The experience section of your CV is likely to be the longest and most in-depth part of the document; it’s also the part that will prove your suitability for a new role, so it’s crucial to get it right.
CVs are generally written in reverse-chronological order, meaning that your most recent role should come first, working backwards from there. It’s generally advisable to stick to this format, although there are the occasional exceptions.
A non-chronological format could be used if you have large gaps in your career history, are looking for a career change or have worked in a wide variety of roles.
If some of your roles overlap, position the most relevant or the most long-term first.
Introduce every role by stating the job title, your employer name and dates of employment. Just the month and year is enough for the dates. Or even just the year if you’re trying to hide a gap!
If you’ve stayed with the same employer in several different roles, it’s worth repeating the employer name for every role. This ensures that the information is processed correctly through the ATS system.
A concise list of your responsibilities is also expected – don’t assume that the recruiter can guess what you did from your job title!
Remember that there’s no obligation to minutely detail everything you’ve done for every minute of every day. No recruiter wants to read pages and pages of waffle, so focus on what they really need to know to understand exactly what you do. Remember that you can always expand on key points at interview stage.
To keep your responsibilities concise, identify the main objective of your role and how it contributes to the business. When you write this bullet, consider how your role might be different to others with the same job title – for example if you work in sales, do you mainly sell to new or existing customers? Do you sell products or services?
Adding numbers is a great way to explain the scope of your role, so think about, for example, how many staff you managed, what your budget was, how many sites you worked across or how many accounts you managed.
When you’ve noted everything you think is relevant, go through the job description you received when you applied for your current role to make sure you haven’t missed anything crucial and to ensure you’ve captured the keywords. It may also help to take a sneaky peek at some LinkedIn profiles for similar roles.
A dry list of daily tasks is unlikely to inspire a recruiter or sell you to your best advantage. As well as including powerful verbs – delivered, contributed, accomplished, led, etc. – try to explain the impact of each task.
So for example, rather than saying that you ‘train new staff’, say that you ‘deliver on-the-job training to enable new recruits make an impact from an early stage’.
Your most recent job should normally have more detail than previous roles. Remember this is just a top-level overview – so, very roughly, six bullet points should be plenty.
Earlier roles tend to be less relevant and should therefore be progressively shorter, until you’re only including job title, employer name and dates for roles over ten years old.
Next, you need to add a section for each role explaining what you’ve achieved. Separating your achievements from your responsibilities with a sub-heading will draw attention to your successes.
Think about how you’ve gone above and beyond the expectations of your position and made an impact on the company or its clients. Including a few achievements for every role immediately makes your CV stronger and gives it much more punch.
Use achievements to prove how you’ve added value to the business in terms of cost reduction, profitability, productivity, business reputation, awards and so on – now is not the time to be modest! The strongest achievement sections make use of quantifiable outcomes to back up the claims.
Bullet-pointing is the most widely recommended format for the responsibilities and achievements on your CV. Narrative paragraphs look clunky and make it harder for a recruiter to pick out key information.
Many candidates include a summary of their employer’s business on their CV (annual turnover, sector, number of employees and so on). Remember that a CV should focus on YOU – what you can offer and what your skills are.
If you work for a well-known company such as Tesco, there’s really no need to include this information at all. If you work for a smaller company, by all means include a summary, but only if you feel it would add significantly to a recruiter’s understanding of your role.
Bear in mind that the CV should be about you and not your employer. There’s really no excuse for this information taking up more than one line.
Mistakes to avoid
Think that filling your CV with jargon and acronyms makes you sound like you really know your stuff? Think again. Remember that the first person reviewing your CV might be from the HR department or a recruitment agency, rather than from the department you’re aiming to work in.
About the author: Jen David has been a CV Consultant since 2010 and currently works for CV Knowhow, the UK’s leading career and CV writing consultancy. She has written CVs for thousands of job seekers from all industries and at all stages in their career, from students to senior executives. Jen aims to add value to CVs, enabling her customers to increase their chances of securing an interview and progress in their chosen career.