A woman is siting at her white desk, she is using her laptop to create a CV in Microsoft Word

How to Make a CV in Microsoft Word - 5 Step Guide

Hannah Mason

How to Make a CV in Microsoft Word - 5 Step Guide

Hannah Mason • Feb 06, 2023

As an Executive CV and Resume Writer, creating a CV that looks incredibly professional has become second nature to me. This is because I have spent thousands of hours on MS Word, perfecting hundreds of CV and resume documents.

I can assure you that creating a CV on Word that looks highly professional, is worth the time and effort.

The quality of your CV is an indication of the quality of work that you are capable of producing, as well how seriously you are taking your job search.

If you want to stand out in the job market, attract the attention of hiring managers and recruitment agents, and land a job opportunity in a top organisation, you need to know how to create a great looking CV in MS Word.

Coming up

I’m going to share with you 5 of the most important formatting secrets that you need to know in order to create an ATS-friendly CV in Microsoft Word.

So, whether you’re writing your first CV, or looking to upgrade your existing CV, read on!

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Why should you use Microsoft Word to create your CV?

Arguably there are many newer and more modern means to creating a CV, with many graphic design sites like Canva offering eye-catching templates.

Starting with a blank Microsoft Word document can seem both daunting and outdated by comparison.

But, I truly think it remains one of the most accessible and adaptable word processing platforms that allows users to create CVs or resumes that both look good and work for the reader.

Let’s not forget that most recruiters still use Microsoft Word as one of their primary software tools and that Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have also been built primarily to process traditional style CVs and resumes that have been created on MS Word.

If you want to understand more about ATS and how it affects your CV, read this dedicated article.

Let's get started

Firstly you're going to need access to MS Word in order to create your CV.

The great news is that you can sign up with a 30-day free trial for MS Word here.

Great, now you have the tools that you need let's more on to step number one in creating your CV on MS Word.

Step One: Setting up your MS Word document

First you need to make sure you’ve selected the right page size and set your margins.

In the UK and many other countries A4 is the most common document size. In the US, US Letter is the typical resume size.

In the US, US Letter is the typical resume size.

You can check you have the right page dimensions selected by clicking ‘Layout’ and then ‘Size’ in MS Word.

How to create a CV in MS Word - Step One - Select the correct page layout

Whenever I write a CV or resume, I like to set the margins to narrow. This makes the most of the available space and I also think it looks better.  

You can set margins by clicking ‘Layout’ and then ‘Margins’.

Make your CV look great in MS word by narrowing the margins

Step Two: Choose the right font for your MS Word CV

Selecting the right font when creating a CV in Microsoft Word can go a long way to helping the document look professional.

My favourite Microsoft Word CV fonts are:

Calibri: No-nonsense, modern, subtle and easy to read. It’s narrower than most other options which is great for saving space and maximising content.

Helvetica: Clean, simple, modern and looks great if you want to create a minimalist CV.

Garamond: A traditional serif font. it’s more attractive than Times New Roman and can look classic and elegant when used correctly.

• Century Gothic: A modern font that has large round lettering. Great for headings but avoid using this font for the main body of the document.

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Font Size:

10, 10.5 or 11 are ideal font sizes for the main body of your CV.

If you go any smaller, the document will immediately appear difficult to read and may be off-putting to recruiters.

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Step Three: Make your headings stand out

To create a professional-looking CV or resume in MS Word, you'll need to incorporate headings to break up each section.

Breaking up the sections of your MS Word CV with clearly defined and appropriately names headings will make it easier to navigate.

There are a few ways that you can make your headings text stand out.

You could pick one of these styles, or a combination.

• Use the border function to underline text

This is different to simply underlining text and is the best way to create lines that span the full width of your document.

You can also click on ‘Borders and Shading’ to change the line width and colour.

Underline the headings of your CV using MS Word

• Use the shading function for a splash of colour

Shading the headings can be a great way to break up the various sections of your CV. This effect is best achieved with the ‘shading’ function.

MS Word allows you to shade the headings in your CV

If you want this shading to stretch the full width of your document then you can use the ruler tool to drag the edges.

This can be activated by clicking ‘View’ and then ‘Ruler’.

Create an impressive CV using MS Word

• Make the headings a larger font size or bold

This is a simple way to help your headings stand out and can be used with either of the two techniques above.

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Step Four: Put your contact details on one line

Including your full address and contact details over multiple lines is a sure-fire way to back your CV look instantly dated.

Nowadays, you don’t need your full address, just your city and country.

You also don’t need to label your contact details. It is obvious what is a telephone number or email address.

I like to break up the various contact details with vertical lines or with bullets.

To add a bullet mid-sentence, click ‘insert’ and then ‘Advanced Symbol’, most standard bullets can be found under ‘Wingdings’.

Use bullet points to make your MS Word CV look great

Step Five: Align your dates correctly

Aligning your dates to the right of your document can be tricky if you don’t know how.

Many people hit the space bar or tab until the dates are to the right of the document, but both these methods have their issues and can result in the dates not lining up correctly.

The most effective way to do this is through the ruler tool which can be activated by clicking ‘view’ and then ticking ‘ruler’.

Once you’ve done this, you will see an arrow in the top left corner. Click this arrow until it is pointing to the left and then click in the rule, holding down the mouse while you drag the arrow to the right of the document.

You’ll then see this arrow placed on the ruler and this is the point that your dates will align to.

Now, to get your dates to this point, use the tab button. One tab and the date should ping into position.

This is a little tricky to explain and so if you’re still stuck, watch the video at the beginning of this blog from 06:05

Should you use a default MS Word CV template?

You might be reading this blog and thinking ‘why should I make the effort to create a CV from scratch when Microsoft Word has CV templates I could use?’ and well, that’s a fair question.

Microsoft Word has a relatively small collection of resume templates (which you can see above) and the first issue with these is that I see the same ones used all the time, and so has every other recruiter. You really don’t want a CV that looks the same as everyone else’s.

What’s more, these templates are not particularly practical. Each design has its own issues but as a CV Writer, it seems to me that these were created by people that have no real experience in writing CVs.

The space is not optimised for content, meaning that you will need to squeeze and edit what you’ve written to fir the template. Not ideal.

They also rely heavily on text boxes which are not easy to adapt and can cause issues with some Applicant Tracking Systems. On top of this, many of the designs contain infographic elements which are not ATS-friendly.

All in all, I think it’s best to avoid these templates and create something yourself, or pick a template that has been designed by a CV or Resume Writer.

I have a CV template library full of expertly created designs that are formatted for MS Word, you can download one today and save yourself a lot of time! 

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I hope that the above tips will help you create a CV that looks professional.

Remember, your content is just (if not more) important than your formatting. Good formatting should exist to make your content shine, not distract from it.

Make sure you focus on what you have to offer for the role and your key achievements and don’t forget, the best CVs are highly-targeted towards the advertised position.