An exceptional Curriculum Vitae is an essential tool for any professional who is intent on realising their true career ambitions. It acts as a showreel, documenting everything that you have achieved to date, and presenting these achievements as tangible benefits in their best light to a prospective employer. A good CV will also contribute more than just the sum of its parts, creating a sense of personality and character about its author, which can sometimes really tip the balance in your favour for roles where a cultural fit is important.
Given the importance of a good CV as a professional’s main calling card to the employment world, it is surprising how few good ones are actually in circulation. This is largely due to the relative difficulty that people experience when writing about themselves, the need to be objective and concise, and the lack of understanding of the things that employers really value.
Essentially, a CV is an instrument designed specifically to get you an interview for a job. Like any instrument, there are good ones and bad ones, so below are a few tips on how to make your CV create the right impression, and give your future career an edge.
The general rule of thumb with any CV, regardless of the seniority or experience of its author, is that the content should be contained within two pages, and never more than three. For many people, this will involve some succinct editing, but then a successful CV is a masterwork of brevity because it is designed solely to get you to interview stage; you can fill in the detail during the interview itself.
Make sure that you provide your full name and contact details at the top of the document, so that businesses or recruitment consultancies can contact you easily and quickly if required.
What do employers want to see?
In a great many cases, candidates develop their CV’s without first thinking what an employer would like to see. One thing to bear in mind is that your CV will almost certainly be viewed alongside multiple CV’s from other candidates. Because prospective employers have to sift through a series of CV’s to arrive at their shortlist, it pays to communicate your skills and experience in a concise manner, using a basic format that allows the information to be understood and digested easily.
A good CV can be undone by poor presentation, spelling, typos or grammar, so keep it simple and always triple check that there are no glaring errors that might detract from your CV’s professional impact. Always get someone else to read it for you as a double check.
This is the one area within the document where you get to create an overall, personal impression of what your skills and experience could mean to an employer. Try and highlight your overall strengths and key skills areas, such as creativity, organisational skills or management ability in a fluent and engaging manner. You will have the opportunity to evidence your particular work and educational experiences later, so use your profile section to condense what the overall benefits of your recruitment would mean to an employer. Short and punchy – if you’ve got exceptional client handling skills, are a great team player with excellent attention to detail, here is your opportunity to say it.
Professional qualifications & skills
Create a short list of all your professional qualifications, including any relevant courses you have attended. In today’s technologically oriented world, it’s also a good idea to state your knowledge of IT systems and computer packages, as well as any foreign languages you speak with an estimation as to your level of fluency.
Depending on the amount of career experience that you need to highlight later, you can add or subtract detail from your educational history (such as omitting your GCSE subjects, for example), whilst still leaving the essential elements. Start with the most recent qualifications and work backwards, remembering to include all your qualifications, with grades and dates. Your educational resume will give potential employers the opportunity to evaluate the path you took before embarking on your career, although many employers count solid work experience as equally valid (if not more so) on a good CV.
Start with your current or most recent job. State the name of the company and the nature of its business. State your job title, explain what your core role is, and then concisely describe your responsibilities, duties and main achievements. Bullet points are best for this. If you have extensive experience, keep your earlier jobs brief – it is generally your most recent role that the interviewer will be most interested in. After this, state any other roles or relevant professional engagements in the same format, although with a gradually diminishing level of detail as you discuss some of the earlier jobs you have had.
Generally speaking, interviewers and prospective employers don’t like to see gaps within a candidate’s CV, so if you have taken time out – for example to travel, or to bring up children – make sure that you represent this period, along with a stated reason. A one liner will suffice at this stage, but the time should be accounted for.
Interests & hobbies
Writing a short list or paragraph about your interests and hobbies is unlikely to be the decisive aspect in a prospective employer’s decision-making, although an insight into what you do outside of work is never a bad thing. As with the Profile section, this area tells an interviewer a bit more about your personality, and about how you as a person might fit into their company culture, which will certainly affect their judgements on your CV as a whole.
References or referees
Very often an employer will seek final reassurance as to a prospective candidate’s suitability by seeking a reference or two. As an essential part of the evaluation process, you should either provide the details of at least two referees or state that ‘References are available upon request’, if you would rather detail these later.
Different CVs for different roles
Very rarely will a single, static CV be uniformly effective across multiple job applications, so it pays to tailor your CV to each individual role if you are to give yourself the optimum chance for success. Remember to ask yourself what the specific employer would want to see from a candidate for this role, and then prioritise and shape your CV (whilst still keeping the essential core components accurate) in order to present yourself as a suitable candidate for the role.
Having a separate addendum is a great way to carry additional information while not over-burdening your actual CV - for example a separate list of projects, with relevant detail can show an employer additional information to illustrate more fully your experience.