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How to write a successful CV for the UK: 10 tips from the National Careers Service

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Are you getting ready to graduate and look for a job?

For advice about starting a career and applying for jobs, first read Finding your ideal job. To find out about work visas in the UK, please go to Work visas for graduates.

The National Careers Service provides information and advice to help you make decisions on training and work opportunities. The service offers confidential and impartial advice to teenagers and adults in England (for other parts of the UK, see ‘further advice’ below). Visit the website to talk to an adviser via webchat, or access information and online tools to help you improve your job prospects and take control of your career.

A ‘curriculum vitae’ (CV) is a document that sets out your work experience, qualifications and other key points. In some English-speaking countries people may refer to it as a résumé, but in the UK, people prefer to say ‘CV’.

Here, National Careers Service adviser Victoria Matthews shares her tips on how to write a winning CV!

1. Pick the right CV format. When writing your CV, the first step is to choose the right format. For example, should you start off with your education or your work history? Should you include your hobbies and interests?

If you're applying for jobs in the UK, you might need to use a different style than you would in your home country. For some examples of good CV styles in the UK, see our advice on Choosing a CV format.

2. Be concise. In the UK it is customary for your CV to be at most two pages long. Two pages might not seem like a lot of space to fit everything in, but you can free up space by keeping less important details brief, such as jobs you held a long time ago. You can even leave some things out entirely – for example, you don't need to put 'CV' or 'Curriculum Vitae' at the top, and you don’t need to list your nationality or date of birth.

3. Present your CV well. If you want to print your CV, use good quality white A4 paper. Use a consistent, professional font (such as Arial) all the way through, with bold and bigger font sizes for headings. The layout should be simple and clear. Make use of white space – rather than lines or graphics – to separate sections.

4. Do I include a photo? While it may be standard to include a photograph on your CV in some countries, it is not usual to do so in the UK – unless you are applying for work as a model or actor.

5. Watch your writing style. Make sure you write in fluent, clear English - and avoid words or jargon that UK employers may not be familiar with. If in doubt, ask a tutor, friend or your university or college careers adviser to check your CV and ensure that it reads well.

Your CV should be concise and easy to read. The words you use can make a big difference to how you come across. Try to make your words 'active', especially when describing what you achieved in previous jobs. You could try using powerful words like ‘managed’, ‘led’ and ‘achieved’.

6. Avoid spelling mistakes! Check your final CV for spelling and grammar mistakes. Attention to detail is prized highly by UK employers. You can use a computer spelling and grammar check, but it's also a good idea to ask someone you trust to read it. Many employers will not consider applications which include spelling mistakes.

7. Tailor your CV to a specific job. Your CV should be tailored for the job you're applying for, meaning it matches the requirements of the job. If you're replying to a job advert, look at the skills and experience it asks for, and mention these in your CV. If you're applying speculatively (this means you are sending in your CV for future reference, if a company does not have a current vacancy), think about what the job might involve and what the employer would want to see. It’s also a good idea to take some time to find out about the main activities of the company.

8. Be honest. There's a difference between selling yourself and inventing things! Selling yourself is putting your skills and experience in the best light. Never be tempted to invent qualifications or previous jobs. You might be asked for more information about them at the interview stage.

9. Sleep on it! When you are working on your CV, try saving it, and coming back to it another day or after a break. This will make it easier for you to spot potential gaps or mistakes and will help improve your CV.

10. Little changes make a big difference. Each time you come back to your CV, take time to get the wording just right. Updating and improving your CV on a regular basis will save you work and time. It will also ensure that you’re ready when the right job advert comes up.

More tips on creating your perfect CV

Have a look at the National Careers Service CV Builder tool for more tips on creating your CV.

Further advice on jobs and careers in the UK

For further advice on careers in England, visit the National Careers Service website.

If you’re looking for information about careers in other parts of the UK, please visit: