2. The content of your CV


2.1 - How much detail should you give?

Most employers are only really interested in the last 5-10 years of your work history so the details of the what you did in your more recent employment are much more significant than what you did 20 years ago – this will also help in keeping down the length of your CV. For example, it is not required to list all your GCSE subjects and grades if they are more than two or three years ago, you could summarise this by writing ‘8 GCSEs including English and Maths’. If you have a degree, it is not required for you to list your A level grades unless they were particularly outstanding.

Ask yourself the relevancy of revealing certain information and whether stating particular facts will have any influence on the recruiter taking your application any further. Equally, neither should you give anything away that does not really do you any justice such as mentioning that you got a 2:2 grade in your BA rather than merely stating you have a BA in Marketing.

There is some information you most certainly should not state and yet it is still very commonly seen on CVs. Firstly, it is not required to state your reasons for leaving against each job, particularly as some of your reasons may be quite personal and fundamentally, just isn’t necessary. One of the main reasons for people leaving their job is because of poor management or just having a personality clash with their manager. However, it will not help to mention that you left due to being ‘unable to see eye-to-eye’ with your superior or that you thought your department lacked structure and clear direction.

Stating such reasons would only create a negative picture of previous employers and this is strongly advised against even if true as it would make the prospective employer doubt you on two counts; firstly, that you could be a difficult person to manage as you have clashed with previous managers and secondly; that you could say something negative about them when you leave.  Or worse still, would be to admit that you were dismissed from your last job. Of course, if this were the case, it may need to be discussed in the interview depending on the reference you have agreed with the employer (see section on References).

Most often, your reason for leaving previous employment is brought up in the interview so should only be addressed then, but even so, you would need to apply a positive spin on it (see The Successful Interview Guide for further details on this question).

It is also unnecessary to state your salary details as this can be quite sensitive and mentioning your salary in advance can potentially serve to weaken your position when it comes to negotiating the salary package you wish to attain. If an employer has asked you for it, that would be the only time you give such information but even then, you could be slightly vague as to your yearly take-home figure which is based on the whole package. This may be dependent on bonuses, profit share etc. or other additional benefits you currently get which may have a monetary worth. 

2.2 - The use of descriptive language

Your letter should be written using action verbs and positive adjectives. The action verbs are used to describe your achievements and the positive adjectives give a more descriptive account of your qualities e.g. adaptable, enthusiastic, innovative. It makes for more interesting reading if you are able to vary your wording throughout the letter and use a wide vocabulary rather than repeating the same words throughout.


  • "Part of team responsible for the succes of a business case on the setup of a new unit" does not sound as good as "Drafted business case for a new unit".
  • "Interested in the development of my team" does not sound as good as "Helped develop my team by setting up personal development plans and an appraisal process".
You will find a useful list of action verbs and positive adjectives in the file below, which you can download.

Action Verbs-Positive Adjectives

2.3 - Quoting specific details

You should attempt to be as descriptive and accurate as possible when quoting your achievements and responsibilities to create a strong impact, e.g. quantify how many employees you supervised, the number of clients you handled, how much money you saved the company, and most importantly, by what percentage you increased sales or profits. Using terminology such as ‘significant increase in profits’ does not mean anything in itself as it is without context so does need to be backed up with an actual achievement which explains the outcome and benefits to the organisation.

Numbers are best quoted as figures rather than being written in full so that they are easy to read. Percentages should be shown using the ’%’sign and money written as ‘K’ for thousands and ‘M’ for millions e.g. £25K, £2.5M.

Wherever possible, try to quantify your claims in to numbers or percentages which actually helps to bring the statement to life e.g. ‘winning Employee of the Year Award’ sounds good but out of how many? If you state ‘winning Employee of the Year Award out of 100 employees’, that is starting to sound impressive! Using facts like this is a great way to sell yourself without coming across as  boastful as you are merely stating the facts that in itself, will do the job of selling you.

2.4 - Writing in third person

Your CV will look more professional if written in the third person rather than stating “I possess, I achieved, I negotiated, etc”. Some people don’t like writing their CV this way as it can seem as if it isn’t written by them but all professional CV writers would recommend this approach


A results-focused, quality driven professional Senior Buyer and Merchandise Planner with extensive experience in buying, merchandise planning with excellent forecasting and analysis skills.  Advanced presentation skills at CEO and board level with relationship-building abilities with a track record of improving sales performance to ensure profit turnarounds. High level interpersonal and negotiation skills.

2.5 - Common spelling and grammatical errors

It is vitally important to get this right and yet people do make some very costly errors, even those in senior roles.  Even though Word has the facility to pick up spelling and grammatical errors, it won’t pick up linguistic errors so you need to make sure you read and re-read your CV again to ensure it makes sense and that there are not any grammatical errors or sentences which do not read properly.  English grammar can be quite complex so if you are unsure, try to get some help from someone whom you know has a good command of the English language and can help you in perfecting your letter.

Some common mistakes for words which sound the same but have different meanings are:

  • your/you’re
  • its/it’s
  • they’re/their/there
  • effect/affect
  • principal/principle
  • accept/except
  • practice/practise
  • advise/advice
  • complementary/complimentary

If you are unsure which version to use, check each definition in the dictionary. The misuse of apostrophes can totally change the meaning of a sentence but there are three uses which should be understood; firstly, to replace a vowel; secondly, to demonstrate ownership or possession; and thirdly to show plural forms. This can be quite a lengthy subject so it may be worthwhile reading on this subject through the internet or books on basic grammar.