By DebbieH 06 Nov 2018 7 min read

How to write a standout CV

Writing a CV is something many of us will have plenty of experience doing. But what’s the difference between a standard CV, and a job winning CV? Read on to find out more about the aspects you should consider before you start typing:


Choose CV headings and be consistent with formatting

Separating your experience into different categories – e.g. legal, commercial and voluntary – makes your CV easier to read. Avoid information that goes against describing any work experience as ‘relevant work experience’ – that suggests to the reader that you think the rest of your experience is irrelevant.

A CV should entice the recruiter to want to know more about the applicant. Steer clear of a prose-heavy structure in order to make your CV more pleasing on the eye – and be consistent with grammar and punctuation. Use sub-heads and bullet points – anything that makes the CV format easier for the reader. 




Tailor your CV

Firstly, your CV should include some basic but vital information about yourself, so that recruiters know who you are and how they can get in touch with you. Make sure you include:



Stand out to recruiters

Recruiters have only the information on your CV to go off when deciding whether or not to invite you for an interview. Read the job description in detail, and use it as a guide to provide them with the information they need. This might include:


Your position in the hierarchy: It’s important for recruiters to understand where you would best fit in their team. Include information such as who you report in to, if you work independently or if you manage anyone.

Numbers: Recruiters will look for ways of quantifying your value to your previous company in numbers. This could include revenue generated, percentage of targets hit, or time taken to achieve a project. Providing strong evidence in figures gives a prospective employer an idea of what return on investment they will receive by employing you.

What your current employer does: If you’re currently working for a lesser known company, make sure you add an explanation of what the company does so they can put your role into context. If you’re company well established, ensure that you describe how your department and role contributes to the wider business goals.

Technology expertise: Most jobs bring you into contact with some form of technology, so recruiters will be keen to learn your level of capability.

The objective of your previous role: The most important thing to include is ‘what were you hired to do?’ A recruiter can then put your hard work and results into context.

Examples of past work: Whatever tangible work you have produced, show it clearly on your CV, indicating the volume and quality of work produced, and how this benefited the business.

How you interact with other people: Recruiters will likely be looking for evidence that you are able to communicate clearly and effectively with them.



Professional summary

Did you know recruiters spend an average of 8.8. seconds perusing your CV? So you have to grab their attention quickly – include something that really stands out from the crowd. This can be done in just a couple of sentences of your professional summary.

A professional summary is the first, introductory paragraph most people will include at the start of their CV. This summary should be direct and tailored to the role you apply for. Avoid vague or broad references – really tailor your personal statement to the role. Something like:

Skilled Corporate Solicitor has broad experience in transactional analysis, mergers and acquisitions and advising clients from business start-ups to seasoned companies.Provides expert advice and oversight in large corporate negotiations.Brings ten years of experience in a wide variety of corporate law areas.



Qualifications and education

Do your qualifications and education match up to the job description? Make sure you’ve listed them accordingly.

When listing your education, list the most recent college or university that you attended. Include the title of the qualification, the grade awarded and the date you achieved them. If you are still in education, you are entitled to list it, but make it clear that it hasn’t been completed yet.

Stick to bullet points in this section. If you do have months where you were out of work or education, provide a brief explanation. If an employer requires more information, they will ask you to elaborate during an interview.



Professional experience

This is usually the most prominent section on a CV, so it’s worth spending time making sure you have identified the most relevant experience for the job. This section is normally laid out in reverse chronological order with most recent experience at the top.

Keep your experience short and accurate, listing the company name, duration of employment in years, your title and the responsibilities of your role. This can be bullet pointed or in full sentences.

You may have one particular job or work experience that you really want to highlight. You could create a new section titled ‘Solicitor Experience’ and put this first. Your remaining experiences can then be put under ‘Further Experience’.

Tip: If this is your first job, lead with your qualifications, then add detail on the transferable skills you have gained from your experience. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, start with your experience as it’s more recent, and likely more relevant to the job.



Include your skills

Employers will be looking out for skills such as positivity, loyalty, creativity, adaptability, tenacity and being a team player. These are highly desirable for employers and should be mentioned in your CV personal statement or cover letter.

Avoid using buzzwords or including skills for the sake of it. If you make a statement, back it up with an example of how you demonstrated it.

Tip: If you’re new to the law industry, demonstrate how you have transferable skills from other industries you’ve worked in. For example, you’ve only ever worked in retail and you’re applying for a solicitor position. Demonstrate how your time in retail taught you:


  • Excellent communication skills
  • How to pay attention to detail in a fast moving environment;
  • How to multitask;
  • How to prioritise a large workload



Hobbies & interests

This is an area where you could easily undersell yourself. for example, recruiters are likely looking for evidence of how you balanced university commitments with extra-curricular activities.

Think about competencies law firms look for: if the rest of your CV is lacking evidence of teamwork, demonstrate your involvement by mentioning that you play a team sport.

Highlight interests that have helped you develop the skills the employer is looking for. Don’t mention passive interests e.g. watching TV, playing games, especially if the job requires you to work alongside others. This section can make you appear more personable, so don’t waste the opportunity – the recruiter could especially be looking for someone who can match their company culture.




List your referees and their contact details clearly on your CV. References act as a third party endorsement and are used by hiring managers to reassure them that they have chosen the candidate with the right skills etc.


When contacting your reference, recruiters could ask for:

  • Character reference
  • Details about responsibility
  • Length of employment
  • Punctuality and attendance
  • Overall performance
  • Reason for leaving


Who should I choose?

Choose your referees carefully. Usually it would be your most recent employer. If you don’t have a recent employer, teachers, business acquaintances, customers and organisational leaders can all verify that you are who you say you are.

Avoid choosing family or friends. It’s also considered good etiquette to ask for people’s permission if you wish for them to act as your referee. By notifying them beforehand, it also gives them the chance to prepare for any questions, should they be contacted.


What are they saying about you?

Under the Data Protection Act, you have the right to view any references given by your previous employers. If you disagree with any comments, you may wish to address the matter with your previous employer or remove them as your reference in future applications.

Contrary to popular belief, previous employers can give a bad reference, providing that it is accurate and fair – and that they have evidence to back up bold statements, for example, that you were fired.



Formatting your CV

Your CV should be professional, and clear. Recruiters can be ‘time poor’ if they have a large amount of CVs to sift through, so aim for one or two pages of A4 maximum. The upper-middle area of the first page is known as the ‘CV hotspot’. This is where the eye naturally falls, so think about including the most relevant experience or ‘key skills’ here.


Top tips

  • Avoid huge chunks of text – bullet points will make the information easy to read and digest;
  • Sans-serif fonts such as Helvetica or Arial make for an easy read;
  • Make headings bold and clear, but not oversized;
  • Avoid using confusing subheadings;
  • Stick to conventional colours – printing your CV in neon will make you stand out, but for all the wrong reasons!


If you are sending your CV via email, send it as a PDF unless otherwise specified. If you’re sending it via post, you could look at getting your CV professionally printed – or printing it yourself on good quality paper.



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