Type ‘CV’ into a search engine and chances are the first few hundred results will be advice on how to write the best one. With the help of behavioural psychologist, Richard Jenkins, we cut through the noise to uncover the secrets of getting your CV noticed.

Get personal

There’s no such thing as a good generic CV. You need to tailor your CV to suit the job you’re applying for. Perhaps most importantly it needs to reflect the job specification and/or company values. The easiest way to do this is to create a broad CV that encompasses all of your skills and achievements, and that can be easily modified to fit a particular job description or set of company values.

Building your CV

Once you’ve created your broad CV, tailor it based on the job description. Rank your skills in the same order as on the description and remove any unnecessary areas of expertise. You might think you posses some great skills the description doesn’t mention. That generally means they’re not rated by the employer - so get them off!

The first page of your CV should contain your contact details. Remember, a company cannot discriminate in any way so you don’t need to include your age, gender, sexuality or marital status.

Personal profile

Your personal profile should reflect the skills the company is looking for.

Roles and responsibilities

Sell your achievements not your responsibilities. Simply giving your job title and explaining what your role was will not be reflective of your skills and achievements. Instead, explain briefly what you accomplished in your previous employment “during my time in this role I saved the company xxxx”.

To engage the employer, both the CV and cover letter should reflect the job specification criteria and where possible mirror the language. Don’t copy blindly, but use similar trigger words and phrases. The aim is to engage the employer from the very first sentence so they keep reading.

Employers spend a lot of time putting together their job specifications. They’re full of the essential and desirable criteria and, more often than not, the most important requirements will be at the top. For example, if a company seeks a motivated individual then evidence that shows you’re motivated should be at the very top of the CV.

Cover letters

Some people can feel uncomfortable writing a cover letter and stick to a standard template for all their applications. This isn’t always a good idea. Remember, the cover letter is the first chance you get to attract the employer’s attention.

Like your CV, the job description or the company’s values should shape your cover letter. Briefly write about your skills and abilities, and refer them to your CV. Look for trigger words in the job description or on the company site and reflect this language in the letter.

Your cover letter should explain why you’re writing; whether it’s a response to an advertisement or you’re expressing a direct interest in the company. If you’re applying speculatively make sure you say what prompted you to apply. It could be the company ethics for example, and explain why you’d like to work for the organisation. You can get the insight you need to do this from company websites, annual reports or even by contacting them directly and asking for information.

Do’s and don’ts for CVs and cover letters

Always do your research

Even at the application stage make sure you’ve researched the company and what it does. Look at the company values, ethics and have an understanding of the business and the sector. This will shape your application.

Stay professional

It’s very simple, but can sometimes be overlooked. Remember the appropriate formalities, sincerely and faithfully when signing off your cover letter. If you can get a name of the person recruiting so much the better. Making your letter personal will have more impact.


Use language appropriate for the job you’re applying for, and make sure there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes. These are the quickest ways to have your CV disregarded.

Check, check and double check

Have someone check everything before you send it. If you’re emailing your application make sure the formatting is correct by sending it to yourself or someone you trust. Lots of things may not translate well when they’re sent over the internet so it’s worth making sure the format of your CV is compatible with the majority of software programmes if you’re sending an electronic copy. And make sure you send it to the right person.


Stay away from fancy fonts and layouts. Consider the reader. They’ll be working through hundreds of CVs and if yours is difficult to read then it’s going to end up in the bin.

Coloured inks can be very difficult to read, and an off-white or cream background is usually the easiest best.

How CABA can help

CABA supports the wellbeing of past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and their spouses, partners and children up to the age of 25. For advice, information and support please: