How to write a good CV

If you're angling for a job in theatre, radio, TV, film or entertainment, having a strong CV is a must. 

Your CV is an important part of your marketing toolkit. As a freelancer, you have to market yourself and your skills in order to get a job. Your marketing toolkit consists of several elements designed to show you off in the best light. Think of marketing as simply raising awareness; a good toolkit will help you do this.

Your toolkit

Your toolkit consists of:

  1. A CV, sometimes called curriculum vitae. Think of it as an overview of your experience and qualifications.
  2. A covering letter. No more than a page this is your letter of introduction.
  3. Any supporting material, like samples of writing work, show-reel, portfolio etc. This displays to the employer the standard and quality of your work.

You can use the job profiles as a checklist against your current skills.

Don’t be tempted to get ‘creative’ with your CV - i.e making an origami surprise of your CV or use wacky fonts. Seasoned CV readers have seen it all before and will not be impressed as they take up far too much precious time to read.

If you imagine the response to an average job advert can run into the hundreds it’s easy to see why this approach can be counterproductive. Employers need to find the relevant information they are looking for at a glance, therefore the first thing they need is a quick easy read, this means the order of information is essential.

Designing your CV

Putting your name in a large bold font can help to make it stand out from the crowd. Always include contact details here. Don’t forget to include a job role – the employer may have more than one job ad out there. Never put ‘CV’ or ‘curriculum vitae’ on this document, what it is is self- explanatory. CV means ‘the course of life.’ 

Written in the third person, a clear well written objective is good for entry level workers. A personal profile acts as a teaser to the rest of the CV. It is a summing up of who and what you are. Avoid generalised phrases such as ‘good communication skills and works well in a team’.

Students should put their degree before their key skills . Always include supporting material if you can – it helps showcase your work. Never lie about your skills or your past. The media industry is very small and you will be found out! Avoid repetition, use your thesaurus; there are more than seven ways to say ‘skills’.

This is where you put your experience in your chosen field and any previous employment. These are your main responsibilities in this job role. Always write your CV with your employer in mind – what do they want to see? A good way to find that out is to look at the job spec; can you match the skills required? There is a flaw in the linked CV, which is an entry level CV targeted for a job in animation. Can you spot the error? (Click to enlarge, or skip to the end of the page to see the answer!)

Including your achievements/awards and any element of CPD (continuing professional development) shows the employer that you are up to speed with this fast changing industry and can be as wide ranging as you like; from Health and Safety certificates to taking a night course to learn the latest software - as long as it is relevant to your discipline.

The more experience you have the less relevant these qualifications become.

This section is where the employer may read sub textually. Your interests help make the employers see you as an all-round person, not just as a worker. Here they can see if you will fit in with their team, if you have the same philosophy as they do, and also where your passions lie. Passion, enthusiasm and initiative counts for a lot, particularly in the media. What you do outside of your job informs the employer what sort of a person you really are. For instance a seemingly mundane recreation such as gardening can show an employer that you have staying power; the ability to see a project right through from the seed of an idea to the final stages of growth.

You will also be able to point to your commitment and passion in your covering letter.

You must supply at least two references as they speak volumes. These are great currency for your CV and the higher up the organisation you can go the better. Your media CV must not be longer than two pages

Spot the flaws

There are two flaws in the example CV - did you spot them? First, Jan hasn’t expanded on ‘Heavily involved with local animation festival.’ What did she actually do? Plus, Jan has said she started as a runner and ended up leading a team of animators, but she hasn’t said what skills and responsibilities that journey involved. This means she might have missed vital information that the employer could be looking for.  An employer may go to the file instead of recruiting all over again.


Q: How can I make my CV stand out?
A: Remember, employers are looking for quality not quantity. This can be evidenced by what you’ve done outside of college or work; voluntary work etc. Don’t be afraid of white space on the page, it lets the text breathe. Remember, sometimes less is more.

Q: Help! I can’t write a personal profile!
A: Ask someone else to do it for you – that way you can get true objectivity about yourself. Or think of how a movie is sold on the back of a DVD case; it’s the same deal – selling the product. In a personal profile YOU are the product!

Q: How should I deliver my CV?
A: Most employers will state a preference on their website, whether by email or hard copy. If in doubt, ring up and ask.

Q: Do I have to put my date of birth on my CV?
A: No. Legislation makes it illegal to discriminate on age.

Tips on covering letters

Think of your covering letter as an introduction to you and your talents. Here are some tips on how to make your cover letter do its job.

  • Remember, the covering letter is not an autobiography; employers don’t need your total life history and will be put off if you waste their time. Stick to facts of your work life - that will stop you rambling.
  • Put yourself in the position of the employer when writing covering letters. All they are looking for is how to fill the job. Make sure you are covering the points they need to see. If in doubt go back to the job spec.
  • Always write to a specific person, Dear Sir or Madam will simply not do. If in doubt call and ask.
  • Structure your letter into one page. Employers have to read hundreds of letters at recruitment and don’t have time to read pages and pages of irrelevant material. Get someone else to read it over for you. Remember, good writing lies in the rewrite.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback if you are rejected. This could be a real help when writing another application. 

NB: Your CV might get separated from your covering letter so make sure you put your contact details on your CV as well as your covering letter.

Five tips for a good CV

Your CV has to go through five different levels when it's received by a potential employer.

1. When the employer receives it. 2. On a long list. This is the beginning of selection. 3. On short list. This is when they whittle the long list down. 4. At inverview 5. On file. 

Here's five tips to help you get to the end of the five levels. 

  1. Keep it to two pages or less, remember quality is better than quantity.
  2. Spell check.
  3. Keep your CV relevant to the employer. All CVs must be written with individual employers in mind. Yes, that means a different CV for each application!
  4. Make your CV easy to read, no smaller than font size 12, Arial/Times New Roman. Use bullet points.
  5. Do a skills audit. Can you creatively match your skills to the job?

Five mistakes to avoid with your CV

And here's some advice on what not to do... 

  1. Sending a CV with no covering letter.
  2. Sending a CV that is far too long or way too short.
  3. Not matching skills to job specification. All CVs must be written with individual employers in mind. Yes, that means a different CV for each application!
  4. Major spelling or grammatical errors; use spell check or get someone to do it for you.
  5. Lying. 
Related links

Useful resources:

By Beverley Hills, CV and careers advisor (you may also want to download the document attached to this page).