Answers to your top 10 CV questions

1. Do I really need a CV?

Most employers today will ask for a CV in accompaniment to any application forms you may be required to complete. It is useful to maintain an up to date CV even if you don't think you will have much use for it. It is a record of everything of note that you have done in your life.

2. Is there a correct way to do a CV?

A CV is, by nature, specific to its writer. The form it takes is dependant on the path you have taken in life, and the jobs that you are applying for. The aim is to highlight your strengths and try to stand out. Show prospective employers why you are particularly suited to work for them. Remember though, that an unconventional CV can be a tad risky. Try to keep in mind the kind of employer that will be likely to read your CV.

3. What do you mean that my CV is dependant on the jobs that I am applying for?

Obviously, someone applying for a research position in a science laboratory will try to show different qualities to someone who wants to work in retail. The first will probably emphasise educational achievements while, for the second, it would be more effective to highlight previous work experience in similar positions. If you are applying for jobs in different fields, it is a good idea to have more than one CV so that you can cater to the specific requirements of each job. The aim is to portray yourself in different, but equally truthful lights.

4. How much detail should I go into?'

Chances are that if you think about it, you have achieved more in your life than will fit on 1-2 sides of A4 paper. An employer does not want to know everything you have ever done though. Only put down the things that you think are most relevant to the job. Try to think of the specific requirements for each job, and whether you have done anything which showed similar qualities. As a general rule of thumb, you don't need to provide educational details of anything before GCSE. Only include your most relevant/recent jobs, skills and activities

5. How much am I allowed to 'bend the truth'?

Your CV serves as part of your contract of employment. This means that if an employer finds it to be incorrect or untruthful, they are within their rights to terminate your contract. The aim for anyone writing a CV however, is to portray themselves in the best possible light. It is within your interest to accentuate your strengths and highlight your positive characteristics. Similarly, in the case of bad exam results or gaps in employment, it would be prudent to offer less coverage or to try and provide a positive slant. If you don't think it is directly relevant, omit it from your CV but be truthful about it if asked at interview.

6. How long should I make my CV?

Unless an employer states otherwise, an ideal CV should be no more than 2 sides. For layout purposes it is sometimes best to keep it to a single side. Nothing is worse than a lot of blank space on the page. For further information, see the layout tips in the article "How to Write the Perfect CV".

7. So far, all of my working experience has been in one field, but now I want to branch out, or try something completely new.

Read the following phrase and repeat: "Transferable skills." Make this your new catchphrase. Although you may not have worked in a specific field before, it is almost certain that you have done things in your workplace that will be directly relevant. Meeting deadlines, working under pressure, working as part of a team, delegating tasks effectively to others, dealing with the public, using computers and emails… and so on and so on. Even the most menial of tasks is probably more useful to you than you may initially think it is. This may take a lot of thought at first, but presenting your experiences in a way that shows them to be relevant is a useful skill in itself!

8. Quite the opposite – my career history is a mish-mash of different, unrelated jobs. What should I do?

Try to identify skills you have displayed at each job. Perhaps you have always dealt with customers, whether face to face, on the phone, or over the internet. This is all evidence of your communications skills. Similarly, you may find that the different jobs you have had are more related than you first thought.

9. This is my first job, so I have no previous work experience. What should I write about?

Highlight educational achievements as well as your skills and interests. Find situations in your personal/social/academic life in which you have made a contribution, or shown off some positive qualities. Captaining a sports team for example, is a good instance of a position of responsibility. Everyone has done at least something that can be shown as productive.

10. How many references do I need? Who should I choose?

Generally speaking, it is best to provide 2 references. It is useful to provide an academic reference if you can. This can be a teacher, tutor or lecturer. Otherwise provide a reference from your latest or current employer. It is fine to ask for your employer not to be contacted yet, and you can request to be informed before contact is made. Still, if you would prefer not to use a referee from a previous job, be prepared to explain why. Your second referee can be a personal witness, someone who knows you outside of work. Although you cannot use any relatives, it is perfectly acceptable to use a family friend, ideally one of "professional standing". Remember to ask permission before using someone as a referee and provide them with a copy of your CV. Let them know what kind of jobs you are applying for, and keep them informed of your progress. If you do not, they may not give the best references.