Don’t know how to write a CV? Don’t worry – you are in the same boat as lots of others

I’ve always thought it entirely unsurprising that people who have never been trained in something are not experts at doing it.

So, why expect job applicants to be experts at CV writing?

It is of course impossible for employers to meet every applicant in all cases and so a CV or an application form (or some form of online test) is likely to be the method of shortlisting for the foreseeable future.

One of the most frustrating things I hear from recruiters (and I hear it fairly regularly) is ‘Well, if they don’t have a good CV then I’m not interested in them’. This statement only makes sense if you believe that ability to perform a given role is correlated with the ability to write what you believe is a suitable CV. Of course this will not be the case (unless the job is ‘CV Writer’).

There are many very good reasons why you as an applicant may be inexperienced or ineffective at writing a CV:

1. You have been with the same employer for a long time

You are so good at what you do, so valued by the employer and so happy in the job that you have not had any cause to consider moving. You have progressed within the role, but a CV was not a big part in this since the employer knew your capabilities or an application form was used instead of a CV.

I’ve worked with people who have been with the same employer for 30 or more years. Their job role has typically changed over that time but the process has been relatively informal.

2. You have always used application forms instead 

If you work in the public sector or in large companies then this is more likely than not. It is commonly believed that application forms are fairer on candidates (because everybody is responding in a similar format) and easier to use in decision making. On the other hand, application forms typically test one skill predominantly: The ability to write a single piece outlining why you are suitable for the job; with the judgement involved in content, structure and style. Doing this without clues is another skill that needs to be learned.

A CV is good preparation for application form writing by the way – because it keeps all the dates and details together in one place and up to date. Plus it gives you the raw materials that you can use to answer the one big question at the end.

3. You are in an industry that works differently

Some kinds of job involve moving from one fixed term position to another using past experience and personal recommendation. If you suddenly have to start dealing with recruiters who want CVs, this can lead to a clash of cultures.

4. You were educated somewhere different

CV layout and content varies a little from place to place. In some countries it is common to include a photograph whereas in the UK this is often considered unusual; even weird. Some countries have an expectation that CVs are more succinct. You may have been persuaded that the ‘europass’ CV format is the right one to use when in reality it is completely ineffective. You may have gone to a school that just didn’t offer a CV writing education.

5. You may be following advice that is outdated

You may have been taught to write a CV that was perfectly acceptable in previous decades. Competition may have been lower (entry requirements, fewer people going to university etc) and decision making more straightforward. ‘Personal profiles’ may not have been considered necessary for example.

6. You may have received bad advice

Let’s be honest: Bad advice is everywhere. Lots of people are willing to tell you how to write your CV. They can’t all be right.

So, your CV writing skills have room for improvement. The first step is either to get help starting from scratch or get a trusted evaluation of the CV that you currently have.

If you think that I can help with this then get in touch ( to discuss how to move forward. If you have a CV already then send it to me for a free review and advice on what to improve.

Graeme Jordan

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CV Writer and Interview Coach. Blogging about ways to improve your CV writing and job searching experience.