Having a good CV/resume is essential these days for getting a good job. But what actually makes a good CV/resume?

I've heard many people say that a good CV/resume has to stand out from the rest or look beautiful. Although having one that does either of these won't hurt your chances of getting a job interview, for most jobs (except design-related ones) they are not really that important.

The two most important factors in making a good CV/resume are:

  • What's actually in it (the information).
  • How easy this information is to find (how it's arranged/presented).

And how do you decide what information you should include and how it's presented and arranged on the CV? First of all, you need to think about the people who are going to be reading it.

To see an example of a good CV/resume, go to my online exercise for writing a good CV/resume.

Think about the people who are going to be reading it

The art of good non-fiction writing is not to write for yourself, but to write for the people who are going to be reading it. You need to both understand what your readers are looking for/interested in and write in a way that they can easily understand what you want to say or express.

For a CV/resume, you are writing for both people in the human resources department and the managers of the section where the job is. So what are they looking for in a CV/resume?

Details of work experience, skills and to a lesser extent qualifications

You maybe saying to yourself now that this is obvious, and it is. But what makes a great CV/resume is, how quickly and easily the people reading it can find this information!

When a company advertises a job, they are more than likely going to get tens if not hundreds of CVs/resumes sent to them for the position. It's not an enjoyable task to have to look through all these CV/resumes to choose a select few to interview. To save time, they normally skim through most of them. The harder it is for them to find the information that they are looking for on a CV, the higher the probability that the candidate will be rejected.

So, how do you make sure they can find the information they are looking for quickly on your resume/CV?

Use a standard section structure

Make sure your CV/resume has a common section structure. For most jobs, you need to include 5 (or 4) different sections and these sections should be placed in the following order:

1. Contact & Essential Information

Includes your name, contact details, date of birth and nationality.

2. Profile

This section should be used to give a quick insight (like a summary) into both you and the information you've included on the rest of the CV/resume. Briefly talk about your most important abilities, experience and achievements which are relevant to the job you are applying for.

This section is good for clarifying information which you may not have pointed out or is not clear on the rest of the CV/resume (e.g. 'able to work under pressure' or 'total number of years you have worked in a type of job' etc...).

This section is written for the benefit of the people who will read your CV/resume (to show them what to expect in the rest). So keep this section short and don't try to self promote yourself too much (which is unfortunately a common mistake). The best place to self promote yourself is on a cover/covering letter which you should always send with a CV/resume when you apply for a job.

3. Work Experience

The most important section. List the different jobs and positions you've had, in what companies and when. Below this, briefly explain in which department/team you work/worked and what your main role in it is/was. Then list below it your main responsibilities and achievements.

Make sure you account for all time gaps between jobs (e.g. world travel, unemployment etc...).

4. Education & Training

Summarize your qualifications (both academic & professional) and training. Detail where you got them from and for important qualifications the grades you achieved. Be selective on what qualifications and training you include in this section. Only write those which you think the potential employer will see as relevant (especially for training).

5. Interests

A not very important section where you talk about what you like to do outside of work. I normally haven't read this section when selecting candidates to interview. In my view, you can miss it out if you want to. But if you include it, keep it short and avoid including things which put into questions your ability to do the job (e.g. activities which may interfere with you doing the job or require you to take a lot of time off from work).

Although you should you use this structure on your CV/resume for most jobs, for some professions (e.g. for academic jobs) different sections or a section structure may be used. So, make sure that you use the standard structure and sections on your CV/resume for the type of job you are applying for.

Use a layout which makes it easy to find information

As I have said before, most of the people reading your CV/resume will be skimming through it. To allow them to easily find the information they are looking for, for your layout (how the text is arranged on the page) you should:

  • Make a clear separation between the different sections and the different positions/jobs you've had.
  • Use large bold headers and a large font for section titles and centre them on the page.
  • Use bold text for the titles of jobs you've had, places you've worked or studied, dates and important qualifications you have.
  • Use a font/letter size for the rest of the text so that it is easy to read (11 or 12 is good).
  • Use bullet points (like I am doing here) when you explain your roles/responsibilities and achievements in jobs or qualifications obtained.

Be about 2 pages in length

There is a battle when writing a CV/resume between keeping it short and including all the information you think is necessary.

More often than not, people end up sending long CVs/resumes when applying for jobs. Both including too information and explaining at length what it means. But this is not what it is for. A CV/resume is just a summary of your work and educational experience and main achievements. Something to capture the specific interest of the person reading it. If a potential employer wants to know more about something, you can talk about it in more depth in the job interview.

You can make your CV/resume shorter by cutting out a lot of the unnecessary information you have in it. To do this, think from the perspective of the potential employer. Will they want to know about everything you do/did in a job?, or all the grades for the subjects/classes you took at either school/university? No, they won't. So cut out what is unnecessary.

In addition to removing irrelevant information about your work or educational experience and achievements, condense what do you include into short sentences.

So instead of writing,

'I was in charge of dealing with all of the company's customer enquiries (requests for information, complaints etc...). I had to make sure that all of them were answered or resolved within 5 working day.'


'In charge of answering/resolving all customer enquiries for the company.'

For me, the ideal length of a CV/resume is about two A4 page sides (it's not a big problem if it's a little longer). Any shorter than this (for example on just one A4 page side), you run the risk of missing out information a potential employer is looking for and making it more difficult to read.

Don't use subjects to start sentences about yourself

Not only is it important to condense or shorten the sentences that you write, but there is also a writing convention used when writing them on a CV/resume. When you talk about yourself, you don't start sentences with a subject (e.g. 'I'). Instead, you should always start a sentence with a verb (e.g. completed), adjective (e.g. motivated) or adverb (e.g. successfully).

Instead of writing,

'I ran the international sales team for the company.'

You should write,

'Ran the international sales team for the company.'

This is especially important to do when you write about the your roles, responsibilities and achievements in the different jobs you've had. For some reason it just looks more professional.

The only section where you should start sentences about yourself with a subject is 'interests'.

Change the content of your CV/Resume for each job you apply for

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to send out the same CV/resume for every job they are applying for. But each job you apply for will be different. They will have different roles and responsibilities and they will be looking for different skills and experience. For example, the skills required to be a manager of a sales team will be different to those required for a senior sales executive role.

So modify what you include in your CV/resume to match what you expect the potential employer will be looking for. It won't take you too long to do and you'll get more interviews by doing it.

In conclusion

If there is a secret to writing a good CV/resume, it's both structuring/organising it for the benefit of the people who are going to be reading it and making sure that you include the information that they will be looking for (abilities, skills, experience and qualifications). That's it.

If you do this, you will get more job interviews. But be aware what you write on your CV/resume will form the basis of the questions you will be asked in the interview. So make sure that you are both ready to answer questions from this information and that your answers match what you have written.

I recommend that you now look at my online exercise for writing a good CV/resume to both see an example of one and make sure that you know what you have to do.