Professional CV Writing: Best Practices
Updated: Oct 2, 2022
Whichever stage of your studies or career you are in, a day will come when you will start job hunting and have to create or update a professional CV.
With the emergence of countless "make it yourself" CV tools and CV examples online, it is now much easier for job seekers to craft an aesthetic and attention-grabbing CV online.
This article aims at stressing the importance of balancing aesthetics and content in a CV. While a colorful and "stylish" CV is indeed attention-grabbing, CV scanning nowadays has become a bit more complicated, especially with the massive adoption and use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) by companies.
What makes a good CV is not necessarily the stylish template, it's the content you incorporate into the document. The following sections summarize suggestions for CV layouts and tips to implement to write a winning, interview-landing CV. Do your best to impress your potential interviewer!
How to write a CV
What's a CV?
Spoiler alert: CV stands for curriculum vitae. A curriculum vitae is a concise summary of your education, work experience, skills, and interests.
As it lands in a recruiter’s hand, this one-page document will determine whether you caught enough attention to be given an interview.
Your CV thus needs to be clear, convincing and tailored to the description of the job you are applying for. In sum, it needs to be a very attractive CV and tailored to the job advert.
While there are many types of CVs, this guide helps you draft the most common of all: the chronological CV, which lists your history in reverse chronological order, meaning with the most recent job listed at the top.
What's a good CV?
A good CV makes you stand out among the dozens or hundreds of applicants you might be competing against. In other words, you have an A4-sized sheet of paper to showcase yourself in the best possible way and convince the company that you're a person they absolutely need to interview for this job.
Writing a winning CV requires great attention to the outline, the aesthetics, and of course the content of the document. A great mix and presentation of the elements above will play a large role in convincing employers that you might be the best person for the job.
A good CV:
Is tailored to the job advert
Highlights your achievements throughout your work history
Includes relevant skills
Is well structured, eye-catching, and easily scannable
Is compatible with Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
How to write a CV from top to bottom
If you have more than a year of work history, your education should be listed after your professional experience.
On the other hand, if you are a student, a fresh graduate with little experience, you might want to list your education first and highlight projects, awards, and achievements completed in your program.
1. Header (including your job title and contact details)
3. Work experience
Your header should include basic information from your personal profile.
First and last name
Photograph (depending on the country you apply in)
This summary serves as both an introduction to your CV and a summary of your profile. It should be 2 to 4 sentences and highlight:
What you are passionate about
How much experience you have
Your main achievements
Your level of education
Your main relevant skills
Work experience or work history
Before you submit your job application, make sure you tailor your entire CV to the job description - specifically your work experience and latest jobs.
All potential employers are interested in are experiences relevant to the job you're applying for. As a result, you need to adapt this section so that your responsibilities, projects, and achievements match the description of the job you're applying for.
In sum, include:
Your role or title
The same logic applies to your academic background. Make sure to include only relevant academic background, with achievements and concrete examples.
If you have little or no work history, you can also include notable achievements (theses, group projects) and try to align them with the description of the job you're applying for. Indeed, some skills you used or developed during these projects might be transferable!
If, on the other hand, you feel your work experience is more substantial, stick to listing your school, university, and program names and the dates you attended them.
In sum, include:
School or university name
Most employers seek multilingual candidates. If you master more than one language, make sure to include this in your CV, a dedicated section.
When listing your languages, you will want to state both your level of proficiency in words and associate an internationally-recognized language score or certificate.
Here is how you can present languages in your CV for example:
French (Fluent, C1)
German (Basic, A2)
Make sure to include both your level of proficiency and your score as the former might seem abstract and the latter might not be known by employers.
Choosing the right skills to highlight in your CV and which of these skills are most relevant for the job you're applying for is not an easy task.
There are many different ways to incorporate your skills into your CV, namely by:
Listing them in a dedicated skills section
Incorporating them into your career or work experience achievements
To ensure the skills you include are relevant, take a close look at the job description, which will indicate the skills the hiring managers are after. Make sure you include both soft skills and hard skills in your CV. Also, avoid using buzzwords such as "team player" or "innovative".
A few CV tips from us
Don't send the same CV to different employers
This is the most important rule. If you want to land interviews, you're going to have to tailor your CV to each job description you apply for.
Why? Because each job and company, may they be similar, might seek different sets of skills and professional approaches for example.
To tailor your CV to the jobs you're applying for, print or open the job description and make sure you include all relevant keywords and adjust the elements you want to highlight accordingly.