Articles From the Team
How to write your CV...
Writing a CV can be tedious, we all know it.
It can often be easy to fall in the trap of writing an uninspiring, bland monologue of something that upon reading you feel like you’ve read a hundred times! Describing yourself as hard-working, academic, driven, personable, able to work on your own initiative etc! We’re probably all guilty of it at some point and moving away from this style can be a challenge in itself so here are a few basic tips on how to get it right.
It goes without saying everyone will have different writing techniques and ideas on how they want to present, however there is a basic structure you need to follow when formatting your CV which will be your key to success.
Structure and common mistakes
As a recruiter, I review hundreds of CV’s a day. I work with many top UK law firms so it’s my responsibility to read through many CV’s and send the best quality across to our clients. It’s a very competitive industry and often our clients (and ourselves) are lacking the time to read through the many CV’s that come our way daily, we often find ourselves scanning through these and unfortunately a good candidate may slip through the net because of a badly written CV. This could be for many reasons:
- The role they’re applying for is not consistent with the emphasis of their experience within the body of the CV which leads to a strange read where we can often have to double check this is the role they’re applying for!
- The CV could be too short and lacking the detail that would enable us to decipher their fit for the job and if they have the relevant skill set.
- Likewise, the CV could be pages long and so wordy that the reader is put off and becomes disinterested – it’s much easier to read something concise and relevant. For each role you apply for there are usually large sections that can be omitted, that have no relevance to that role. This is why we would advise candidates to have different versions if they are perhaps at an NQ level and applying to different roles/disciplines. A recent study has also shown that firms will look at your CV for less than 10 seconds! 2 pages or 3 maximum (if including a cover page) should be all you need.
- It’s important to read through your CV several times and make sure that everything is up to date and there are no errors. It may help to get a friend to read through, we can often read the same mistake time and time again and still not recognise it.
Below are some simple tips to make sure your CV gets noticed, read and considered for potential job opportunities instead of being placed at the bottom of the pile.
If you’re considering adding a picture of yourself I would hang fast! These can be very off putting and often seem a bit comical. Just begin by including personal details such as DOB and home address and telephone number. Although through an increase in diversity and inclusion measures clients are often insisting these details are omitted before we submit an application, we will often need that information ourselves and can remove those sections before making an approach.
Your potential employer should be able to look at your CV and get a grasp on your career history without a lengthy overview, so don’t try and summarise your whole career in an introduction:
- Try and be precise and to the point- a paragraph should suffice.
- Your employer will want to know what drives you, your current situation and what you’re looking for in your next role as well as what you can offer the position/firm.
- As mentioned earlier, try to avoid those commonly used descriptions that won’t set you apart.
We will usually place your education straight after your personal profile so that whoever is reviewing your CV can access that information quickly. Whether we like it or not, academic results play an intrinsic part of the recruitment process, especially for law graduates where there will often be a minimum requirement, this is also a handy tool to use (providing the results are strong) as this will also make your application stand out against others:
- Your education and experience should always be in the right order with the most recent always at the top.
- Your education will be considered from your LPC/GDL right down to your GCSE’s and your grades should be clearly marked. Candidates will often leave out unfavourable results but more often than not they will then either be requested or be assumed you did badly. You can always include the circumstances around a bad result if this is a concern.
- It never helps an application to withhold relevant information as this will just lead to a question mark. Be straight and transparent!
- And whatever you do don’t lie! Background checks are sometimes carried out and offers can be withdrawn over an academic grade being changed, more so for being untrustworthy, rather than the lower grade.
This will be the main body of your CV so keep things consistent and uniformed, same layout, font, keep the firm name, dates in the same style and order, otherwise it can look disorganised and messy, which will speak to the reader. Keep it concise and focus on making the relevant experience stand out:
- If you have experience within commercial litigation and property litigation make sure that the most relevant experience is the first that’s read, also attempt to make that section stand with more detail in that practice area.
- Layout: Write the dates of where you worked, the firms you’ve worked at and your job titles as clear headers. Start with your most recent employment and work backwards
- Do not write long paragraphs - bullet point what your roles entailed so your employer can pick out key points of information with ease
Read the job description carefully and align this with your own experience, you don’t need to have every bit of experience they’re asking for but it would be counter productive to leave out a key piece of experience you have that they’re looking for! As much as you can you should mirror what they are looking for in this next recruit. You should pay close attention to the terminology they use as you may be covering this aspect of the job in your current role but there will be some ambiguity if you call this something different.
Try to keep this short and sweet, it can give a good indicator if your personality but it won’t be a deciding factor and they don’t need to know everything you fill your spare time with!
- Include any regular sports you’re involved with.
- Any memberships you might have.
- Include software/programmes you have used (again relevant!) avoid listing the basic ones which everyone will have used through school and college such as excel, power point or this will undermine your application.
- Languages – but be honest about your level if basic, intermediate or fluent.
- Skills: If you have completed any extra courses these can be included but save this for those which have benefitted your career. No one wants to read about a swimming course you completed in year 8!
Good luck and if you have any doubts there are always plenty of online resources to help, including some top tips in our Knowledge Base.