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8 do's and don'ts for writing a winning CV

Sean Campbell
Last Updated: 20 October 2021 • 6 min read

Spoiler alert! Having strong CV writing skills that showcase your best strengths gives you a much, much better chance of landing the job you want. 

Your CV (or resume as some call it) is your way of making an impression on an employer — your means of getting to an interview where you can meet them face to face, then really convince them that you’re the right one for the job. 

That’s an important point to remember — your CV alone doesn’t get you the job. Along with your cover letter, it’s simply a means of showing them that you’re a good candidate who deserves the opportunity to interview for a position. 

That said, an impressive CV is the strongest foundation, and the best place to start when it comes to looking for a job after you graduate. 

Follow the right principles, techniques, and do’s and don’ts in writing your CV and you’ll be in with a real shot of landing that job you’ve been eyeing up!

Luckily for you, we’re here to take you through some solid, reliable do’s and don’t for a resume writing. 

Let’s get started!

8 do’s and don’ts for a good CV

  1. DO keep it short & neat
  2. DON’T use overly fancy language
  3. But DO keep the content relevant to the job
  4. DON’T give too much personal information
  5. DO take time to proofread your work
  6. DO use bullet points
  7. Don’t tell lies (but DO talk up the truth)!
  8. Do choose a structure or format that works for you

1. DO keep it short and neat

When an employer or hiring manager looks at your CV for the first time, they’ll spend (on average) just 6 or 7 seconds. That’s all! 

They probably have dozens (or hundreds) to look through, and will likely give most CVs a second or third look... but this should be a strong reminder that you really have to make a positive impression from the off. 

The simplest way of doing this is by not putting them off! Keep it short, and keep it neat and presentable. one to two pages long is ideal, with sections divided up nicely to make all your key info easy to find. 

Top tip for a neat and tidy CV: Think of it like it’s a schedule, datebook or timetable!

When you look at a schedule, you want to be able to find the relevant information immediately, without having to read everything around it. When it comes to your CV, you want the reader to be able to quickly find out who you are, and what you’re good at!

2. DON’T use overly fancy language

...Or overly casual language, for that matter. Your CV should be well-written in a formal tone. However this doesn’t mean that you should use the most formal and fancy words you can think of. 

Remember, it’s a human that will read it, so write for a human! 

Keep your language easy to understand, don’t use any slang terms, 

Here’s a good example of the tone and language standard you should use in your CV:

“A driven and fast-learning student of Engineering at Trinity College, Dublin, expected to graduate in June 2022.” 

Why’s it good? 

It says exactly what the person is in a short and concise manner and tone. It also shines a positive light on the candidate through the use of simple, powerful adjectives “driven” and “fast-learning”. 

3. DO keep the content RELEVANT to the job

While you must not mention the job itself in your CV (that’s what your cover letter is for), you really should try to tailor everything in your CV towards the position. 

Any skills you feel you thrive at, as well as any previous experience you have should be relevant to the job requirements.

For example, if the job description says that you must work as a team, then mention any group projects you were a part of in university or high school, or indeed in any previous part-time jobs or extracurricular activities. 

While we’re on the subject, you’ll want to check out our article on 9 Extracurricular activities to do at university that can give your CV a boost!

4. Don't give too much personal information

It’s important to provide some basic personal information in your CV, such as your name (obviously) and contact information.

However all of the following are unnecessary: age; ethnic identity; political affiliation; religious faith; marital status; sexual orientation; place of birth; photographs; height; weight and health status.

Of course, some of the above may be relevant in a cover letter, if for example the role especially welcomes people of a certain political outlook, religion, or ethnicity. 

However, for a CV, just stick to the basics!

5. DO take time to proofread your work

Once you’ve written your CV, don’t send it off straight away! Leave it for a few hours, or even a few days, then give it a re-read with fresh eyes. 

You see, when we proofread something as soon as we finish writing it, our minds sometimes see what they expect to see! That’s why it’s important to step away for a while and then come back to check it. 

Better yet, have someone you trust proofread it for you!

6. Do use bullet points

When it comes to the skills, experience, and qualifications sections of your CV, bullet points are your friend!

The only part of your CV which should be written in prose (natural form) is the introduction section, where you write a short biography about yourself.

Otherwise, bullet points are a super effective way of listing your strengths and your achievements. They’re brief and to-the-point, and they stand out, catching the attention of whoever is reading!

Remember what we said above thinking of your resume like a schedule or date book to make key info easy to find? Bullet points are a great way of achieving this!

7. Don’t tell lies (but DO talk up the truth)!

Just don’t. We strongly encourage you to exaggerate the truth a little on your CV, as this can reinforce your strengths and skills. But don’t push it too far — the truth will eventually come out! 

Remember, even if your CV dazzles a hiring manager, you’ll have to have an interview and your references will be checked. Any dishonesty will soon emerge, and that’ll be embarrassing!

So in short, if you don’t know how to develop software, don’t say you can! If you can’t fly a plane, don’t pretend you’re a pilot! 

Tell the truth. Well, tell the best version of the truth… Simple, right? 

8. Do choose a structure (or format) that works 

We’ve already mentioned the importance of neatness and order in your CV. On that note, choosing the right format for writing your resumes is one of the most effective ways of helping your CV stand out from the crowd!

The content of your CV is important, but the presentation can be a deal breaker as well. So, structure your CV in an appealing and effective way.

Try not to make your pages too busy or cluttered, instead allowing the text to “breathe”. Make sure that the things you really want the reader to see stand out, and that your CV showcases your strengths at a glance! 

But rather than telling you how to format your resume, let us show you instead! Check out our article 5 CV structures you need to know about

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.

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