How to Write a Better CV (UK), or Resume (USA and elsewhere)

The first point to make is that the terms "CV" and "Resume" (with or more often without the French acute accents over the e's) are virtually interchangeable in the UK; they mean the same thing, but if anything the norm is CV. In the USA and elsewhere, the CV (Curriculum Vitae to give it its full title - literally "Life Study") is a different animal - a dry listing of qualifications and experience more suited for a university faculty listing for example.

This short article by Stephen Thompson, Managing Director and CEO of Top Professional Resumes Limited in the UK (, is a brief introduction to writing such a document yourself.

It is a fairly obvious truism that a good CV alone won't get you a job. However a bad CV will prevent you from getting an interview. Since your Resume is primarily a tool to help find a better job or career change, time spent on its proper preparation is a good investment.

There is room for some creativity, but not for gimmicks. What works today is a professional, business-like style and a focus on key achievements.

We believe the best way to explain the 'rules' of CV writing is to explain what you should always do and what you should never do.


1. Always print your CV on good quality white or cream/buff paper or vellum. The size should be A4 for the UK, and Letter Size for the USA, Australia and most other countries or territories. The point is that it should be the size that, unfolded, will fit a standard file folder or lever-arch file.

2. Have your Resume typed or word-processed, with plenty of space between paragraphs, and allow for adequate margins. There's no need to have it professionally printed.

3. Use short paragraphs - preferably no longer than five or six lines

4. Proof read your CV and Covering Letter (another essential document) thoroughly to check for any errors, then get another pair of eyes to give it the once-over. It is surprising how easy it is to miss obvious spelling and other mistakes when you are immersed in it for a few hours. Somebody else will see it straight away.

5. Include your contributions at each one of your jobs. Give the more significant ones greater emphasis.

6. Allocate the largest amount of space to your most recent job.

7. List your activity with professional associations - but only if they're appropriate.

8. Keep a permanent file of your achievements, no matter how inconsequential they may appear to be, and update it regularly. This will be the source document for a good CV or Resume, whether you do it yourself or have it written professionally.

9. Before applying for any positions, ensure you send each of your referees a copy of your CV.

10. Send a brief, customised Covering Letter with each CV. This is an absolute must, but writing the Covering Letter needs to be very carefully done and is another topic in itself. Email us ( for advice.

11. Send your Resume within a week of a position being advertised, and in any event well within any stated timescale.

12. Re-read your CV before the interview as part of your final preparation. The likelihood is high that the interviewer will have done this just before he or she sees you, so the fresher it is in your mind the better.


1. Never give reasons for leaving a job. In almost all cases, the reader can find negative connotations to even the best reasons. You're better off explaining in person, if you feel it appropriate, or of course if you're asked.

2. If the subject comes up, never use negative language about your former employer, rather emphasise your ambition and desire to move on to a more challenging environment.

3. If you feel they need to be mentioned, say to "humanise" your Resume, then do not take more than two or three lines to list hobbies, sports and social activities. If in doubt "leave them out". As a professional resume writer, I would very rarely include them at all. Nor would I include any other personal information such as your spouse's occupation or your personal philosophies - they can too easily provide a reason not to see you, the exact opposite of your intention!

4. There is no need to state 'References Available on Request'. It is assumed, so just clutters up the CV and uses space that could be put to better use.

5. For the same reason, never list references on the CV.

6. Do not give exact dates. Months and years are sufficient (ie May 1998 to December 2002 - always use 4 digits for the year, give it in full).

7. Never include the date your Resume or CV was prepared. If your search takes longer than a few months, (and it can if you don't invest in a professionally-written CV from Top Professional Resumes )the document will appear outdated and give entirely the wrong impression.

8. Never include your work phone number unless your immediate boss knows you are leaving .

9. Never state your personal objectives unless they are relevant to the position applied for.

10. Do not use professional jargon, and NEVER slang or colloquial terms.

11. Do not provide salary information on the CV. Save it for the interview, and only give it then if directly asked. If this information is requested before interview, state it in your Covering Letter.

The Interview-Winning Resume or Power CV - what recruiters look for.

What do people receiving them want to see, and in what format? And what do they not want?

Most of this section is really elaboration of the points listed as Do's and Don'ts above.

The majority of recruiters want to see personal details appearing immediately below the name. Most selectors prefer the date of birth to age, but if you think your age might be an issue (ie too young or too old), then leave it out altogether. A high percentage like to see some personal information, but they are not generally interested in age of children, religion or a photograph. Neither are they interested in the candidate's view of their own characteristics. Indeed, as these views are entirely subjective, they are often viewed with scepticism, which can have a negative effect.

Practically all recruiters like to see details of further education, degrees and professional qualifications. A surprising number are also interested in numbers of 'O'levels, 'A' levels and GCSE's(UK), or Grades and Statistics in the USA. Most want details of work related training, particularly those courses which are of reasonable length and lead to a formal qualification. The inclusion of foreign languages is important at all levels, and this trend is increasing.

Names of employers, dates of employment, appointments and responsibilities are obviously essential, whilst many recruiters also want a brief description of the company and its business. Employment history should be in reverse chronological order beginning with the most recent job. Responsibilities and Achievements should be listed under each appointment rather than on a separate sheet.

There is a preference for the two page CV, although a significant number of recruiters find three pages acceptable, particularly for senior level appointments.

Top Professional Resumes also provide a completely FREE, no-obligation CV and Resume review service. If your present CV or Resume is not working for you, email it ( or fax it to us (+44 if outside UK, and drop the leading zero) to (0)7813 125606. We will respond as soon as possible.

Shameless marketing plug.

Top Professional Resumes ( prepare resumes and other job-search materials specially designed to grab an employer's attention and COMPEL him to give you an interview. Visit the website to see our Time Limited Special Offer, and take advantage of our Unique Risk Reversal Scheme.

Copyright Stephen Thompson and Top Professional Resumes Limited 2005.

Stephen Thompson is an HR professional and Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Top Professional Resumes Limited (TPR), a company registered in the UK. TPR ( are members of the Professional Resume Writing and Research Association (PRWRA). Stephen Thompson is an Authorised Administrator of Profiling Pro, an organisation that provides online individual Behaviour Profiling Analysis using the D.I.S.C. system. DISC is a widely acknowledged and utilised method of assessing character traits as they apply to relationships, and is a useful indicator of suitability for specific career paths. It is also a very perceptive tool for increasing self-awareness, particularly in relationship handling.

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