How tailoring your CV will help you get the job

Highlight your biggest selling points to employers with our CV support.

What you will learn

  • What a CV is
  • How to create a CV that aligns with the job you’re applying for
  • Tips to impress an employer
  • Why references are important and who can provide you with one

What is a CV?


A CV is a document which gives you the opportunity to tell an employer about your education, skills and work experience. You send it to employers and organisations to apply for jobs or volunteering opportunities.

Sometimes you can apply for a position with your CV alone – other times you may be asked to send it along with an application form. Either way, it’s important that you have one and keep it up to date.

Creating a CV that aligns with the job role


CVs are usually structured into sections, which makes it easy for employers to get a sense of who you are and the skills you have. You can make a good start simply by including the essentials:

  • Your contact details
  • strengths/skills/achievements
  • Job history
  • Your education

Every employer and industry looks for different qualities and experience in a potential employee. That’s why personalising your CV to fit the job spec or description the employer provides is extremely important.

Before you put pen to paper

Read the job description

The first thing you should always do is examine the job advert – how well do your skills and experience fit what this company is looking for?

Look for the key skills they outline and consider how you can demonstrate them. Are there any words that repeat? Take note of any important phrases. When you create your CV, you can use these words and phrases to show them that you match what they’re asking for.

Consider the best way to order your CV

When you write your CV, you can lay it out in different ways depending on what you want to highlight.
For example: if a job description says that a company is looking for a specific qualification, and you have it, put it at the top of your CV.

Similarly, if an employer states in their job description they want you to have experience or training, prioritise this information in your CV by making it clear you have what they need.

You may have skills which don’t relate to the job description but showcase your other qualities and attributes. It’s still ok to include these in your CV, but keep these near the bottom. This means that they’re still there and can be picked up at an interview, but they don’t detract from your job-specific skills and attributes.

Design

Keep your presentation and writing style clear and professional within a CV to give an employer the best impression of you.

There are some exceptions to this – if the role you’re applying for is creative and requires you to be good at design, illustration or writing, reflect this in your CV. Adapt your CV to prove that you have the skills an employer is looking for. This will increase your chances of getting an interview.

Social media

You don’t need to give links to your social media in your CV. But if you’re applying for a company with a strong social media presence, sharing links to your social media can be a good way to let the employer find out more about you.

Employers may try find your social media accounts using the information you provide on your CV anyway, so check your online profiles and privacy settings so that you can be confident that what any potential employer sees is professional.

LinkedIn can showcase endorsements you have from other people, which can be a useful alternative to more formal references.

Showcase your skills and strengths, education and qualifications

Remember that all your experiences have helped you develop skills that will translate for lots of jobs. (See our Transferable Skills article for more info.) If you’re unsure what yours might be, try our Skills Discovery tool and receive a full skills report based on your job and volunteering history.  Remember, not every skill you have will be relevant to the job you're applying for.

References

You may be asked to provide a reference when applying for jobs. This isn't always the case but it's good to be prepared.

A good reference will show your new employer that you have the right skills and qualities to do the job.

No matter who you choose as a reference, it’s polite to let them know!

Make sure that if your new employer contacts them, they are expecting it. This also lets you find out if they’ll be available and make sure they’re willing to help. And remember to say thanks afterwards!

What happens if my former employer only gives factual references?

With factual references becoming far more common, your new employer might be satisfied with a simple response. But if they're not, we've thought of a few things you could try:

1. Ask someone you knew well at the company

If you’ve made a good impression on your manager, they may be willing to provide a more in-depth reference. This could be a case of contacting them directly, rather than going through your HR department.

Have a think about other colleagues you’ve worked on projects with. Would they be willing to speak for you?

2. Ask someone who’s left the company

If someone senior has moved on, who you previously worked with, you could ask them for a reference. It just needs to be someone who can comment honestly on your work.

3. Ask a client

Depending on the type of job you’ve done, you might have worked with clients or customers who could vouch for you. This would still give an impression of your attitude to work and the skills you can offer employers.

4. Ask someone outside work

Do you volunteer? Are you a member of a club or sports team? Have you done work experience or an internship? Think about all of the other people who could comment on your attitude, skills and experience.

If you’re looking for a personal reference, don’t ask a member of your family. This doesn’t look great.

5. Ask someone in your industry

Are you a member of a professional body? If you’re actively involved in your professional community, you may know someone who can act as a reference there.

6. Ask someone who’s taught you

This one might depend on the last time you did some training. Think about school, college and uni, but also any on-the-job training you’ve done. Is there a teacher, lecturer or trainer who could provide a comment?

Some other articles you may find helpful

Impactful cover letters

A well-written cover letter will make employers pay attention. Find out how to write yours with our guide.

How to sell yourself in applications

Learn how to come across well to your future employers and secure that next stage interview.

How to describe your achievements well

Describing what you’ve achieved can be tricky. Our tips will help you come across your best.