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How to write a good CV

14/11/17 - 16:51

Everyone who has ever applied for a job is well aware of the sometimes exhausting process of updating your CV. And of course, it is even more of a challenge if you haven’t got that much experience to fill it with. Furthermore, there are many myths out there, telling candidates what a good CV is. How can you ensure that you sell your experience in the best possible way? What should you include and exclude? In this article, I will list my experiences on this topic as a recruiter, and share some insights on what companies and recruiters look for in a CV.

The first myth that needs to be addressed is the one of the ‘one-page CV’. This is something that everyone comes across, and especially if you’re from any of the Scandinavian countries. And even University tells you this is the way to go. I myself was a firm believer that one page was the best way to ensure the recruiter had time to look at my experience. Because no one has time to read through page after page where you ramble on about yourself, right?



The thing about one-page CVs is: you have absolutely no way of managing to include all your relevant experience. You can list your jobs, your level of education and maybe manage to fit in some language and computer skills, at best. But it will look messy. And it will be hard to read as more than often you will have messed around with the font making it smaller. This is not very helpful for the recruiter or hiring manager sitting on the other side, who’s trying to understand your experience and if you are a good fit for the job.

In order to ensure that you ‘sell yourself’ in the best possible way, you need to be quite detailed. Now, I don’t mean that you should write a book or anything like that, and sure, if you’re fresh out of University and don’t have a lot of experience yet, 2 pages might suffice. However, you need to include details.

First of all, it’s important to ensure that the person on the other side understands what type of companies you have been working for, especially if you are trying to move from one type of industry to another (e.g. moving from the oil & gas sector to renewables). Many industries have skills that are transferable into other ones, however, it’s not always the case that the person reading your CV knows which companies that are relevant. So, my advice is to include a couple of descriptive roles about previous companies you have worked for and what they do in their industry. That way you will be able to make the recruiter or hiring manager understand if your experience is applicable for the role you are applying for.

My second suggestion is to make sure you bring out aspects under each role of what you actually did in your job with each company. If you were working on the erection of big telecom masts, then include what things you need to do on a daily basis in this job (e.g. groundworks, foundations, dealing with contractors, etc). Likewise, if you are applying for a technical job as a wind turbine technician, explain what you have been doing in your role as a turbine technician so far. Include the details about bolt torquing, fault finding in PLC systems, replacing main components, and how you would go about this. This is what recruiters and hiring managers want to know. (Not if you liked your manager or not). 

Now that’s out of the way, let’s deal with the layout. Now, I have seen a lot of CV’s where the candidate has obviously put a lot of effort and detail into the font, colour and general graphics of the CV. And here is my advice: unless you are searching for a job as graphical designer, avoid this at all costs.

The reasons behind these are several, and one of them is quite straightforward: recruiters and hiring managers don’t look at the colours of the font or what graphs you have included. They want to know if you are right for the job, and the only way they can do this is to read about your experience. Now, if you have messed up your CV with charts and colour explosions, this may very well make the recruiter, or the hiring manager just not look at it in detail at all, because it doesn’t look serious and quite frankly, they don’t have the time to search for your experience in the explosion of colours and diagrams. 

Keep it simple. List the company you worked for, your job title, the period of time you were there. Then underneath each of your previous roles, describe the company and the industry they are operating in, and then go into detail about what your responsibilities were on a daily basis. And make it real. Provide examples or so called “wins”. If you have had a job where performance and targets were measured, include this and spell out the actual figures. The best CV’s that I have seen are detailed and to the point at the same time, which can be a tricky thing to master. However, this is the way you get the attention of the person who is looking to hire. Not through unexplained charts and graphs that don’t explain anything relevant at all. So, if you want the recruiter or hiring manager to take your seriously, ditch the advanced graphics and keep it clean. 

My next point will address the fact that a lot of CV’s are sent in PDF files. Now, this is fine if you are sending it directly to a company, however, if you are dealing with a recruiter, this is an absolute nightmare, as the recruiter does a lot of extra work with your CV before sending it out to the client, including writing up a front sheet, ensuring good spelling and grammar etc. So, if you are being represented by a recruiter, word is your friend. (This also goes for the graphical aspects with charts and diagrams all over the CV: just leave them out). 


Above is an example of a CV what recruiters and hiring managers will probably just discard. The CV is messy, and when you look at it, it’s not really explaining what the candidate is good at or what they have been doing in their career. The software skills (with a 'z' I might add) have no indication of what is good or bad, as there is no scale to the columns, and how can you be 17% at Character Design? How did you assess this percentage? The columns and charts don’t say anything about the experience of the candidate, and although they may look cool, they are just unhelpful and messy. So, don’t do it.

I also would like to address the aspect of the photo on the CV. Now, if this should be included or not is always a debate, and in all honesty, it depends on which country you are working in. Across Scandinavia, a photo on your CV is quite common, whilst in the UK, it's a classical no go.

My advice here is if you are going to include a photo on your CV, make sure it's professional (this means no pictures with your dog or you on your holiday).

There are several other things to think of when writing a good CV, and I could probably go on forever about this (but I won’t). However, there is one more thing which needs to be addressed, and that’s the covering letter.

The covering letter is something that serves as your own personal touch to an otherwise general CV. This is where you get to present yourself, and why you would be good for this particular role. And yet, the vast majority of covering letters that I have seen are generic, and not tailored to the job specification or company at all. So, what’s my point here?


Put some effort in the covering letter.

It’s as simple as that, and a good covering letter can go a long way. First of all, it shows that you have put some effort into researching the company and the role, and that you have a genuine interest in it. Secondly, it provides you with an excellent chance of presenting yourself and who you are, and most importantly of all: why they should hire you. So, put some effort in, and write a good covering letter, and include your key achievements and long-term goals with your career.


To sum this article up, these are the things you need to do:

·        Let the ‘one-page’ CV be history – that’s where it belongs

·        Explain what each company does and what industry they operate in

·        Be detailed about your experience and show that you know your stuff

·        Avoid pie charts and diagrams – they’re not helpful

·        Include key achievements and careers “wins” in your CV

·        Make sure to write up a nice covering letter – and ditch the generic one for good


I hope this article is helpful, and please get in touch if you are looking for a new job in the renewable energy sector across Scandinavia.


Sigrid Carstairs

Recruitment Consultant

Cathcart Associates Energy Limited