Writing an effective CV: Part 3 – Career history

Published on: 7 Apr 2017

As the average recruiter takes just six seconds to make an initial decision on a CV, deciding what to include can be difficult. How can you make sure yours makes the right impact?

In this four part series, The Planner's Matt Moody talks to a variety of people to pin down the perfect planning CV.

Part 3: Career history

The big bit

Your work experience forms the main body of a CV, and it’s arguably the most important part of the whole thing. Inexperience is an immediate red flag for employers. Equally, too much detail is likely to dilute your achievements, or will simply not be read.

Make it snappy

“It depends on experience, but I would say never more than two sides of A4,” says Bainbridge. Eleanor Gingell goes further: “Speculative CVs can be broader, but it’s best to fit your CV onto a single side.” Obi agrees that the closer to one page you are, the better, but adds “if you’re senior, there’s more leeway for a slightly longer CV”.

This is key – your position on the career ladder determines how much detail to include. If you’re a new graduate or changing careers, how can you fill out your CV with limited experience to draw upon? Conversely, if you have years of experience and a maximum of two pages to work with, how can you decide what makes the cut?

Be interested

“If your experience is limited, you should highlight things that demonstrate your passion for the industry,” says Obi. “New graduates without much experience can volunteer with Planning Aid, or do a short-term work placement within a local practice or authority.”

Stress skills

Rather than focus on specifics of your role, think about the skills and knowledge you took away, says Gingell. “Graduates can include part-time jobs or voluntary experience, as long as you consider how it relates to the skills of a good planner.

“Sports club involvement can demonstrate teamwork, for example, and waitressing or bar work might demonstrate an ability to juggle and prioritise your responsibilities,” she continues. “It’s also worth considering joining the RTPI networks – involvement with the institute can help a CV stand out.”

Add value

With more experience it’s a question of picking out the most valuable points. Rather than listing responsibilities, “focus on your key achievements in each role”, says Gingell – “ask yourself what value you brought to each position”.

Other channels

If you feel like you can’t do yourself justice, don’t worry, says Obi. There are other ways to get your experience across. “Your cover letter, follow-up email, and most importantly the interview, are all opportunities to expand on your key points and provide extra examples.”

Be exact

Regardless of your level of experience, it’s a good idea to emphasise achievements that can be quantified, adds Obi. “Rather than saying you ‘worked on a large scheme’, you could say ‘worked on a 300-unit scheme in south-east London’. If your achievements can be broken down numerically, they seem much more real.”


David Bainbridge [square]David Bainbridge is a planning consultant and partner at property consultancy Bidwells LLP.


Eleanor Gingell has recently taken up a new role as a planner with the Eleanor Gingell [square]Department of Communities and Local Government. She is a former recipient of the British Empire Medal for services to planning. Eleanor’s views are her own and not those of her employer.

CJ Obi [square]CJ Obi (left) and Henry Taylor (right) are recruiters at Osborne Richardson, a recruitment consultancy that specialises Henry Taylor [square]in planning.