How to write a UK CV and land your dream job

As an expat in the UK, you’re going to need a good CV in order to get a job. But writing that first one is tough, especially if it’s formatted differently in your home country.

As a Canadian expat, I’ve been living in the UK for the last 7 years and here’s everything I’ve learned about writing a good CV to get a job in the UK.

But first: what is a CV?

A CV (which stands for curriculum vitae) is a document used when applying for jobs. In the USA and Canada, CVs are known as resumes. Some people argue that a CV is different from a resume but honestly, who cares. Either way, you need one to apply for jobs and you’ll definitely need a strong CV to get a job as an expat.

Just a side note: a cover letter is different from CVs and resumes. I think these are fairly similar in North America versus the UK, but a CV is much more important and that’s what we’re focusing on.

How to write a UK CV (for expats)

My top 2 rules to keep in mind

When it comes to writing a great CV, always keep these two rules in mind:

1 – concise

Your CV should be to the point, clear and easy to read, especially if you imagine someone quickly skimming it.

2 – relevant

Only include the most important, recent and relevant information in your CV. If it’s been 10 years since you graduated high school, should you really be including lots of information from that time?

How long should a CV be?

A standard CV in the UK should be no longer than two sides of A4 paper. For Canadians and Americans, that’s two side of regular letter-sized paper.

That said, one size doesn’t fit all and you’ll need to decide what’s right for you. You want to keep your CV as concise as possible, but also don’t sell yourself short or pad the CV to make it longer.

For example, if you’ve just graduated college and have minimal experience, you may only need one side of paper. On the other hand, if you’re in an extremely skilled or technical field, you may find your CV needs to be closer to 3 pages.

What to include in a CV for the UK

This is typically the order of what I’d include on my CV from top to bottom:

  • Contact details – Include your full name, home address, mobile number and email address. Your date of birth or a headshot of yourself is irrelevant.
  • Expat explanation – something that’s different from other CVs is that you’re foreign and you need to make it very clear that you’re allowed to be in the UK and legally approved for work. List your visa name and what it means. You might also want to include when you are arriving in the UK if you haven’t already moved abroad.
  • Profile or Key Skills – A CV profile is a concise paragraph of bullet-point list that highlights your key attributes and helps you stand out from the crowd. Pick out your most relevant achievements and skills, while expressing your career aims.
  • Education – List and date all previous education, including professional qualifications. Place the most recent first. You’ll want to include qualification type/grades and the dates but only mention specific modules if it’s relevant.
  • Work experience – List your employment history in reverse date order, including your job title, the name of the company, how long you were employed and your key responsibilities. If you have a lot of work experience, this section should come before education.
  • Skills and achievements – If you have anything relevant that could be helpful to the job you’re applying for, this is a great place to list those skills and achievements. Can you speak a foreign language, or have complete a particular achievement that is relevant?
  • Interests – Basic interests like “watching movies” or “reading” won’t help you get a job. However, relevant interests can provide a more complete picture of who you are, as well as giving you something to talk about at interview. If you don’t have any relevant hobbies, remove this section.
  • References – You don’t need to provide the names of referees at this stage. You can say ‘references available upon request’ but most employers would assume this to be the case so if you’re stuck for space you can leave this out.

I’ve included a template of a CV and cover letter that I’ve built – feel free to use that or format it however you want.

How to write a good CV for the UK

Once you have the basic structure down, here’s some writing tips to help improve your CV.

A good CV doesn’t have any spelling or grammar mistakes. Use a spell checker and have a friend check your work. Make sure to remember that some UK spellings are different than in the USA (ex. organised vs organized).

Always include a cover letter unless the job listing says otherwise. Cover letters are a great way to personalise your application and stand out from the crowd. Cover letters also help you better understand why you’re living abroad in the UK and that you’re legally allowed to work here.

Use active verbs whenever possible. For example, include words like ‘created’ or “organized” rather than “did.”

Customise your CV. Look at the company’s website and social media to better understand their overall “vibe.” Use this information (plus the job listing) to tailor your CV to that particular company.

Make sure your email address sounds professional. If your personal address is silly, outdated or just plain weird, make a new account (even if it’s only used for applying to jobs). Gmail is a great resource for email accounts.

If you need to post your CV online, don’t include your home address, as you could be targeted by scams. However, it’s unlikely you’ll need to do this as most job openings require you to email your CV to them directly.

UK CV format tips

Now that you’re CV is nearly done, I have some final formatting tips to take it to the next level.

  1. Don’t title your document “CV.” Just include your full name as the title.
  2. Headings are a great way to break up your CV. Ensure they stand out by making them larger (font size 14 or 16) and bold. Keep an eye on font size, however. Font that is too big looks out of place.
  3. Only use professional fonts. Pick a classic font like Times New Roman which is clear and easy to read. Use a font size between 10-12 to make sure that potential employers can read your CV. Ensure all fonts and font sizes are consistent throughout. Don’t use a font below size 10 as it’s too small to easily read.
  4. List everything in reverse chronological order.
  5. Keep it concise and relevant by using clear spacing and bullet points.
  6. Name the document your Full Name-CV when saving. Don’t just save your CV as ‘Document 1’.
  7. Unless the job listing states differently, save your CV as a .PDF. This means your CV is able to be opened on any type of computer. I personally have my CV in Google Docs since it’s free and super easy to use. Then I can download it or export it when needed.

For expats coming to the UK…

Understand that getting your first job in the UK is tough as you’re an expat on a visa. Most businesses would rather not deal with that and just hire a British person instead. Make your peace with that, but keep trying. You can do it! Nervous about attending a job interview? Check out this post with my top UK job interview tips.