A CV Template that doesn’t suck. Please use it.

It’s been roughly 3 years since I was last interviewing people for jobs and as usual, when enough time passes you tend to only remember the good stuff. In this case, it is the pleasure of sitting down with somebody and getting to know them. What I’d forgotten was the drudgery of slogging through a whole bunch of atrocious, horrendous and appalling resumés.

Seriously people. Get your act together if you want a job.

Given that little blip on the radar we affectionately call ‘recession’, I would honestly have thought many more people would have paid attention to their CVs in an effort to try and make them stand out from the crowd… or at the very least, not stand out negatively. But frankly I am shocked at the drivel I’ve been going through. Out of circa 30 CVs I’ve read:

  • Only 1 was a PDF
  • Only 2 were ‘designed’ (and this is for a “Web UI” role incidentally)
  • Only 3 included a link to personal websites, LinkedIn profiles or similar (see parentheses above for emphasis)
  • Only 5 include a covering letter
  • About 20 actually looked horrible: inconsistent formatting, terrible choice of fonts and no clear delineation of sections
  • A fair number were over 3 pages long; one was a shocking 8 pages!
  • And for a bonus point, quite a few of those submitted by agencies were rendered worse for being so by the introduction of spelling mistakes, awful logos and further trampling over the original CVs’ layouts

So here are, in no particular order, my top ten tips for writing a great CV and getting the job. There’s a sample Word template at the end, or you can just download it now.

  1. 3 Pages. 3 Pages. 3 Pages.
    The better you are, and the bigger your achievements, the shorter your CV should be. Steve Jobs’s CV need not have much detail: “Apple Inc, Founder and Pixar Studios, Founder” suffice. You’re unlikely to have such a short CV if you’re applying for a graduate web developer role but it’s good to aim high. My recommendation: Stick strictly to a max of 3 pages in length including a cover page. (If you think it “must” be longer, you’re wrong.) 
  2. Write a Covering Letter
    It’s not only polite, it’s your chance to summarize your skills and personality in a compelling and personal way. Let’s face it, however well written and designed CVs have a hard time being interesting because at heart they’re a list of dates, numbers and titles. In your covering letter however you have the opportunity to direct the recruiters’ attention to what you feel is most outstanding about yourself in a more personal fashion. 
    My recommendation: Do not exceed 2 pages and if its longer than 2 paragraphs split it up into sections with bold headings. Finally, sign it at the end. (If you’re not sending it by post, scan your signature and add it in… it’s 2010 you know.)

  3. Include References
    Your referees say something about you. If you think that listing the name and position of a referee is going to work against you, then you should probably pick a different one. It is OK to say “These are my references, please don’t contact them without letting me know first” but the practically standard “Excellent references on request” is quite frankly irritating. If they’re excellent, then their job title and relationship to you should be excellent and hiding that simply says that you’re not really sure of that. 
    My recommendation: Write down a list of 3 referees including their name, their position and their relationship to you (e.g.: “Academic supervisor” or “Former employer” or “Character reference”).
  4. Design It
    I don’t expect regular CVs to look like designers’ portfolios (although I do expect designers’ portfolios to look like a designer’s portfolio) but I do expect them to look like they haven’t just been knocked up by those proverbial monkeys. 
    My recommendation: get a designer friend to go over it for you. Failing that, try to be consistent in how you lay out your information, make titles bold and leave adequate space in between sections, avoid bullet points and DON’T use font sizes larger than 14pt.

  5. I Don’t Really Want to Read Essays
    The covering letter (see point 2) is where you can write your wonderful prose. In your CV try and stick to the facts. State your job title and short list of responsibilities or your degree and short list of subjects.

  6. Be Relevant
    One way of being concise is to be relevant. If you have a Ph.D., do I really need to know your academic history all the way down to your GCSEs? If you’re applying for, say, a web developer role, give priority to your relevant skills and simply mention in a line anything that’s not relevant. If you were a waiter in a pub in the summer of 2006 and feel you need to state that, just say it and lay off the “I learnt so much about teamwork and tight deadlines” hogwash.
  7. PDF It!
    Do yourself a favour and send your CV and covering letter as PDF documents. First of all, it looks way more professional and you’re guaranteed that it will look as close as possible to how you intended it to look. Secondly, if you’re applying via an agency you’ll force them to send on your documents as is without them accidentally or otherwise changing stuff in it.

  8. Don’t say you’re a team player and that you love challenges
    Literally every CV states somewhere or other that the applicant is a “team player”, that he or she “loves new challenges”, that they work excellently “in a team or on their own initiative” and lots of other similar snippets. It is far far better to be specific and give me examples of what teams you worked in or led, what challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them and when and why you’ve had to work on your own initiative. Failing real life examples, just let it go.

  9. Include a Link
    While this applies to everybody, it applies more specifically to people applying for software or design positions. Please include a link somewhere on your CV or covering letter  to your personal (but professional) website, portfolio or LinkedIn profile or something similar. If you do include such links also take the time to make sure that a) the site you send along is relevant and populated with content and b) that the content matches up with what you say in your CV.

  10. Use This Template
    Finally, use this Word document as a template. I’m sure there are better ones and different ways of doing it, but this is surely better than most.

Good luck and hope you get the job!

Further Reading

As with any topic there’s always more to read and find out. I would say that when it comes to CV writing there’s enough advice out there for free on the web but if you’re one of those people who prefer a book, here are some recommendations:

Update: as @kvella pointed out, also don’t forget to proof-read… both your CV and my template!

Update 2: Read this FAQ for getting a graduate position in UX and design.


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19 thoughts on “A CV Template that doesn’t suck. Please use it.

  1. Great post. The 3 pages rule can’t be said strongly enough!

    I would add that it’s important to always keep the CV up-to-date even when happily employed, I’ve worked for two companies where I’ve got into work in the morning, to get called into a surprise all employees company meeting only to find out we didn’t have a job after that.

    So it’s well worth having that CV ready to go with only a little top up needed, it also means that you can update your achievements for your current position whilst they are in your mind, not 12 months later when you’ve forgotten the details and are stressing to get your CV out to prospective employers as quickly as you can.

    Not to mention that your dream job might just appear out of nowhere when you are least expecting it, so having an almost perfect CV ready at that point can make the world of difference.

    I should also add, and I experienced this first hand, ensure your key skills you’ve listed are still appropriate. I had SQL as a key still because I was doing lots of it, but 5 years after adding I found out that I’d forgotten most of it except the basics, sadly one of the products for the company I was interviewing at was very SQL Server orientated, needless to say that was a little embarrassing when they asked me some reasonably simple SQL questions and my brain froze. My key skills section gets a regular review after that! Remove stuff from your CV as well as adding – esp. if you are in the IT/Software field.

    I do have to disagree with point 7. Agencies will do their up most to hide your details to ensure they get they get paid.

    I worked with someone who sent his very nicely presented pdf CV off to an agency only to find out in the interview that the agency had mangled it beyond belief. It looked like they had printed it out, scanned it in and OCR’d it to make a word document, added their logo to the top and sent it out, without even reviewing it.

    The agency version of the CV contained a lot of wrong words, spelling mistakes, random characters and lack of formatting. He only got the interview because every other candidates had been unsuitable and was the last on the list and the interviewer didn’t believe that it was actually how the CV looked before the agency got their hands on it. He actually got a job offer from the interview, which he nearly missed out on because of what the agency had done to the CV.

    Send a Word document to the agency, or both Word and pdf, because they will try to hide your details, help them keep your CV looking as good as you can.

    When I have an interview via an agency, I always take a couple of copies of my CV and leave one with the interviewer so they can see what it should have looked like before the agency got their hands on it, that way they also have my phone number and email address should they have any questions after the interview, or you never know, maybe some interest 6 months down the line for a different position.

    I would also suggest a little caution if you use the newer format for Word documents, such as the .docx template file. Not every company has upgraded their version of Word and so it’s likely that some won’t be able to open it, if you send a Word document send a .doc version. Although you might want to think twice about working for a company that isn’t able to open a .docx file!

  2. Chris says:

    Wow! People still give a flying fuck about CV’s! AWESOME!!!! So you are hiring new grads to be banner monkeys or roughly an HTML Monkey(???) as a skill set? Sure! CV’s are fantastic if you still believe everything you read, but FFS step up and talk to people. Jaysus…

    This is a template of a post that Guy Kawasaki made that all good blog posts should have bullet points. In the interest of public safety, let us deconstruct:

    1. 3 pages. Really? That’s it? Lets look at point 7. If it’s a PDF, who cares. Search it. Now, if you actually still even look at print resumes or CV’s. Lets ask WHY it’s more than 3 pages. Maybe the person has something more to off…

    oh. yeah, they’re prob not the banner monkey you are looking for….

    2. It’s called a Cover Letter. A covering letter is a) incorrect whatever engrish you speak. and b) doesn’t fucking matter because clearly if you can’t wade through more than 3 fucking pages of relevant material, why would you wade through one page of self aggrandizing?

    3. references? Are you really that hung up? legally, the most they can say is “yes, they worked here from then til then”. Everything else, unless positive, opens them up for a slander case (it’s on record, learn google)

    4. “design it” yeah, that’s a great strategy… if you are applying for a feckin design job. The last thing I ever cared about hiring a coder was their ability to create a grid, stick to it, the create a masterwork, solely for their CV. I want a fucking CODER! And! If you are a designer, hiring a designer, fuck CV’s, show me a PORTFOLIO.

    5. If you don’t want to read an essay, why do you ask for a cover letter?

    6. Relevance is moot. Show me you can do shit, period. Maybe that is relevance, but this goes back to my point of, really? We still use CV’s?

    7. PDF? Huh? a) are you hiring a programmer to produce PDF? and b) fuck, really? are you hiring a coder or a designer? what the hell do you want? if you want a coder, the best coders crank it out in ascii. The only reason for PDF is ÅØÆ, or you are just a fucktard creating an arbitrary barrier of entry.

    8. Duh, but, given your barrier of entry with a CV, how else are they gonna communicate that.

    9. wow, after 8 other points, NOW we are concerned about the actual work. fuck.

    10. Yes, using this template will really make me stand out, like all the other templates make everyone else stand out. A template is the definition of conformity.

    Fuck me. I can’t believe that the last time you were interviewing was 3 years ago. Has your garage grown so much that you now have room for so many people that you need to be so passively selective? That’s impressive, and good on you in this “down economy”?

    Jaysus.

    Here’s some advice for anyone reading this thinking it is a good plan of attack: Fuck your CV and do something interesting instead. Build that app that you think is massive, that you think matters. It’ll be a lot more relevant than a fucking CV because your app actually does things that you say you can do, and that you are capable of doing. If you want a job, with people who hire you on your CV built on this shit, you are building your career in a very bad way…

    lotsa love,
    cp

  3. @cp

    While I don’t particularly like your attitude (seems to indicate you’re an asshole), you make some good points so I’ll leave your comment around. Yes, if you can build that app that you think matters, then go ahead and do so, ship it and fuck that CV as you say.

    If you’re a stellar coder and can send just one link to something awesome you’ve built, then, if you read my post at all, that was my very very first recommendation. Personally, I’d be seriously impressed.

    Just to make some things clear though, I’m not saying this is the *only* way of impressing in a job application. It’s simply a sure-fire way of not making a *bad* impression. You don’t *have* to PDF it, design it, include links or references or stick to 3 pages. My point is simply that if you do the opposite of all the 10 points above – which a lot of people do – then you will definitely *fail* to impress.

    Finally:
    – It *is* a covering letter: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/career_and_jobs/article1293569.ece
    – I’ve not looked at CVs in 3 years because I wasn’t working in a position where I was recruiting people myself
    – Only coding monkeys are narrow minded enough to think that the only other people who deserve CV tips are coders.
    – And, if you are ever in need of a job, I would seriously suggest deleting these kinds of comments from around the web as no self respecting business would employ people with such an attitude problem.

    Cheers ;-)

  4. Very nice points

    I just want to add that an online CV using WordPress Blog or just one page at any free web host will help update the CV and gives some type of consideration

  5. Honestly dude, this blog post is fucking retarded. Fuck cover letters. They say nothing about the individual other than how well the applicant is able to kiss ass and bullshit. Fuck you, Richard, for perpetuating an obvious flaw in the employment process. I WILL continue to submit resumes without cover letters. Because I fucking can. Fuck are you gonna do about it, loser? And don’t even get me started with your obsession with PDF files and font. Pfff…what a cunt! You should try judging your applicants by their experience rather than by how pretty their resumes look. Get a life, turd! And once again, fuck you! Really, dude.

  6. Matt says:

    Nice blog, I’ve recently been through a load of CV’s to recruit a graduate position, the majority were awful. In summary I’d go with…

    – People who read CV’s are real people as well. If you can’t be arsed writing your CV properly, I can’t be arsed reading it (so you won’t even get an interview).

    – Take pride in what you send. As much as I loved reading covering letters with kisses on the end (yes someone actually did, and wrote the whole thing in text speak), if you can’t be arsed…

    I wouldn’t care for a link (unless relevant for the job of course). The university actually asked me for feedback, I spent time detailing what I thought was wrong for each applicant. They probably thought I was a complete ****, but hopefully the graduates actually read it and it helped them improve.

    I think making a PDF is essential, it takes seconds and ensures the person reading it sees it how you’ve designed it. The person the other end might own a mac, PC, or Linux. Every format can read a PDF.

    Steps I take to employ people:-

    1. Check they can do the job (basically read the skills & experience in the CV)
    2. See which people sound the best (read the covering letter) –
    3. Work out who will fit in the company (meet them at interview)

  7. Lalita says:

    You don’t effectively distinguish the differences between a resume and a curricula vitae, which is often over three pages and outlines one’s academic and relevant professional life in great detail. A CV includes committee assignments, courses developed and taught, and students mentored (by name,degree and year). I have reviewed CVs for dean and president level positions as a member of search committees and would be horrified to see one follow your rules.

    A resume CAN be over three pages and the general rule is one page for every five years of work experience, which can be less if the candidate has had very few jobs or if they’ve “job hopped” (and use a functional resume). Steve Jobs, in your example, would NEVER have been applying for a job outside of Apple: His “resume” could have been printed on the back of a business card. Bad example. Resumes for CEOs (which I have reviewed) are also often heafty and include significant accomplishments and “wins,” which are reviewed by Board selection committees.

    The idea to remember is that most HR people who are screening your resume need to see key words and phrases for jobs they, themselves, do not do. Another fun fact, is that most HR people have little training and NO relevant degrees (I have an HR master’s from a b-school and am finishing a biz doctorate). Also, these people may get dozens or even hundreds of resumes for a single position and have to read them.

    • Good points there. Thank you.

      However I think you are talking about academic CVs which are different in nature and the reviewers tend to have different expectations.

      For anything else, I still stick to my earlier point. “If you think it needs to be longer than 3 pages, you’re wrong.”

      :-)

      • Aiah says:

        Richard, your points are largely not empirical facts, but rather opinions, despite your confidence in your perspective of what’s “wrong.” As a CS engineering division head with a long history of hiring for one of the country’s largest tech campuses, I’d disagree with most of your points about resumes, notably the archaic 3-page rule. And while I wouldn’t use as colorful language as others who disagree with you above, I agree with many of their counterpoints. Moreover, while it’s true that CVs feature regularly in academic circles, longer resumes are perfectly acceptable in other circles; we regularly receive resumes longer than 3-pages, depending on format, and for several of our non-tech positions this has worked to applicants’ advantage over the years. It depends on the tastes, unfortunately, of HR teams or the hiring manager.

        I also agree that cover letters are passé, at least in many tech and engineering industries. Either my team already knows the tech people we’re recruiting, in which case the cover letter is superfluous for us, or the applicant, to corroborate what another of your commenters has said, has produced something so valuable elsewhere that a cover letter for us would be irrelevant. Again, I second what’s been said above that the format of a resume or CV means very little to our teams, and colleagues at other tech firms over the past decade have voiced the same sentiments. Resumes are pre-millennium. For us. What we’re looking for is production. And we already know the producers. Their products *are* their resumes/cover letters. When there are 500+ people internationally applying for a position, it’s not the artifice of a resume or cover letter that wins a coveted position.

        Obviously, this is your blog, so here you get the final word in judging comments’ validity. However, for the sake of others reading this blog, I hope they’ll seek out a wider set of opinions on what constitutes solid resume form.

        Cheers.

      • As you say, the post is just my opinion not empirical facts, and I’m fine with that.

        I would definitely advise readers to only consider this as “useful advice” in the event they’re applying for a job at a company I work at or run :-)

        For everything else, caveat emptor!

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