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How to write a CV

Written by: Bethan Grylls,
Published on: 31 Aug 2023

In the face of administration and job losses, Food Manufacture interviews two recruitment experts on the best ways to make your CV shine.

The World Economic Forum expects 23% of jobs to witness disruption in the next five years. Among the 673 roles assessed in the dataset, it’s anticipated there will be a decrease of 14m jobs – a 2% fall in current employment. 

Looking at food and drink specifically, in the final quarter of 2022, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said there was a loss of 3,000 jobs, following a fall in employment in the quarter before. In total, it was reported that the sector saw 244 insolvencies that year – doubling from the year before.

Meanwhile, skills shortages​ persisted, with manufacturers reporting 7.0 unfilled positions in every 100 in Q4. Although this number saw an improvement from Q3, it was almost double the UK average of 3.8, according to the FDF. The slow in vacancies​ could be an indication of companies removing job adverts or putting projects on hold as a result of economic uncertainty.

So what happens if you have found yourself redundant and entering an extremely competitive jobs market​, or equally, if you’re newly graduated and ready to embark on your career at a time of saturation​? 

Getting started with your CV

“Firstly, don’t panic,” ​began James Constable, director of talent at food focused recruitment firm, The People Co., which recently rebranded from CPA Recruitment.

Constable was referring to redundancy. “It happens to most people at some stage of their career – do not take it personally,” ​he reassured. “Instead, try view it as an opportunity.”

Step 1: Update or start again?

Panic hopefully averted, it’s time to locate your resume.

“It might be relatively new, or 20 years old in my case,” ​said Constable. “You want to really look at it. Are you happy with it, does it represent you clearly, is it easy to read? Because sometimes it’s easier to write it from scratch rather than update.”

The reason for this, he said, is generally due to consistency – which he noted as key when putting together your curriculum vitae.

“You may fall into the trap of it looking very different in terms of formatting or the language you use, otherwise.”

Step 2: Tailoring your CV to the job

Next, whether you’re updating an existing CV or starting afresh, you’ll want to examine the roles you’re applying for – your CV will need to reflect the position.

“In this day and age, you probably want to have a few versions of your CV,”​ Constable reasoned.

Marcus Brasier, who established specialist food manufacturing recruitment firm, b3 jobs, 23 years ago, agreed: “Tailor your CV, every time if you can.” ​In other words, for every job application, create a CV aimed at the specific employer you want to impress.

He offered the example of applying for a role as a technical manager, explaining that all the jobs you undertook of that nature should be included in your CV

“The fact you had a paper round when you were younger probably isn’t relevant,” ​Brasier highlighted. “This is a technical job, so put more meat on the bones about being technically minded, for example.”

Structuring your CV

When it comes to structure, no two CVs will be the same but generally as a rule of thumb, Constable said your contact details should be positioned at the top, followed by a personal statement. 

Writing a personal statement

Brasier agreed, clarifying what such a statement should comprise: “A short bit about yourself – and write it about yourself, not in the third person.”

This statement should also be different to any accompanying covering letter. Constable explained the former as your personal and concise “sales pitch”​, and the latter as a more detailed explanation of who you are, why you’re applying for the role and why you’d be a good fit for the company. Again, research around the business you’re applying to will be helpful in forming both your CV and covering letter, ensuring you reference things you have done in your career that relate.

Work experience, education, skills and references

Your personal statement will usually be followed by your work experience, education, then skills and your references. The first two should be written in reverse chronological order i.e. most recent job at the top.

“If you’re struggling to know what to put on the pages because you’ve got a lot to say and a lot of experience, focus on your most relevant experience,”​ recommended Constable.

When writing detail around roles, it’s important not to list duties, but rather highlight your achievements, the experts told Food Manufacture. Moreover, try to back any statements up with something tangible – i.e. give examples.

Remember too, that ‘everyone’ is a team player and enthusiastic and driven. Think about how you can approach it and word it differently, noted Brasier. But, as he stressed, “never, ever lie” ​– you will be caught!

Moreover, skills such as Excel and Word are generally a given, so you typically needn’t include this. “Today, you’d expect people to have these skills. What you’re doing is limiting your space,” ​advised Constable.

With regards to references, Brasier stated that a town and postcode is sufficient, with a number and email, rather than an entire postal address.

Finally, in length, they agreed in its entirety, the CV should be around two to three pages.

Keep it clear and simple

Both experts also emphasised the importance of clarity within your CV.

“I would never have a block of text more than three sentences,” ​Brasier said, recommending that bullet points be used throughout.

You don’t need to list absolutely everything, of course. But appropriately chosen bullet points makes a CV easy to scan.

“Avoid fancy fonts and keep all fonts the same size. You can make your name and the section headings etc., bold,”​ he added.

Constable agreed: “The format should be consistent and when you look at your CV, you should be able to quite easily see that it’s broken into different sections. 

“It needs to be clear so that anyone can read it and get a real quick overview of who you are and what you’ve done.”

They also both noted that graphics and lots of different colours should be avoided.

“It distracts,” ​Constable pointed out. “The content of the CV and its substance – what you write about and put into it – is much more important.”

He added that spelling, punctuation and grammar were also all of the utmost importance and suggested having someone else to proofread it.

A common error Brasier sees in CVs that come in is the date of someone’s last job. In other words, if you just finished at your last role, make sure to update it so it reads ‘starting month’ to ‘finish month’ and not ‘starting month’ to ‘current’.

“It just shows you haven’t read it,”​ he pointed out.    

While Constable says a regular mistake is converting your CV into a PDF. Firstly, this can reformat your document – so it’s always worth checking before you shoot it off anywhere. Secondly, if going through a recruiter, many of them will place a PDFs into a conversion software, transforming it back into a Word document, which can often reformat the text, again causing it to look mismatched.

“It can throw all the formatting and waste the painstaking hours you may have spent to make it look nice,”​ Constable cautioned.

Making your CV stand out

While there’s no such thing as a perfect CV, there are ways you can improve your curriculum vitae and make it stand out from the crowd.

For those who have been in more senior positions and perhaps haven’t had to brandish their own CV in a while, but maybe have practice in reviewing others, Brasier suggests using that experience. “What CVs stood out to you?”

He continued: “I would also say to go online and take advice – there’s a lot of websites on writing CVs.”

But overall, for him, it’s the simplicity that makes him notice an application.  

Most CVs adhere to the five second rule - prioritising the top quarter will help you get noticed and hopefully lead to an interview. Credit: Getty/SDI Productions

“It’s straightforward but has enough detail to tempt you. It’s like dangling a worm.” 

He elaborated, referencing what he described as the “five second rule”​ – most CVs get five seconds before being dismissed, so it’s about keeping the reader hooked to read the next five seconds and so on.

Constable concurred with this, stating that his greatest bit of advice is to prioritise the top quarter (personal statement, work experience) and get that right.

While for Brasier, his ultimate tip it to read your CV – and then read it again.

“If you make one change, read it all again because that one change can change everything – and get someone else to look at it,” ​he concluded.

If you’re keen to find out about job opportunities in the food and drink sector, why not pay a visit to our careers site: Food Man Jobs.