CV Writing Tips
Not another bland “best CV layout” or "CV writing Tips" article, Paul Buchan, Principal Consultant for Accounting & Finance shares his advice on how to ensure recruiters take notice of your application. Click here to read our expert advice on how to write a great cover letter.
CV Writing Tips
There are many different ways to construct a CV. Thus, it is difficult to establish the 'best cv layout'. In my career I have seen just about every scenario imaginable; biography based, bullet-pointed, functional, avant garde and back again. On one occasion I received an application with five different formats of a CV, ranging from a one page summary to a 28 page autobiography with the caveat that I should “pick whichever one is in vogue”.
Here’s the secret – there isn’t a standard “one size fits all” for creating the elusive perfect CV.
To be blunt, there is no such thing as a perfect CV or the best CV layout. CVs need to be tailored to different audiences and updated for each role you are applying for. As irritating and time consuming as this may be, there’s no way to take shortcuts. If you do not tailor your CV you’re at risk of your application being rejected – is it worth it just to cut a few corners?
Don’t panic though. The following advice will provide you with an easy to follow guide to help you get started. Whilst you will need to add the content for your CV, this provides you with a structure that will get the attention of the best recruiters.
The examples I use stem from my experience as a commercial industry accountancy and finance recruiter, however the same principles can be used in any market. So, here are my CV writing tips supported by examples of CV template wherever necessary.
THE BASICS: CONTACT DETAILS AND GEOGRAPHY
With the myriad of CV advice and examples of CV template online, this may seem basic, but you would be surprised how many candidates fall at the first hurdle.
Here are a few musts:
- Include any post-nominal letters after your name
- The recruiter will look at where you’re based to ensure that you are within easily commuting distance for the role you have applied for.
- If you’re looking to relocate, make sure that this is stated and clear near your current address.
- List all contact telephone numbers that you can be reached on. Recruiters will typically start with your mobile and then attempt the other numbers you have listed.
- Got a presence online? Then link to it, however check that the content you’ve got on there will be well received by a recruiter.
It’s important to include the basics, as you are informing the recruiter of your contact details, where you are located and whether you are looking to relocate.
Mr John Example, CPA
26 St. Andrew Square
Looking to relocate to the North East (Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Moray)
Telephone: 0131 550 1100
Work: 0131 550 1100
Mobile: 0777 777 7777
CV PERSONAL STATEMENT
No one likes writing about themselves. Writing a CV personal statement is difficult, awkward, and if done badly can ruin your CV before it has even cooled down from the printer. However, if you do it correctly, it can make a great first impression with a recruiter and keep them reading.
For example, the following example of a CV personal statement gives a good professional overview of a candidate:
A Chartered Accountant trained in a Big 4 Accountancy firm, holding a University Degree and over 5 years of experience in accountancy posts within commercial industry. A very high level of IT literacy including Advanced Excel skills and the ability to adapt to many different environments.
This example is simple, provides basic facts about your career, and keeps things broad-based and open.
Keep your education to the facts, including information that is pertinent to the role that you are applying for.
I would recommend that you only include certifications of real value that are recognised across your industry.
For example, if you have completed a lot of internal courses and regularly attend CIPD events you may wish to include these under another heading entitled “Other Training”. The education section is primarily focused on industry certifications you hold and that are recognised in industry.
Education & Professional Memberships
2012 PRINCE II Practitioner
2010 MBA, University of Accountancy
2009 Chartered Institute of Accountancy (CIA)
2006 University of Accountancy, 2:1 in Accounting & Finance
2004 High School, 2 CSYS (Maths A, Chemistry A), 7 Highers (Maths A, etc.)
2002 High School, 8 Standard Grades, all with Grade 1
Don’t overload this section - make it easy to glance over. Ensure that your most recent qualification is listed first and work backwards chronologically from there.
Other Training and Additional Information
Regularly attend CIPD events to keep up to date with current trends, legislation & changes to industry standards.
Completed various internal leadership courses and numerous in-house programmes including; only include things that are relevant for your target audience.
This information shows that you are an active person within your industry and complements your academic accomplishments. Showcase your commitment to continuous improvement, but do not overwhelm the reader with too much detailed information.
Your qualifications and professional memberships are vitally important to selling your CV, but I would argue that the work and career history section is the most important element of your CV.
Be wary of overloading this section and underselling your experience. Make sure you include as much factual information as possible to help this stand-out. Use statistics and figures to back up your achievements and don’t dwell too long on responsibilities that a potential employer would assume you undertook anyway. To illustrate the point, I have given a few examples of do’s and don’ts to be followed while writing a Finance Director CV. Similar approach can be taken for writing a management accountant CV or a CV for any other post.
2007 – Present
- Responsible for the management of company finances in a manufacturing company
- Managing and developing a finance team and other team members
- Producing management accounts
- Responsibility for all statutory accounts production
- Managing audit function
- Part of Senior Leadership team
In this type of CV template an employer has no idea what the size of the business is - it could be £200M or it could be £200K. There is no information about management experience. Producing management accounts does not quite reflect an FD level candidate. Responsibility for statutory accounts and managing the audit function and part of senior leadership team are all statements that don’t lend much in the way of gravitas to your CV. Basically, there is no reason to call you back and you are making it difficult for the reader to find out what is important. Also, when in 2007 did you start? Was it January, October or December?
January 2007 – Present
Reporting into the managing director of a £20M Manufacturing business unit operating within a £2bn turnover global business listed on the Japanese Stock Exchange. Brands include Tomahawk, Toshibi, Micro-lever and Gorgozza. All business activities are in the space of pharmaceuticals and life sciences. I am responsible for all aspects of UK Accounting requirements reporting into the local Managing Director and a dotted line to the CFO in Tokyo, Japan. The role is largely autonomous with complete control over local activities and all reporting is in line with JSOX controls, IFRS and UK GAAP reporting for various UK entities. Responsible for; month-end reviews and reporting, cost and overhead analysis, Project/CAPEX accounting, budget preparation and monitoring, reporting.
This CV template is actually very good in terms of the information. There is information about the company activities, size and scope and some headline grabbing information relating to responsibility. However, the presentation makes it difficult to read quickly (most hiring managers spend 30 seconds reading a CV; they want to get to the information quickly and cleanly) and so limits your opportunity to get the right information across. I would suggest one or two (no more than three) sentences that summarise the company, size, scope and facts surrounding your role. You can then include bullet points to get your information across in terms of your responsibilities and achievements, backed up with facts and figures.
January 2007 – Present
Reporting into the Managing Director of a £20M Manufacturing business unit operating within a £2bn turnover global business listed on the Japanese Stock Exchange. Brands include Tomahawk, Toshibi, Micro-lever and Gorgozza. All business activities are in the space of pharmaceuticals and life sciences.
- Responsibility for all aspects of UK Accounting requirements reporting into the local Managing Director and a dotted line to the CFO in Tokyo, Japan
- The role is largely autonomous with complete control over local activities and all reporting is in line with JSOX controls, IFRS and UK GAAP reporting for various UK entities
- Responsible for; month-end reviews and reporting, cost and overhead analysis, Project/CAPEX accounting, budget preparation and monitoring
- Responsibility for managing a team of 4 including 3 transactional/processing staff and 1 CIMA qualified accountant
- Responsibility for Management Accounts, Financial Statements, Compliance, Risk, Controls and supporting Commercial decisions
- Review analysis and reporting on manufacturing, service and aftermarket and equipment performance, as well as overhead analysis
- Implemented Budget Process from scratch; new capability to produce budgets within 3 working days
- Improved Internal Audit score from 3 significant issues to 0 in the first year
- Implemented accounting package from Tuba to SAP
- Recruited and trained 3 team members to improve timescales for closing monthly accounts
Ensured monthly reporting on time to CFO and Group level; improved from 1 week to 3 day close on ledgers
Whilst this may seem verbose and in-depth, it informs a recruiter exactly what you do in that role and aligns you with the role that you have applied for.
Use the same format for all of the other relevant roles that you have worked in.
Following the above model if you held multiple posts over a short time-frame is quite difficult without spiralling to dozens of pages, therefore a slightly different approach is more appropriate.
Consider using the following cv template for your career history:
- Producing monthly management accounting information for companies ranging from £2M t/o to £200M in sales
- Finalising yearly financial statements from £2M - £200M t/o organisations
Sector exposure includes; manufacturing, FMCG, Oil & Gas, Further Education, Financial Services
This provides the recruiter with a snapshot of your accomplishments and skills.
January 2007 – Present
Interim Management Services (via Umbrella Company – John Example Holdings Ltd)
- January 2013 – Present, Interim Financial Controller, Financial Services, A Massive Bank Ltd; maternity cover contract covering BAU activities of a large scale FS division, t/o £150M
- January 2012 – December 2012, Interim Finance Project Manager, Construction, Making Homes Ltd; contract aimed at closing of a large scale construction project value c. £45M
- March 2011 – December 2011, Interim Finance Director, SME Technology, Needs Cash For Development Ltd; short-term assignment to help a business entrepreneur to secure financing to take R&D function to commercial exploitation
This type of approach will help you to demonstrate; the length of contract, the purpose of the engagement whilst demonstrating your range of capabilities/exposure.
Fluent spoken French, Spanish & German
Hoping to join an international business? Include the languages that you can speak to set you apart from other candidates.
Keep fit (try to), reading (football biographies mostly), football (for my sins I am a Scotland fan and I try to travel with the Tartan Army as much as possible), running (to work and back!), I also play the bagpipes!
Let’s face it, this is never going to be the deal breaker – however it can help to build a rapport with the reader and capture their interest.
All the cv writing tips can be summarised by saying that it is important to keep it brief but concise, with strong information in the form of facts and figures that makes the reader want to find out more.
The typical outcome of reading a CV is either to reject it, archive it, or to contact the candidate for an introductory discussion. Using the advice outlined in this article, your new CV will:
- Offer information that gives an impression of the size and scope of the projects you have been involved with;
- Offer facts and figures about what you deliver; and
- Give information about your value-add proposition.
However, there is a caveat. Remember that the best CV layout doesn’t exist. All audiences have their own agenda and idea of what a good CV looks like. As an experienced recruiter, the approach outlined in the article above would catch my eye because I would want to know how you achieved the things you have put in your CV. Typically this feeling leads to an introductory meeting to find out more information – which can sometimes be the biggest hurdle!