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Building a Winning CV

Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV, shared her advice on how to write a professional and effective CV in a recent free webinar for our Women Returners Professional Network. We’ve summarised some of her top tips below.

The Basics

  • The aim of your CV – to show employers and recruiters that you will meet their requirements. Your CV answers the question of whether and how you will deliver what they need.
  • The look and feel – aim for conservative, professional and corporate. Have consistent formatting and show attention to detail. You want a clean feel with white space, no logos or tables. Aim for 2 pages long.
  • The format – use a reverse chronological CV, rather than a functional skills-based CV. Recruiters prefer this format as they can understand your career history more easily.


  • Prepare your Pitch – understand the ‘return on investment’ you bring to an employer. Showcase your expertise and strengths and include what’s unique about you.
  • Key Word Research – 80% of online job adverts on the open market use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). The ATS typically does the first screen for recruiters, by matching applications that contain the desired key words to those sought in the job ad. While it’s reassuring to know that the majority of applications for returner programmes are screened by a human and not an ATS, you should still tailor your application to the role, being as specific as possible about mirroring the language required (e.g. Financial Accounting, Balance Sheet, Cashflow and Management, rather than ‘Accounts’).

CV Structure

  • Headline – when you’re returning to work, this should be your preferred job title. ‘Seeking …’ or ‘Candidate for a returner programme’ can also work well. Aim for a headline with presence and impact.
  • Summary/Profile – start with a bang. Your executive summary needs to capture the breadth of your sector experience and achievements, as relevant to the role you’re going for. Include relevant examples. This should hook the reader in and encourage them to read on.
  • Professional Experience – provide a brief organisational and role overview and ensure that you align the experience you highlight to that required in your target role. Demonstrate the arc of your progression and detail your remit and what you delivered. Where you can, include the size of projects, timeframes, budgets, global reach.
  • Showcase your Career Break in the following places:
    • Summary – the last sentence could read ‘Following career break, now seeking / looking for ….’
    • Professional Experience – Career Break (with dates). Include your career break to demonstrate that you qualify for returner programmes. Do include under Career Break any activities of a professional nature that you may have done while you were on your career break, if they’re relevant to the role you are applying for or give valuable transferable skills e.g. short term consultancy projects, running a home-based small business, senior volunteer work (eg. charity trustee)
    • Career Break activities – this is a stand-alone section after Professional Experience that captures other interesting experiences that provided transferable skills (e.g. project managing a relocation or house-build).
  • Interests – add in anything that has a WOW factor or is directly relevant to the role.
  • Qualifications and training – include succinct details on any degree, professional qualification and relevant professional development.

Overall, make sure you are showing your credibility to take on the role and aim to be differentiated to make yourself stand out from other candidates. Your CV should make an impression at first glance – it needs to pass the ‘5 second test’ and make the recruiter want to read on!

Your CV needs to showcase and align your professional experience to the results required in your target role, so do invest time in tailoring your CV to each role you apply for – it will reap dividends!