Writing a CV

I’m reproducing below some useful hints that I received once from a discussion board. Writing a CV is a bit of fine art really and many people have their own views on what works and what doesn’t. Never-the-less most of the following makes general sense and I’ve followed the principles for my own CV (well, most of them).

A CV fundamentally serves only one purpose and that is to get you to interview. It’s your version of your life and career to date and hence you are entitled to put the most positive spin on it that you wish, provided of course that you are truthful at all times.

Truthful however does not oblige you to volunteer information which may be detrimental to your presentation of yourself. Far too many people prepare CV’s that are far too long, boring and frankly irrelevant to the job they are seeking. Why for example do people feel the urge to volunteer their date of birth? Age is no longer a legal basis for selecting or not selecting a candidate. You may be too old or too young, but if you get to interview you stand a better chance. Equally, don’t mention your health issues. They are in the past. If you volunteer these, you may as well not waste a stamp. If you feel your health is adequate to take the job now – that is all that counts. We’ve all had illnesses, but if we listed them all, we wouldn’t sound like attractive candidates.

Don’t worry about former jobs that don’t seem relevant. Sell the aspects of the job and your personal characteristics, ‘experienced’ ‘loyal’ ‘self-motivated’ ‘work well unsupervised’. These are transferable skills, so make them count.

The objective is to get yourself into the top 5% of applicants and include nothing in your CV which will enable you to be de-selected at the outset and your effort binned. If you are lucky, an interviewer or recruiter will give your CV about 30 seconds attention before forming a view on your suitability or otherwise.

So, a few cardinal rules. Absolutely no more than two sides of A4. Many companies bin anything longer on a point of principle. Use high quality white ‘woven’ paper laser printed (or ink jet)and don’t fold it or use staples or paperclips. Don’t include a photo, even if you do look like Brad Pitt. They are considered passe now. Put your CV in a plastic wallet to increase its resistance to being thrown away and post it flat in a large envelope.

Leave plenty of white space, make it uncluttered, no fancy fonts and no rambling. Hold it at arms length to see if it is clear, visually uncluttered and ‘comfortable’ to look at. Can you see your name clearly. If not increase the point size. Embolden headings but don’t underline as well, its the difference between attracting attention and demanding it.

Start with your name at the top and contact details – nothing else. e.g. who are you are where can you be contacted. Leave a few lines of white space.

Next write a short profile on yourself, called a personal profile, just a few lines creating a paragraph which sells you powerfully. Use strong adjectives such as “accomplished” “professional” “successful” “international” etc. You are selling yourself just as though you were a salesman selling a product. There is absolutely no room for modesty in a CV. Truth yes, modesty NO. Forget traditional British reserve and go for it.

Next itemise in short bullet points some of your major successes. Keep it brief but make it punchy. Explain what you did, the result and the benefit in that order. This tells the professional recruiter why he should employ you.

e.g. I was appointed Project Manager for moving a factory of 200 people from A to B. I achieved this on time and 15% below budget, with the result that our efficiency was improved and productivity increased.

I made that up, but you can see the principle. You are telling the recruiter why you are going to be a valuable employee for them. Don’t say you haven’t had any successes because everyone has. It isn’t the magnitude that counts or even the event, but the way you present it.

Keep these successes to no more than five and if you can make them relevant to the job you wish to get, do so. If not, just relate achievements. Don’t say “we did” when you mean you. Say “I” because its you that’s after the job.

Then list your most recent jobs in reverse order and if you’ve made a good fist of the bullet points above, this can be a short narrative of your key responsibilities. Reduce the amount of information as you go back in time.

Next list your education. If you’re not proud of it, keep it brief, the school, college or institution, the subjects (omit grades, unless they were all A’s) and move swiftly on to interests. Make this another paragraph, but don’t put reading, walking, music etc. Write a short sentence to paint a picture of yourself, such as: “I enjoy reading and in particular 17th century historical novels” or whatever. It makes you a real person.

Avoid “socialising” as an interest. It is bland and sounds as though you spend all your time in the pub. You may do, but don’t tell them.

If you’re proud of your CV, that will be apparent to the reader. You are trying to get yourself on the “Yes” pile or at worst the “possibles”. Banish all negative thoughts from your mind and don’t put anything in it that sounds like an apology.

Read it through carefully and again and again. Make sure there are no spelling mistakes. Get your partner to check this, not for content but grammar, spelling and presentation.

You’ve already volunteerd that you’ve been asked for your CV because your work has impressed, so major on your unique creativity, clarity of presentation, original ideas etc. Get the drift?

Accompany your CV with a one A4 side letter applying formally for the job and drawing their attention to your matching benefits. So, again tell them that you want the job (very disarming tactic) and wish to point out the following attributes which you feel make you an ideal candidate for their job. Keep it brief.

Finally finish off by saying “I look forward to the opportunity of meeting you and to elaborate in greater detail on my suitability for this role”. Imply you expect to get an interview. Don’t finish lamely with “I hope you find this acceptable” – too passive.

Don’t forget, many hugely successful people in this world had very poor academic backgrounds, but their determination and effort overcame it.

If you think successful – you will be. And, don’t be afraid to ring up after you have submitted it. Ask them to confirm safe receipt and tell them that you are keen. Enthusiasm never lost anybody a job.

Reproduced with author’s permission


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