Writing the killer CV
The killer CV needs to show how you meet the requirements for a job exactly. It should be concise, and omit irrelevant experience. Some careers (performing arts, creative industries) have different formats, but for the majority of job applications the advice below will be applicable.
What is a CV and what can it do for you?
A CV is your personal specification, it documents your abilities, and shows the reader what you are capable of. It is important to realise that a CV is an exercise in selling yourself in a highly constrained and abbreviated format. Write one that is too long, or in the wrong format, and you run a serious risk of it being binned without a reading. It is not a document for the verbose or for the essay writer. Rather like poetry and script writing, condensation is all-important. Include only what is relevant and positive. A resumé (which is shorter) is not generally used in the UK for job applications.
An employer may have a pile of one hundred CVs on his/her desk and from those applicants only ten will be chosen for interview. A well written CV will help get you that interview. This will be the only source of information the employer has about you, along with your covering letter. Many of the questions that will be posed will be based upon aspects of those documents - so make sure you know what you've put before them.
Afterwards the interviewer may once again refer back to your CV to remind themselves of your abilities, and depending upon how you performed at the interview you will be offered the job.
Finally the CV can be influential during salary negotiations as it details your skills and experience; your salary will be partially based upon these factors.
Always adapt a CV for each individual job. There is no such thing as a ‘finished’ CV.
What to put in your CV?
An employer needs facts about your skills, experience, qualifications, and some personal insight. If they like what they read then they will require contact information to get in touch with you. The order in which these facts are documented is important. Convention states that contact details should be at the top underneath your name, then employment history, followed by qualifications. Some careers advisors tell you to write an introductory paragraph and section of your interests. Unless your hobbies are particularly relevant, this is unlikely to add to your application. If you are short of space, this should be the first thing to be removed. Introductory paragraphs can work if you are applying for a job in a very specific field, and it is clear that this job will help towards your future aims. However, if it is very clear that this is not the case, highlighting the fact that a job does not lead to where you really want to be is unlikely to get you far.
Often CVs are kept on file for long periods so any contact details you give have to remain accurate in the long term. A daytime phone number is most important, include your mobile number if you have one. Include an e-mail address, a gmail address is good because you will have it for life, rather than a university one which may expire.
Write in reverse chronological order, including starting and leaving dates for each position. Include concise details of what the job entailed, your responsibilities and what you achieved in the role. If there are any time gaps between employment explain what you were doing in that time, for example travelling, at college, carrying out charity fund raising work. Use active verbs to describe your achievements: for example "has experience in”, “trained in”, “managed a project involving”, “developed”, “co-ordinated the development of” etc. Bullet point these at the start of a sentence for maximum impact. Try to avoid using “I” at the start of sentences.
There is no need to list all of your Standard Grade/National 5/GCSE subjects, simply write something like, 10 GCSEs A-C including Mathematics and English. A-Level and degree qualifications can be listed, the grades do not have to be included. List only the academic centres where a qualification was earned in reverse chronological order with dates. The more qualifications and experience you have, the less the older qualifications matter, and if you run out of room they can be omitted.
Hobbies and interests
If you do choose to include this section, it can be used to give an insight into your personality. Consider carefully what you are putting down and its implications. Team events indicate that you are a team player, other activities such as Scouting, CCF, Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme show commitment and the fact you are not adverse to a challenge. Be specific, and show what you learnt or gained from the activity (such as perseverance, teamwork, communication skills), and if you were on the society or helped organise anything emphasise this. Keep this section very brief, do not list ALL of your interests and hobbies. You do not want to give the employer the impression you would rather be doing your hobbies, or travelling around the world than doing the job you are being considered for.
Unless you have a reference that you are particularly proud of, for example a letter written by Richard Branson saying that you are the 'bees knees', then it is advisable not to include references in the CV. Instead simply write "References available on request".
Don't over play or under play your achievements.
- Use a word processor to write your CV, sometimes a company may specify that they want a hand written covering letter but the CV should always be typed - remember quality of presentation should never be ignored.
- No longer than two sides of A4 and put the most important information on page one. For the majority of recent graduates, everything should fit concisely on one page. Do not print on both sides of the paper.
- It is crucial to keep things concise because you will probably find that one page does not provide a lot of space, and therefore requires clever layouts. Make the layout clear logical and not cluttered, and use sensible margin spacing.
- Use the best quality paper you can get hold of, but use common sense, do not send paper that is too thick.
- Bulleted paragraphs are a good way to save space and add impact to statements. They are also easy for an employer to read, and can be simply tailored to the job requirements.
- Titles are required so that an employer can instantly see just what he/she wants to read.
- Flashy design can be off putting to employers. Information needs to be laid out simply, in a clear and easy to read manner. Your CV will be looked at for a matter of seconds, so it is vital that all the essential information is instantly visible.
- Tailor your CV to each separate position when possible by carrying out some research into the company. The easiest way to do this is to look at their website.
- Do not quote previous salaries (unless it is requested) or state why you left previous jobs.
Points for those new to the rat race
If you are fresh out of university, college, or school it is possible that filling two sides of A4 with details of experience could prove tricky. Describe what skills you have learnt and put into practice during your studies, for example working in-groups, presentation skills, perhaps you have carried out some unpaid work experience. If you took part in university societies, use this to show commitment and teamwork. Do not worry about your CV being thin to begin with, everybody has to start somewhere.
- Try to slip in some relevant industry buzzwords, because it is a fact that employers scan read CVs and you want them to think that you know what you are talking about.
- Use simple language, you are not trying to impress anyone with your verbosity. · Back up your statements with evidence, for example 'Excellent organisational skills, single handedly transferred all the company records onto CD ROM.' Similarly, try to quantify every statement, for example 'launched new marketing initiative which resulted in additional revenue of 45K'.
- Some things just don't need to be said, for example if the employer has read your covering letter and CV, then it should be evident to them that you are a good communicator. There is no need to state it separately; you don't want to come across as being naive.
- Try to avoid using 'I' too much. A page of I did this and that is a big turn-off - it says to the employer you haven't thought about them, only about yourself.
- An employer is not going to be interested in someone who has apparently drifted from job to job, perhaps across sectors, unless you can justify how this range of experience will benefit them. There should be some consistency and progression so that your career seems planned. Employers want candidates who are targeted and focused, ambitious types who know what they want and where they are heading. Your CV should reflect this considered progression.
- Always be honest, do not write anything in your CV that you would not feel comfortable talking about at an interview.
- Get someone else to read your CV for a second opinion, you may have missed some grammatical or spelling errors.
It should be noted that there are no universal rules, this document is only a guide, the key is to incorporate all of the necessary elements, follow the conventions, and then incorporate your own individuality.
Things to not include
- The words or heading curriculum vitae – it is obvious what the document is, so don’t waste the space
- Your address at the top of the page – it is not necessary, and is a distraction if you place it there. It is unlikely employers will need to contact you by post.
- Any mention of references – they are not needed at this stage and the employer will ask for them when they are required.
- Anything more than a line or two about your interests and hobbies, unless you know that it will be especially relevant. If you are short of space this should be the first information to be taken out entirely.
- Repetition of any information – this is both unnecessary and irritating to the reader.
- Headers, footers and page numbers (or any other extraneous information such as document names or version numbers)
- Page borders, title pages, binders, covers
- Reasons for leaving previous jobs
- Salary information
- Irrelevant information
- Negative information. There is no need to put yourself at a disadvantage from the beginning.
- Photographs. You should not be judged on appearance, and frankly it just looks a bit weird to send one in if its not asked for.