If recruiters, employers and academics spend only a few seconds skim-reading CVs and applications for relevant content, they may well be on to the next application by the time they’ve seen your name, contact details and the key achievements we talked about in last time’s blog. But if they’re sufficiently interested – and choose to read on – here is a tried and tested formula for the remaining three headings in your first CV.


Current school or college first – Start with this and show the year you started – e.g. ABC High School, Bristol (2013 to date).

Exams next – List your current subjects and predicted grades – e.g. Biology (predicted grade ?), French (predicted grade ?), German (predicted grade ?). Then, underneath, list the exams you’ve done in the past. And work backwards – in reverse chronological order – putting your highest grades and most relevant subjects at the top.

Best bits at the top – The recruiter will be interested in what you are currently studying and which grades you are expected to get, then will check to see which previous exams you’ve passed and, inevitably, what grades you got. If he or she runs out of time and stops skim-reading here, you’ll want them to remember the best bits.

Relevance important – Depending on what you are applying for, they will also be looking for specific subjects (e.g. languages at A-level may be useful if the role involves working with business travellers). And they’ll be checking to see that you have passed Maths and English GCSE so, if you are having to re-sit, make a note in this section to explain.


Recent to start – As above, put this in reverse chronological order with your most recent experience at the top of the list.

Keep it brief – Bearing in mind they’ve used up most of their ‘CV-scanning time’ already, you want to keep this as brief and punchy as possible. Try summarising your work experience and dates together – e.g. Summer job at local corner shop (July-Sept 2016).

Include your skills list – Underneath – or alongside – list any skills you got from this work which the recruiter will consider to be relevant to the role. For example: Highly responsible – e.g. given the keys to the shop to lock up at night / e.g. worked behind the counter on the till handling money from week 1. Excellent Customer Service – e.g. complimented in writing by two customers and verbally by many more / e.g. delivered customer’s purse to her house when left accidentally in the shop.

Caution – Ignore anything that is not relevant to the position you are applying for as they are unlikely to be interested. It will waste precious space on the page and look as though you haven’t fully understood the role that you are applying for.

Transferable skills – If you have limited relevant experience, you can still do well by identifying the transferable skills you have gained from seemingly irrelevant experiences. For example, if you are applying for a business admin role, but have never worked in an office, re-read the job description and think about what you have done that could be relevant: team-work, polite and professional, experience of IT and social media?

Relevance still important – Be prepared to bump anything up the list if it is highly relevant to your application, but lower down chronologically. If you are applying for a finance role, for example, and worked for an accountancy firm over the summer holidays two years ago, this will be of particular interest and should therefore be moved to the top of your list.

Other information

Opportunity to reveal more – This section can include any achievements where you are uncertain of the significance – e.g. Grade 4 Clarinet. The employer could be an enthusiastic clarinet player, but – more likely – simply see this as evidence that you are extremely self-motivated, dedicated and able to learn another language (i.e. music).

A few final tips

White space OK – Don’t be afraid to leave gaps on your CV between the subheadings – it can be easier to read and scan if the text isn’t crowded together.

No Photograph – No need to include a photograph unless specifically requested. It shouldn’t matter what you look like (unless you’re applying to be a model).

Use what’s been provided/requested – Always use a template CV that’s been provided, especially in online applications. And always include content that has been specifically requested: it’s like an exam – if you don’t answer the question, you won’t get many marks.

Leave out anything that’s not essential – If you’re using a CV to apply for a part-time job, check with the employer to find out what they’re looking for as they may not need to see all your exam results, for example. After that, the choice of CV style is basically yours. This format is not set in stone and is always open to debate, but with the above, you should have a sound template to work with.

And finally …

It’s generally unnecessary to name any referees in your CV unless specifically requested. The recruiter can always ask for these after your interview and, when you do provide them, please try to use the most recent and relevant ones you can find. For example, you will usually be asked to provide details of your most recent employer – or a senior person at the school or college that you are leaving (e.g. Head of Sixth Form).

Then for your choice of second referee, try and choose someone who is relevant to your application, someone who still knows you now, and someone who is not related to you. They should also know you well and be able to, truthfully, ‘sell’ the benefits of ‘Product You’ to the recruiter in their reference.

As an example, if you want to demonstrate that you are a strong team-player and have good captaincy (leadership) skills, why not pick the chairman of your sports club? This will be perfect if he or she is also a retired accountant and you are applying for a role in a finance company because they can also talk confidently about the skills you have that would suit the role.

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