Your CV Content is Your Personal Salesman

In the “Curriculum Vitae” page we reviewed employer needs and how to research companies. This page is about what to “put in” a CV – the content.  The CV content includes images, graphics, videos or words you use to express yourself. 

The big two aspects of your job applications are its content and presentation of that content.  There is some overlap between the two but generally the presentation is about how the content looks.

A job application with excellent content but presented poorly, stands a better chance than a job application with poor content but presented well. 

No matter how well something is presented, if there is no substance i.e. quality underneath, then it’s ultimately doomed.  A great job application needs great content.  Content that is relevant.  A quality well thought out application earns respect for an applicant.  

It reassures employers that you understand their search for a quality addition to their company. The employer warms to you.  By making their job easier you’re already gaining credibility.  The more credibility gained, the more likely an invitation to a job interview will follow.

The CV content varies according to whether it’s in response to an:

·         actual job

·         speculative approach

·         posting online

We will discuss each of these further in this article.  As you’ll see further down, the type of CV you’re trying to create, and the industry also impact the CV content.

Your CV Content is Also Your Reflection

Much of the basis of the CV content is based on research, researching the industry, job, company and another very important aspect of the equation – YOU.  You have to really know your strengths and weaknesses.  This is probably the hardest aspect to research. 


Everyone has their own self image – a mental picture about themselves that they learnt either from personal experience or from the opinions of others.  Another way to define it is ask the question "What do you believe people think about you?

The self-image virtually dictates human behaviour and is quite resistant to change.  However the self-image can be far from reality as it’s based on opinions.  You have to know about the ACTUAL reality.  It can be uncomfortable to think about, it can also be uncomfortable for others to tell us the truth face to face.  So below are a few ideas for this.

Seek Anonymous Feedback

Tools such as 360 degree feedback are useful for this.  Many companies can arrange this for you for a charge and some even provide the service free. 

Basically they arrange for people who work (or worked) with you including managers, sub-ordinates and colleagues to provide feedback about you anonymously. 

Your colleagues are usually asked a set of questions that will provide more specific feedback about you.  This gives you vital information on their perception of what you did well and what you didn’t. 

You never know who provided each specific feedback so people are more comfortable to be honest.  

The 360 degree method is aimed at people currently working, there is also administrative work involved to arrange it all and keep feedback confidential.

Seek Out Constructive Criticism

Another method is to simply ask people yourself.  It can be current colleagues/managers or ex-colleagues/employers. 

You could ask friends or family but the chances are they may not have seen you at work so might not be able to give full feedback. 

Below is a suggested way to go about getting the feedback.

Initially contact people but inform them you need about 15 minutes of their time.  The plan is

to either arrange:

·         a face to face meeting

·         a web conference

·         video call

Alternatively you might want to get the feedback over the phone.  It can be any method where you can speak one to one. 

You could email questions over but people get busy and may not reply.  By you arranging to speak to them, you control when the feedback occurs.

The meeting could also be a chance to network with old work colleagues.

Just explain you’re curious about their perception of you and you have some questions for them.  Emphasise that it will help you if they are completely open and honest with you.  Promise them there will be no negative consequence for any negative feedback.


It is very important to reassure them.  If you cannot keep your promise then don’t make it.  Explain you will be grateful for their opinions.  Most people are happy to help others.

Whilst receiving any feedback don’t get into a conversation with people about what they say.  Just right down everything said – analysis will come later.  Even if you don’t like or agree with what they say, note it, thank them and move on to the next question (remember your promise!). 

Make sure you’re not pulling a face whilst they say something, smile.   If people sense you’re not happy they will be reluctant to be honest with you. 

Obviously ask for clarification on something they say that you’re not sure about, but don’t get into an argument or go on a tangent. 

Some typical questions to ask could be:

What do you think I do well?

What don’t I do well?

What are my strengths?

What are my weaknesses?

What are the things you like about me?

What are the things you don’t like about me?

What things do you think I can do differently?

What can you count on me for?

What can’t you count on me for?

What do you feel I can do to improve?

What was your first impression of me? What is different now?


You don’t have to ask all these, or you might think of other questions, as mentioned note the feedback down.  The interviewee may not have answers for all these questions on the spot, just move on to the next one instead.  Whatever feedback you gain is beneficial. 

If people want to think about any questions and then get back to you, you could always ring people a few days later.

Try this exercise with a few different people.  When looking through the feedback see if a pattern emerges.  It’s definitely food for thought. 

The information gained is worth its weight in gold.  You can use this data for self-development purposes too. 

It will also give you confidence about the jobs suited to you based on actual strengths and weaknesses. 


Find Your Unique Selling Point

Look at the information you’ve gathered.  If someone was to write your unique selling point, what would they write?  What can you do better than most?

This is also a difficult exercise.  What might give you a clue is your skills and experience to date. 

What do you learn about in your spare time?

What activities do you spend time on?

What did you do in your previous paid jobs better than others?

What are you an expert on?

Really spend the time to do this analysis – it will make applying for the jobs easier and also gives you material to use when you get the interview.   Discovering your USP will help you stand out from the crowd rather than getting lost in it.

CV Content Adjusted According to the Circumstances

The CV content is likely to be different depending on the various different scenarios that you will need the CV:

Are You Drafting a CV in Response to an Actual Advertised Job?

The content will be focused on key skills for that particular job. Competition is likely to be high as other people are applying for the job too. 

The employer has made it easier by outlining what they want (click here to read about hidden requirements in a job advert). 

Your competition will actually make it easier for you too because a great application will stand out in a sea of mediocre ones.

Read the advert thoroughly.  Often with job adverts there are two sets of requirements:

·         essential

·         desirable

On an A4 piece of paper write a list of exactly how you meet each item of the essential criteria.  Write as many examples per requirement as you want.  Needless to say you need to meet ALL the essential criteria.  Don’t waste your own, or the employers time otherwise.

Try to be factual rather than opinion based i.e. worked for 2 years in customer service receiving excellent feedback and awards.  Rather than “I am very good at customer service”.  Whether someone is good at customer service (or anything) is subjective.  Facts add concrete to your statements.   List all achievements for individual jobs. 

Check the desirable criteria and do a similar draft list for it.  It’s also important you meet most of the desired criteria (don’t have to meet all of it).  

Look at all the examples you wrote so far, are they the strongest examples you could think of?

Have another think and see if you can come up with stronger examples.

The information you’ve compiled so far will form the basis of the job application.   The information you just wrote can be used for the CV and for the cover letter too. 


Another exercise to try before applying for a job is think if you were the employer instead, what qualities you would look for in the IDEAL applicant. Write them down. 

Now be honest with yourself – do you match or exceed most of the listed qualities?

You can use the analysis from the feedback exercises above to decide. 

If you didn’t do the exercise ask a trusted friend, or better an ex work colleague.  This exercise will give you a good indication of how well the job is suited to you.  

If you’re meeting most of the requirements the key is to have your job application promote that. You might know in your head you can do the job, but the employer is not psychic.  Provide the evidence or at least the reassurance you can do it. 

It’s a constant work in progress and most jobseekers end up with a few different CVs. 

Look at yourself from the employer’s point of view – why should they hire you compared to others?

Always remember the employer is not searching for you, they’re searching for a solution to a problem.  Your content is geared towards you being that solution.  Give the employers what they want. 

Employers don’t want to waste time and would like a candidate to jump out at them, differentiate themselves from the herd. 

Are You Drafting a CV to Send to an Employer Speculatively?

In this scenario you’re making a “cold call” type approach to the company.  They’ve not advertised but you want to let the company know you want to work for them. 

This approach often works well with a smaller employer, larger employers tend to refer speculative candidates to the company website.


A good speculative approach requires confidence and self-belief but these are qualities that employers often look for.  Therefore a good speculative approach increases your credibility. 


It all starts with preparation and research.


With a job application in response to an advert the employers needs are obvious and in front of you.  To make a good speculative approach, research is needed. 

The research helps you become crystal clear about what you offer the employer, what value you can add to the business.  Then being able to communicate this clearly is key to the success of your approach.  

Use this information to tailor your CV content according to a particular department in the company you want to work for, or a particular job you want to do.  If it’s a case of working for the company in any capacity then the content can be more general. 


Displaying knowledge of the company within your CV content is important too.  For example if you genuinely like products from DW Sports and are a member of their gym you can mention this in your speculative CV to them. 


Outlining your knowledge of sports equipment / health gives the company confidence you can promote and sell their equipment whilst also being able to promote the gym side of the business. 


You’re more likely to hit the ground running and make it easier for them.  That would be your big selling point.


Mainly it’s the CV profile that you will adjust to the company.  Your experience and qualifications are fixed, but you can use the profile to highlight exactly what you offer the company. 

Emphasise a relevant hobby in the profile too.  For example a love for computer games is relevant to The Game but not to Next – both retailers but obviously sell different products. 


Recruiting staff is expensive and time consuming (it’s why recruitment agencies are so popular) so if a company is thinking of hiring, they may just choose to contact you. 

There may genuinely not be any vacancies, but at least your interest is registered. 

Are You Drafting a CV to Upload to a Website?

This CV will be a lot more general than a speculative CV. The reason is there is no exact job or company to aim the CV at.  This CV will most likely be viewed by recruitment agencies and employers looking for candidates proactively. 

With most job sites employers/recruiters have a different registering process to applicants.  You have no idea who is registered as a recruiter and may view your CV – potentially anyone in the world. 

Further below we discuss what not to put on a CV, but in this scenario many people also leave their address out. It’s a personal preference.

It’s a balance between giving out enough information for a genuine recruiter to contact you, and not giving out too much information that puts you in risk of a scam or fraud. 

The CV content is likely to be geared towards a particular industry/job.  A CV geared for retail assistant work will be different to a CV aimed at administrative work.  Even within an industry such as retail, different companies cater to different clientele. 

Some retailers are big on customer service, others focus on stocking goods as economical as possible and there’s barely any staff around.  You cannot be everything to all people, it’s impossible. 

You need a clear focus regarding the type of job you are after.  The best strategy is to concentrate on your strong points.  You’re more likely to find a job you enjoy and are good at. 

Be willing to regularly make amendments to a CV and then upload the latest version.  Many sites favour recently uploaded CV’s over older ones, this way your CV remains more visible.

Graphics and Images as Part of The CV Content

Graphics and images usually take importance with designer jobs.  In creative industries a curriculum vitae gives the opportunity to showcase your design talents.


Click the link below to see what was once described the best CV ever:

Best CV ever?

It’s become increasing popular to make use of fancy (but professional) graphics in the header or footer of any document sent to an employer. 

Even a well thought out header/footer on its own makes a refreshing change. 


Images/graphics should be of a good quality.  Bear in mind graphics can look different on a screen compared to a hard copy. 

A CV with only words as content is usually quite a small file (less than 50kb).  

Be wary of the size of images and graphics.  They can make files large easily. 

Generally the bigger and more sharper the image, the file size is bigger.  

Too large and the employer may not be able to open the file (or you might not be able to send). 


Graphics and image should complement the overall look of the application and improve it. Remember anything on the application either increases or decreases your credibility. 

Get a second opinion. 

Creativity makes a refreshing change, same as with anything else, don’t overdo it. 


Generally don’t include photos of yourself unless the advert asks for it. 

A personal picture on a CV is popular in continental Europe.

Words as Part of The CV Content

Words you write to express yourself will form the bulk of the content. 

Your choice of words should be helping you build a relationship with the reader.  After they’ve finished looking at your application, they should feel compelled to contact you. 


It’s your words that show your;

·         determination to get the job

·         skills

·         qualifications

·         experience

·         interest in the role

·         interest in the company

·         interest in the industry


In the field of direct marketing, words are tools.   The “right” language used in the right frequency in an advert can increase response rates. For example the terms “act now”, “don’t miss”, “limited supply” can all be used to gently nudge a person towards taking action. 

Those terms won’t be relevant in a job application, the point you need to understand is that it’s your words that will make or break the CV.


So what are the “right” words for a CV? 

To answer this imagine the recruiter is sat in front of you.  What would you say to sell yourself as the best person for the job?  What would you say to promote yourself as the best candidate? What would you say to let them know about you? 


Write the first thoughts that come in your head.  Use this as the basis for the CV content.  

Many people are apprehensive about selling/promoting themselves.  A job application may be your only chance to communicate with the employer.  You need to grasp this chance with both hands. 


Writing the CV in the third party helps because it avoids having to constantly write “I”.

Avoid abbreviations, long or complicated words.  Ultimately the reader has to understand and relate to the language. Long words don’t necessarily make you sound smart. 

You THINK it makes you sound smart.  Short, simple words are always best – tried and tested.

Any communication whether it’s verbal or written is only as good as how it’s understood by the recipient.  It doesn’t matter what the original message was meant to convey.  Only what is understood matters. 


Therefore no technical language.  The words you write might make sense to you but it’s the reader that counts. 

The person reading the CV might not be technically trained or might be new to the industry. 

Be clear and to the point.  You only have 2 pages (unless it’s an academic CV) so it’s a balance between making your point and being economical with words. 


The message should usually be business-like and professional.  However – think about jobs where your personality is important.  An example could be a charity fundraiser or a sports co-ordinator, having some of your personality feature in the application will be beneficial. 

Transferable Skills

Have a think how previous jobs could relate to a potential employer.  For example, you might have worked as a warehouse operative for 1 year and now applying for work as a customer service operative. 

On the surface the two don’t relate to each other.  Firstly the warehouse work shows a year’s experience.  It shows a year of being disciplined and sticking to a routine.  It shows being part of a team, good time keeper. 

These are transferable skills that can be applied to other jobs. 

Another example is you may have had management jobs in the past but are now applying for a lower level job. 

Explain why to an employer in your application.  You might want a career change or have had enough of management responsibility. 

Without the right words to explain, the application is in danger of being disregarded as an employer may feel you’ll get bored of the job. 

Also explain how your management jobs from the past will help you i.e. having been a manager you can work on your own initiative and don’t need constant supervising. 

But if you have a short work history then transferable skills are a lot more important because you are likely to include every job done.

Individual Headings Within a CV

Every CV has sections and headings summarising the content of that section.  With the exception of “Personal details”, the headings below go on virtually every CV.  A CV wouldn’t have a section titled “Personal details”, it would just list the details.

Personal Details

Your first name and surname.  Definitely no nick names.  You don’t need to include any middle names either unless you want to.


Current address – if you are applying for a job far from home, an address here could go against you.  A secluded employer location, or one with poor transport links may be testing to get to.

If you have reliable access to transport mention it in your cover letter and CV if you include your address. 


Landline number - make sure to include the area code


Mobile number - you’re most likely to receive calls on this number.  Make sure you answer withheld calls (could be an employer) and answer in a professional manner.


Email – make sure you have a professional email address, preferably your full name followed by the “@” and then the remaining email address.  Childhood/personal email addresses may not always be appropriate if they contain nicknames or slang. 

Profile/Personal Statement 

Avoid cliché phrases such as “I’m hardworking and reliable”.  This section needs a lot of thought as it can make or break your CV.  Should be no more than 4 to 5 lines.  It’s a quick summary of the advantage you offer the employer. 

When drafting copy for an advert a copy writer can spend hours to decide what words to use to start an advert.  If the reader isn’t impressed with the first few sentences, they are not likely to read the remaining advert. 

The same principle applies with a CV and cover letter too.  

Experience/Employment History

The employment includes any voluntary positions, casual jobs and jobs abroad.


How the experience is presented and which previous employers you include is determined by a few different factors:


·         The type of CV

·         The space you have left on the CV (keep to 2 pages)

·         The duration of the employment - You might also leave out jobs you did for a very short time i.e. only a few days

·         The time elapsed since the employment – as previously mentioned if you have lots of experience, you might want to leave out jobs you did decades ago

·         The relevance to the job applied for (unless transferable skills apply)

Jobs are listed in reverse chronological order, this means the most recent job is listed first, then you work backwards to the earliest job. 


Working as a shop assistant may involve working in a team and providing an excellent customer service.  There’s not always a need to delve in detail with every task done with old jobs. 

Mundane tasks such as cleaning the shop floor may not need mentioning – unless you’re applying for work as a cleaner. 


Plus if you worked somewhere for 5 years but choose not to include that job, then bear in mind there will be a 5 year gap on the CV.  As a rule of thumb don’t leave too many big time gaps on the CV.  To get round this try using a functional, targeted or skills based CV.


For jobs that you mention, include company name, job title, start and end date as well as a summary of key achievements. 

Also include duties/tasks done as part of the job. 

·         Think about what you were good at in the job,

·         key achievements – i.e. particular sales target met, % turnover increased

·         day to day duties

·         particular projects worked on

If you end up with a lot of information its best to list in bullet points rather than a block of information (see CV presentation for more details).

If you lack experience see the “improve your job prospects” page on ways to boost your employability. 

You might also want to look at the “lack of experience CV template”.


Use action oriented words such as “organised” and “improved”. 


List educational institutions attended along with the qualifications gained.  Include institute names and qualifications titles.  If grades are poor you can just mention the number of subjects studied in total i.e. 7 GCSE’s studied.

Like the employment history list the education in reverse chronological order. 

This section can also include training/certificates gained through;

·         previous employers or “in-house” courses 

·         home based learning


Even if any training you did is not a nationally recognised, by studying it you’re showing that willingness to learn and better yourself.  In employers eyes these are admiral qualities. 


List all interests, pastimes, hobbies as these give a lot of information about you.  These can be useful for an employer to gauge your interests and make an assessment on how you may fit in with the firm.  


For a younger, inexperienced worker this section is more important.  As people start to gain experience, then the interests are not as importance. 


Think about the qualities and skills you gain from your interests.  Have they helped you develop team work skills, leadership skills, problem solving skills.  Captaincy of a local sports team, organising an event will give you give experience and develop admirable qualities. 

Avoid putting lots of solitary hobbies (playing computer games, knitting, bird watching, reading).  Otherwise it suggests a loner with poor people skills.  We’re not saying a person doing these activities is a loner.  However that’s how they could be perceived by an employer in the absence of other activities. 


Try to include a range of hobbies, for example a creative hobby, sporting hobby and a problem solving hobby. 


Hobbies out of the ordinary are worth a mention as they help you stand out from the crowd.  Someone into fire-breathing or sky-diving show someone willing to go out of their comfort zone and stretch themselves.


You might also have a passion for something that is relevant to the company.  For example if you love cars and you’re applying for work in a car dealership than that is highly relevant. 

In that case it’s worth elaborating on your passion for cars in the profile too so the employer views that early on.  

From the employer’s point of view, less training would be needed for you and you’ll naturally be more “into” the job.  That’s the message the employer needs to read.


Another way a passion can build rapport is if the person reading your CV also shares that interest.  Straightaway you’ll have something in common. 

As long as you show you meet essential criteria/requirements for the role then sharing a pursuit is likely to help build trust.


Unless the employer asks for a named reference on the CV, finish with “References available on request”. 

An alternative is to say “References can be made available at an interview” so the last thing in an employer’s mind is interview!

Employers don’t usually check references at the application stage.  They normally check them after a job interview. 

Including the contact details in the CV will also take up valuable room that should go to other sections. 


Make enquiries to make sure you have 2 people that can provide a reference for you, ideally 2 recent employers.  In the absence of 2 employers you can use an academic reference.  Alternatively you can use someone who has known you for a while and ideally is a professional i.e. solicitor, accountant, dentist etc. 



Your references should not be getting unexpected calls from potential employers.  Let them know they will be getting calls about you and give them a copy of your CV if they haven’t met you for a while.


What Not to Include as Part of The CV Content

DON’T write a date of birth or national insurance number.  Both these details are important security information and can be used fraudulently in the wrong hands.  Anti-ageist legislation doesn’t allow employers to ask a date of birth at the application stage.

NEVER submit bank details as part of a job application.  A job application would not ask for copies of a passport or birth certificate at this stage.

If the advert or employer insist on these then run a mile – a legitimate employer would only ask for these at the contract signing / induction stage. 

Photos - as previously mentioned photos are not needed unless the job advert asks for it. 

Health issues – These don’t need mentioning at this stage, however an employer will need to know about any reasonable adjustments they can make to accommodate you.  If you feel you have a health issue that will affect your ability to do the job, this can be discussed after the initial application.

Criminal record – Don’t volunteer any information on a CV or cover letter, you can potentially give an employer a reason not to take your application further. 

Some jobs will require satisfactorily passing a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.  Other employers will conduct a DBS check as a standard part of their recruitment process. 

However there are things you don’t legally have to declare.  Click this NACRO link for more details. 

Marital status – this is irrelevant to a job application and doesn’t need mentioning

Race and Religion – It is illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their religion or race under the Equality Act 2010.  Some occupations are exempt from the act for example

·         Priests, monks, nuns, rabbis and ministers of religion

·         Actors and models in the film, television and fashion industries i.e. a movie about Martin Luther King may need the services of a black actor


Generally speaking these types of jobs don’t tend to rely on the CV/cover letter method.


We’ve discussed how important it is to promote and sell yourself – after all no-one else will.  We’ve discussed the need to research and really know employers, industries and yourself. 


All this research and tailoring the CV may seem like a lot of effort but think of the alternative.  You would rather be in a position where you contact 10 companies and at least 5 get back to you (50% success rate) rather than contacting 50 and 1 getting back to you (2% success rate). 


Think how you would feel with a 50% or higher success rate.  Nothing worthwhile is easy and time spent focusing on employers needs pays off in the long run.  To achieve success knowing what not to put in the CV is just as important as what to put in. 


All the small changes accumulate to a higher quality of CV content and a higher quality of job application.  A higher quality application trumps a higher quantity of applications.  Once you master the art of getting interviews, then focus on the interviews themselves. 



A more competitive job market means a higher standard of CV is needed.   Your CV content has to mean business and become your greatest spokesman. 

To read more about a CV presentation click this link

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