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The Ultimate Guide to your CV

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 6 Dec 2021

When you find yourself staring at a blank screen or an old CV, it can be hard to know where to start. Your CV is usually the first point of contact you have with a potential employer, so it’s normal to feel a little nervous about it. However, your CV isn’t something to fear, it’s a tool that will get you through your career and it will grow as you do.

Your CV will change and develop as you gain more experience, develop new skills and learn throughout your career. When you start a job search or decide to move on to the next step, your CV is where you should start.

There are so many different elements to a CV that it is completely understandable if you feel a little overwhelmed. This guide is here to talk you through each section on your CV, how to write and display these sections and any other tips we thought would help you along the way! We’re here to help at E&TJ and this guide will keep you calm and collected whilst re-working your CV for your next role or new career.

Where to start - CV Guide

Starting is always the hardest part. When you have a CV in front of you, it can be hard to criticise your own work and when you are starting a-fresh, a blank page helps no one.

Firstly, if you are writing your first engineering CV, it’s a good plan to have notes or a plan before you start. Take each section of a typical CV, plan some ideas and organise your thoughts. This one document will hold a lot of information, so it’s best to have everything figured out beforehand. This way, as you are writing, you can tick off as you go and jot down any new ideas that may come to you whilst writing.

If you are re-working an old CV, it might be best to start writing from scratch. Keep a note of anything you think is still relevant and important to your job search and then delete all the content from your template. Having a clean slate can help you more than you may initially think. A few tips you may want to consider are:

  • Find a template that works for you – Keep the old one if you feel there is nothing you want to change.
  • Plan where you want each section to sit in your template
  • Draft everything!
  • Once you have finished, leave, and come back to it with a fresh mind

The template and layout of your CV can be very important to employers. If you feel the need, why not take a look at other examples of engineering CV’s before starting yours. It is easier to pre-prepare the template and drop text into it, but you do what feels better for you. The typical layout of a CV is:

  1. Personal statement
  2. Experience
  3. Education
  4. Skills
  5. References

However, templates differ and it’s not always a chronological document. As long as you include them all, you are onto a winner.

One important thing to remember is to have the most important part at the top of your CV. Your personal statement is the first thing employers will see. Employers and recruiters want to learn more about you, and you want to engage them to read the rest of your CV. It can feel daunting at first, but personal statements aren’t as scary as they may seem.

Personal Statement - CV Guide

Your personal statement is likely to sit at the top of your CV and will be one of the most important elements of the document. This can lead to people worrying over it too much, but all this is for is to show the employer that you are a match for the role and have the right attitude they are looking for. Your personal statement is all about persuading the reader that you will add value to their company, so it’s the correct place to add in some keywords.

It’s a good idea to start with a mind map and put yourself as the subject. What skills do you have that the employer has asked for? What additional skills and experience do you have that you think they would be interested to hear about. Your personal statement should predominately be about you, but you want it to be effective. So, ensure that you are showing the employer how you can meet their needs.

A well written and thought through personal statement can help you stand out from the crowd. You want to engage them and persuade them to read the rest of your CV. You want the statement to be easy to read, informative and overall easy to understand. Ideally, it should be around 150 words and shouldn’t be too bulky. Additional information you want to include can be added into a cover letter, so don’t worry about missing anything you feel could be important! The main points you want to cover are:

  • Who are you?
  • What can you offer?
  • What are your career goals?

Here is an example of what your personal statement could be like. This template can be adapted to your own experience and career level.

“I am a recent engineering graduate that achieved a high 2:1 class degree from the University of Cambridge. I chose to focus my studies on the subject of aerospace engineering, and I am looking for a graduate analyst position where I can utilise my current analytical skills, but also help me to further my knowledge in a practical environment.

 My career goal is to gain knowledge and have the opportunity at a senior analyst role. Actively contributing to the overall success of the company I work for.”

Your Experience - CV Guide

The experience section on your CV is pretty self-explanatory, it’s for your work experience. However, it’s not somewhere you just list past jobs and employers, it’s a place for you to discuss your achievements whilst working in these roles.

A lot of people will list their duties within this section, but employers are also looking for things that you have achieved throughout your time with that specific employer.

To start, list your previous jobs in chronological order and address any career gaps you may have. A key thing to remember here is that you don’t have to include every single job you have ever had. If there’s a lot, it might be a good idea to just include the past 3 in detail and any others of relevance with just a company name and date. If this is your first CV and you don’t feel like you have any relevant experience, you are probably wrong. There are lots of skills that part-time roles, volunteering, and university projects give you. Make sure you are shining a light on what you think is most important.

Your experience is there to back up any claims that you made in your personal statement and cover letter, so ensure you are using keywords and the correct language. Be specific, if they ask for something specific in the job spec and you have experience, mention it! This is where key words come in. Look to see what employers are asking for from their job description, if there is anywhere you can include key skills and experience, use this opportunity.

Another key point is to use positive language throughout. Focus on your strengths opposed to what you may need more training in and never talk yourself down. Each job role or voluntary experience should have at least 3 bullet points (more if you have them) about your main duties and how you went above and beyond to get your work done. Much like using the STAR method when answering interview questions. Have a situation, link it to a task, what did you do and what did you achieve? It should be concise and to the point, but the same method works very well in your experience section.

Education - CV Guide

Deciding which parts to include on your CV can depend on where you are in your career. More often than not, employers will state if they are looking for any specific qualifications on the job description, so unless they state it, here are some tips on how to decide which qualifications to include and which to leave out.

If this is your first CV – If this is your first professional CV or you are still studying, it can be a good idea to include your GCSE / BTEC qualifications as well as any apprenticeship and higher education you may have. Some employers still like to see the lower-level qualifications, regardless of your age or professional status. It can give them an insight into other skills you may have.

However, if you feel like the jobs you are applying for don’t need too much detail, simply state your GCSE’s or BTEC by writing “10 GCSE’s, Grade A-C” or something similar. This saves space and your time, especially if you can’t remember!

Another good tip for education on your CV is to have them in non-chronological order. Always start with your highest qualification and work your way down. Employers are more likely to carry on reading if you write it this way.

If you have been working for a while – Every time you look for a new role, your CV should be updated. If you have been working for a number of years and have been trained as well as gaining invaluable knowledge from your experience, you may want to replace things like GCSE grades with additional qualifications and courses you have completed. It’s important to keep the higher-level qualifications on there and always read the employer specifications when tailoring your CV.

Skills and Hobbies - CV Guide

CVs are there to help the employer get to know you, as not only a candidate, but to see if you would make a good fit for their team. Including this section on your CV can help it feel more personal and can help them know a little bit about you before they’ve actually met you. It can help you become more memorable to the reader and just adds a bit of personality.

If you have something you are really passionate about or a hobby that you think has helped you learn new skills that can be transferred to the role, then don’t skip this section. However, it is a personal preference, if you don’t think adding this section would help you in the application process or you just don’t want to share this, then it’s up to you. It’s usually a section that is at the bottom of the CV, so it won’t look like anything is missing if you decide against it.

Skills are a very important part of a CV and this is linked with hobbies because there are plenty of life skills that are learnt through doing things you enjoy. Such as teamwork skills learnt through sports, patience learnt through baking and writing can develop creativity. There is much more to this that just stating that you like to ride your bike. There is more to work than just the job, employers want someone with these life skills that can come in and bring a new perspective.

It’s also very important to have a separate section for your ‘professional skills’. These are the things that employers will ask for in the job spec. So, it can be analytical skills, a specific qualification in systems etc. They will state what they want from a candidate and your skills section will tell them if you have that skill or not. This section is vital for a successful job hunt, so don’t miss it out. Use the recruiters job description to help you and get those key words flowing throughout your CV and cover letter.

Personal Detail - CV Guide

There are a lot of crucial details you want to include on your CV, but your contact details are one of the most important. If you are writing your first CV, you’ve probably already been told to put your name, address, and contact number etc. But have you thought about including your social media handles?

Believe it or not, there are recruiters and employers that will check your social media accounts before contacting you anyway, you may as well give them easy access to them. If there is anything you don’t want potential employers to see, now might be the right time to add privacy settings to your social media accounts. You can read more here about your online presence.

Most employers will try and find you on LinkedIn, so this is a good link to have on your CV. If you want to add any other form of social media, that is down to you. But make sure to read the article linked above to save you from any potential embarrassment.

When you are re-writing your CV, it’s important that you start with your contact details. If you apply for a job and they have no correct way of contacting you, that’s going to be a lost opportunity. Ensure that you have updated your email address, house address and phone numbers to make sure they can reach you! You don’t want to miss out on a role just because of this small error.

Career Gaps - CV Guide

A gap in your CV is any amount of time, in your working life, that you were not employed, and this may have happened for a variety of reasons. Whether you decided the job wasn’t good for you, you were made redundant, you were on maternity leave or took time out to travel, career gaps can sometimes feel like a difficult thing to discuss with potential employers.

When you are writing out the experience section of your CV, it’s best to write a summary statement for your career gap, instead of just leaving a few months or years unexplained. This can be placed in the order that you had it, just like you would do with past jobs. It doesn’t have to be very long, and you don’t have to explain in full detail, especially if you don’t feel comfortable sharing with multiple employers. As long as you mention it on your CV, this can be something that can be discussed further in an interview.

It’s best to be honest. If you were on leave to take care of a family member or something else that may be personal to you, tell them. Again, you don’t have to go into detail especially if it makes you uncomfortable but just letting the employer know is enough.

You can talk about the other things that you did during this time. What did you learn? What did you do to ensure that you were able to get back into the workplace? Whatever your reasoning, show the reader that you are determined and ready to get back to work. It’s the best thing you can do.

Also, be prepared to answer any questions about a career gap in an interview. If this is made present on your CV, they are likely to bring it up. Much like other interview questions, it can be a good idea to prepare an answer, so you don’t feel like you’ve been caught off-guard.

Finally, we are all human and sometimes things happen that are out of our control. We may need time of work for our own reasons, and this shouldn’t have an impact on your job search now. Look for an employer that is willing to work with you and if you still have other needs that relate to your career gap, ensure you ask them what they can do to assist you. The right employer will have an open mind.

Tailoring CV - CV Guide

Have you ever thought about tailoring your CVs but came to the conclusion that it might be a waste of your time? It might be time to think again and see what a difference it could make on your job search. When employers post a job description, they use a lot of different key words, especially in the skills section. You should take the time to read this and see if there is anything you find important that you can add to your CV.

If they ask for certain skills that you have, add these to your skill section. If they ask for a specific kind of experience that you have, add this into your work experience section and so on. Tailoring your CV makes it more personal and specific to that particular employer and your efforts will not go unnoticed.

If you are doing this for every single job you apply for, yes it will take longer. But the efforts will be worth it. It can result in more interviews and more opportunities to find the right role for you. Do the same in your cover letter. Try to address the employer directly and let them know why their company is exactly what you are looking for. Sometimes, all it takes is a name drop, but the language and key words you use are something that can really interest the reader.  

The language you use on your CV can go a long way and plays a huge part in getting your application passed through the online filters and in the employer’s hands.

Online Filters - CV Guide

There is more to job seeking than simply uploading a generic CV and hoping for the best. There are now a load of online filters that help employers sift through the applications they get without even having to look at them.

One of the simpler online filters are the question filters than employers include on job sites and their application pages. So, when you upload your CV and cover letter, you will be asked to complete a questionnaire type filter that is often to do with your experience. They may want someone with 5 years’ experience in the field or someone that knows how to use a specific type of software. If you answer these questions ‘incorrectly’ they aren’t likely to consider you application any further. These are often easy to get through, simply read the job spec to ensure you know what they are asking for and also remember to be honest. Answering these questions with false answers will only waste your time.

Another form of online filters are Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). You can’t avoid these, most employers use them to filter the applications they get and once you have sent off your application, it is out of your hands. You just have to ensure that you have done everything possible to make sure your CV reaches the employer in the first place. These are used to save the employers time, although they can have negative effects on candidates that do have the potential.

  • Use the right keywords - If they ask for a skill, write it on your CV. If they ask for a specific amount of experience, make sure you are writing that somewhere as well. Use the job spec to your advantage.
  • Save it in the right format - If an employer asks for your CV to be saved as a word document or in a PDF format, make sure you do it. It’s a simple task and can stop them reading it all together.
  • Include the simple details – Keep your layout simple. Make sure you are using headings and separating your sections. It has to be easy to read and not to cluttered at the same time.
  • Personal details – They need to know who you are. Don’t get caught out by missing these simple, yet incredibly important details.

Formatting - CV Guide

As stated above, the format you save and send your CV and cover letter in can actually make or break an application. If there are instructions on the job description on how they want to receive your CV, it’s better to follow them. If you are unable to follow simple instructions, they’re going to know that you didn’t thoroughly read through it. This information is often placed at the bottom of a spec for this reason, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

If an employer receives your application in the incorrect format, they might not only disregard it, but they might not actually be able to open it. Some online job boards are only compatible with certain formats so ensure that you aren’t making this easy mistake.

If you have saved your CV or cover letter as a PDF but the employer asks for a word document, they can be easy to change. However, the formatting is slightly different. Always make sure you have opened the document before sending to see what it looks like. Sometimes different platforms will change the way a document looks, and it may become slightly messy. Keep this in mind next time you have to do this.

Cover Letter - CV Guide

Your cover letter can be just as important as your CV, especially if the employer has asked for one. If you don’t include one, despite it being necessary, it’s highly likely that your application will be disregarded. Your cover letter is an extra document that goes alongside your CV and is an opportunity for you to discuss yourself and parts of your career that didn’t make it onto the CV. It acts as a personal introduction, an additional part to your personal statement if you will. It helps sell your application and is a chance for you to discuss why you would be a good fit for the role in question. You can explain why you would be a good candidate and should definitely be tailored to each job you apply for. So where do you start?

  • Your contact details – Just like your CV, your personal details should be included in your cover letter and preferably at the top. They should know who you are before they start reading.
  • Address the hiring manager and the role – You are writing to someone specific, so if you know who the hiring manager is, address them directly. If not, a simple sir/madam will do. You should also state the role you are applying for. This is where tailoring your cover letter comes in handy. You need to check this every time if you work from one template because you don’t want to include the wrong information.
  • Your opening paragraph – You need to start selling yourself straight away. Why are you good for the role? Talk about your strengths and how you would be an asset to the company. It’s all about persuasion and if you start from the get-go, they are likely to keep reading.
  • Your second paragraph – You want to discuss your achievements as well as your skills. What have you done in your past roles that you are proud of and what do you plan on bringing to the team in this role?
  • Conclusion – You can of course have more than two paragraphs, the perks of a cover letter is you have the whole document to discuss things that didn’t make it onto your CV or may have needed more detail. But to wrap up a cover letter, it might be a good idea to thank them for considering your application and add that you are looking forward to hearing more about the ‘systems engineer’ role. Keep it formal and end with your name or signature.

A cover letter is there for many reasons. To showcase your talent and your successes in your career and your education. But it is also there to showcase your ability to write and persuade. You may have more space on a cover letter to discuss your achievements, but you still want to be formal and concise. It also shows the employer that you have taken the time to assess why this is a good role for you. Every extra bit of effort really does go a long way.

Check Everything - CV Guide

When you finish your CV and cover letter, it can feel like a massive weight has been lifted off your shoulders and the urge to just go with it, is strong. However, before sending to anyone, it’s always a good idea to check and check again. There can be spelling mistakes that Word might not have picked up on, grammar mistakes that are hard to find, there’s even been cases of misspelling your name, so always have another look before sending in an application.

If you feel like you have been looking at a screen too long, wait until the next day to check it. If you find it hard to criticise your own work, why not have someone else give it a read? A fresh pair of eyes can always be good to try.

My point is, don’t click save and then send. You can prevent a nightmare by simply re-reading it.

CVs are one of those things that you learn and improve on over time. It does become easier and can sometimes feel like the biggest hurdle when you start your job search. For any more information on CV and cover letter writing, head over to E&TJ careers and advice section or click the handy links below.