view is that any employer who discriminates unreasonably against an applicant is not worthy of your loyalty and abilities anyway, which suggests that full open confident disclosure is the best way to go. Full disclosure is potentially a wonderful filter to prevent you wasting your time with idiots. Who wants to work for a bigot? Or even a decent organization which tolerates or fails to recognise a bigot in a position of responsibility?

Moreover, modern ethical employers will tend to respond positively to openness, and particularly to someone who is proud of their personal situation and characteristics. There’s a case for simply being proud of who and what you are – and use your CV to tell people why.

So whether to include date of birth or age on a CV (or gender if it is not obvious from the name) is ultimately a matter of personal choice, with arguments either way.

A guiding rule is possibly:

If you are reasonably confident and have a level of inner calm and resolve, and especially if you can make positive claims and advantages relating to your personal circumstances, then full openness is probably the right approach for you.

If you are less confident, or less able to pick and choose a truly worthy employer, then arguably a more cautious approach is justified.

In terms of CVs provided or uploded to job websites, or to less secure and trustworthy recipients:

As highlighted by the serious security breach at a major jobs website in January 2009, exposing the personal data of millions of jobseekers – consider how much personal information you provide or include in any CV uploaded to a website.

Personal data on a CV uploaded or stored electronically is – to one degree or another – subject to security risk from accidental release of data, or deliberate hacking and identity theft.

Therefore you should always adapt the level of personal detail you include on your CV according to the security and trust that you believe is offered by the recipient or destination for your CV.

(I am grateful to L Haughton, October 2007, for initially raising the issue of personal details such as date of birth in CVs.)

contact and address details – top or foot of the cv

You will see from the CV examples and templates that I advocate a structure which puts the contact address and personal details at the foot of the CV.

This is because the first vital seconds are best used in conveying your crucial and relevant personal strengths. Given a profesionally presented CV and cover-letter, most employers will assume you live in a house or a flat of some sort, and have an address and a phone number, so what’s the point in wasting vital early impact to convey these mundane details?

This is particulrly the case for middle and senior-ranking job vacancies, when screening is likely to be relatively professional and responsive to an effective and strategically presented CV.

Positioning contact and address details lower on a CV, so as to give maximum immediate impact to more relevant factors, is also very sensible when you are applying for a role internally, when obviously you are already known.

There is an argument however (and I am again grateful to L Haughton for raising this issue) for putting address and contact details at the top of the CV, to counter any possible risk of the CV being rejected at first glance because address and contact details are not instantly obvious to the reader.

This will be more of a factor for junior job vacancies, in which perhaps the screening process is hurried or unprofessional, which would increase the risk of a CV being rejected quickly because contact and address details are not instantly apparent.

As with the issue of openness and disclosure of personal details, the positioning of your contact and address details is a matter for your personal judgement.

If you want a guiding rule, here’s one:

Put the contact and address details at the foot of the CV for middle and senior job vacancies, when you want maximum impact for your job-related strengths.

Put your contact and address details at the top of the CV if you have the slightest feeling that the vacancy or the screening process involves processing large numbers of applications, and in which basic skills and basic personal circumstances are the priority screening and selection criteria.

name and ‘cv’ or ‘curriculum vitae’ – or just your name in heading?

An additional point of recent debate about CV presentation is whether to include the words Curriculum Vitae or CV (or Resume) in the document title next to your name.

This is a relatively minor issue, but an interesting one which seems lately to have veered to a particular trend, which may not actually be as helpful and correct as some people suggest.

As with several other aspects of CV writing and presentation, this is open to different views, and you are free to decide for yourself. Here’s my observation and guidance on the matter – which basically is to include CV or Curriculum Vitae in the heading. Here’s the explanation.

In recent years a fashionable view has emerged suggesting that it is somehow wrong to put the abbreviation ‘CV’ or the words ‘Curriculum Vitae’ (or in American-English markets, the word ‘Resume’) at the top of a CV – typically after the person’s name, or alternatively before the name.

If anyone can send me any evidence or solid logic as to how and why including ‘CV’ or ‘Curriculum Vitae’ in the document heading is unhelpful or counter-productive I would be happy to show it here.

As far as I understand the communication and management of text-based information, there is not really a good reason for excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae from the heading of the document, whereas there is probably at least one good reason for including one or the other.

Excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae from the heading does not usefully save space unless there is something better to do with the space. Subject to using a sensible font size, which you should anyway, there is no real space saving by excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae from the heading, since nobody’s name is so long as not to fit comfortably into a heading line with the words Curriculum Vitae, or the abbreviation CV.

Excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae does not actually save time for the reader. There is no real time saving for the reader since the brain scans such peripheral data subliminally (below a normal conscious level) – unless the reader actually needs it – just as we are not conscious of the printed page numbers as we read a book or newspaper.

Excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae is said by some to reduce the risk of irritating the interviewer or screener. Does it? Does it really? Is anyone out there actually irritated by this? I’d love to know. And I leave it to you to decide if you want to work for an organization which employs people who are irritated in such a trivial way.

Excluding CV or Curriculum Vitae from the heading arguably might improve – very marginally – the visual presentation a CV, simply on the basis that white space is generally helpful and pleasing to the eye of the reader. But then so would reducing the CV content to about 35 words, in a specially designed typeface, and engaging a designer for the layout too, which would be extremely pleasing to the eye, but then the document would cease to be optimally effective as a CV, and this is the point.

A CV must achieve a balance between presentation, content, and increasingly how the data is managed and processed.

Given this, there are perhaps a couple of positive reasons for including the abbreviation CV or Curriculum Vitae within the heading of the document:

1. Crucially from the standpoint of data management, web/computer searching, and data/document retrieval – on the web as a whole, on individual websites, on organizational computer systems, and on personal PCs and other local storage devices – the words Curriculum Vitae and/or the abbreviation CV are central to the description and categorization of CVs as a type of document. Any CV which includes the keywords Curriculum Vitae or the abbreviation CV will obviously be found more easily than documents which contain neither. Excluding the words Curriculum Vitae would in many computer systems, including websites, require the document file to be ‘tagged’ with the words Curriculum Vitae in order for it to be found using those keywords. If a document does not include the keywords, and is not tagged as such, then it won’t be found by anyone searching for those keywords. Imagine a recruiter searching the web or a website or a local computer file system using the keywords ‘curriculum vitae – french-speaking retail manager’. If you have the words ‘french-speaking retail manager’ in your CV, but not the words ‘curriculum vitae’, your chances of being found are somewhat less than if your CV contains the words ‘curriculum vitae’. If you want your CV to be stored and found electronically then this is a significant point.

2. Your CV is a CV – a Curriculum Vitae – a very specific document for a very specific purpose. It’s not a biography. It’s not a Facebook page. It’s not an personnel file or a meeting note. It’s not any of the countless other types of documents and files that could carry a person’s name in the heading. So say what it is. People who argue for the exclusion of CV/Curriculum Vitae from the document heading typically justify this view from a narrow perspective – that within the job application process ‘it’s obvious’ that a CV is a CV. This is fine, but what about all the other times? And what about when you circulate or upload your CV speculatively – when the context is not immediately obvious to the reader. The reason that humankind has developed a system of names for things – especially significant things, and definitely documents which have purpose beyond the initial ‘obvious’ context – is so that items can be quickly recognized and processed in as many different systemic environments as possible. A CV is a very good example of a document which has purpose beyond initial context. It must stand alone. CVs commonly become separated from their cover-letters. They get lost in archives and saved accidentally in inappropriate file directories and folders. Identifying a CV clearly as a Curriculum Vitae or CV at the heading of the document inevitably increases its chances of being recognised and processed as one in the future, and is therefore is sensible.

writing CVs with no career history or work experience

The tips and examples in this article still apply if you have little or no work experience. Experience is in everything we do – especially in the most important areas such as maturity (grown-up attitudes) and emotional intelligence, communications, creativity, responsibility, determination, integrity, compassion, problem-solving, etc – these are the qualities employers really seek – so if you are leaving school or college or university and putting together your first CV, then look for the relevant transferable experiences and learning in your life experience and use these examples within the structure provided on this page. You’ll not have a career history, but you can certainly illustrate and prove that you have qualities gained and learned from your life experience, that employers will recognise and want.

Consider and show achievements and qualities from your life, relevant to the job, such as:

persistence and determination
compassion and humanity
love and care for others
specific abilities with numbers, language, communications and ICT (information and comuunications techology – especially computing and websites), fixing and making things, selling and marketing something, etc.
in non-employed situations such as:

school or college projects and responsibilities
part-time jobs
voluntary work
supervising, teaching, helping young people
charity work
hobbies and pastimes
outdoor activities
holidays and travel
and any other personal interests which illustrate your strengths, capabilities and passions.

It is true that many employers need experienced people. Some are firm about this; others can be persuaded to consider an applicant who has special qualities but no experience – it depends on the job and the needs of the employer. There are some employers who will be interested in fresh young people who are keen to learn and who are highly committed, and who can demonstrate that they possess other qualities that perhaps more experienced people do not. This is why you need to write a good letter accompanying your CV that explains clearly and concisely your strengths and values, and relevant life experience, to an employer, and then to send the letter, and follow up with phone calls to as many employers as you can. Be persistent and determined, and you will find in time find an employer who wants someone just like you. Meanwhile take advantage of every opportunity to learn and gain experience in your chosen field: join discussion groups, read journals, attend courses, lectures and exhibitions, study the newspapers and news websites business pages, perhaps work part-time for a school and/or a voluntary organisation or group who need your skills. This will enable you to build useful and relevant experience that will definitely be seen as transferable to employed situations, and it will also demonstrate to employers that you are enthusiastic and willing to invest your own time in making a positive contribution to help others and to help yourself.

If you are aiming at a job which asks for experience, yet you have no experience in conventional employed work, look for other examples in your life which prove that you have the right attitude and potential, and even some very relevant transferable experience, despite it not being from employed work.

Many employers prefer a young candidate who can demonstrate reliability, self-motivation, drive and enthusiasm, etc., from having, for example, applied themselves for years in low-paid paper-rounds and weekend jobs, or who can show serious dedication to some other worthy activity, than applicants who have a career history but demonstrate none of the vital qualities that employers really value and seek in new recruits.

writing a cv for a job to be developed or fully defined

Given the fast-changing nature of work and organizations, jobs increasingly offer the chance or require candidates to suggest how the role itself might be shaped or developed or fully defined. It might be an existing role, or a new position. Either way, this is a big opportunity which you should grasp eagerly.

A role that has not been fully or completely specified offers great opportunity for the successful candidate to prove they’d be able to define and shape the role to benefit the employer organization in accordance with the employer’s needs, aims, challenges, priorities, etc.

Of course at the same time you’d need to prove you can cover the stated/known essentials, but if you see or detect that role development is also on the employer’s wish-list, then create your CV accordingly.

As regards the unknown aspects of the job (which the employer might say are ‘to be defined’, or ‘yet to be developed’), the candidate needs to show they understand how the role can operate to its fullest potential within the organization. This aspect of role defining or development invites the candidate to demonstrate on their CV that they’d be able to do just that – help re-define or develop the role.

This involves more strategic interpretation than might usually be expected in the role. People who can shape their role have to be able to see outside the role and understand the role in a wider context than simply doing a stipulated job.

Key attributes and abilities associated with this requirement would typically include:

measurement and analysis of meaningful cause and effect – some appreciation of productive use of time and resource in an organizational context – this is really the crucial point: the capability to assess and judge the role in a future organizational (and maybe also market) context
vision – appreciation of what’s needed for the future; how things are changing and how to meet those changes
strategic awareness and interest – seeing implications of issues beyond the issues themselves
objectivity, maturity, tolerance, patience, wisdom, etc – the opposite of impulsiveness – so as to use the additional responsibility wisely and fairly
and ideally (which can be a clincher) show a command and knowledge of the role from a technical ‘leading edge’ perspective – as if you were a specialised external consultant or expert, or perhaps a teacher or writer in the discipline, or simply someone who takes a keen interest in the most advanced thinking associated with the role – it’s a matter of presenting yourself as, and being, someone who sees the positive and future implications of the role, not just the role itself.
The employer’s ideal applicant in such situations is for an expert to join them and manage the situation like a more senior strategic manager or executive would be expected to do, given that they do not have such a person. For a job applicant it’s a great way to approach a job opportunity, especially if you are keen to advance.

N.B. Many job vacancies offer this potential or flexibility even if the employer does not state it. All good organizations need people who can see beyond their own role; people who can develop the role, and also to develop and advance as a strategic contributor within the organization. So approaching any vacancy with an eye on development and organizational context is often a good way to differentiate yourself from other applicants who limit their CV presentation to the strict confines of the job description.

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