The CV. The Resume. We’ve all got one, no matter what we call it – and it is the key to securing a job interview. Despite this, it’s amazing how many poorly written, badly laid-out or just plain confusing CVs I see. So, in the spirit of helping candidates understand how CVs are actually used by employers, here are my tips on writing a CV.
Your CV is not just a Word file
The first thing many employers do when they receive a CV isn’t read it – it’s search for your name on Google, and click through to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and any other social profiles or pages about you.
So you need to get your house in order – keep your LinkedIn up-to-date, and if you use Twitter for non-work purposes, think about the fact potential employers will see it and Facebook. Use the privacy settings both offer to lock your profile down and keep strangers (and Google) out. Do you really want an HR Manager seeing photos of you worse for wear, dressed as a member of the opposite sex, slamming a Tequila down at a party?
If you do use Twitter or another platform for work, keep it up-to-date, too – and if you don’t use it, delete the account or make it private. An abandoned Twitter account looks messy – and might be seen by some employers as a sign you don’t follow things through or leave loose ends behind you.
Curate your work
If you write or blog online, make sure you have a profile page on that site and link to it from LinkedIn – it might appear in the first page of results when your name is searched for, and is a showcase of what you have done previously. You can draw all of your online profiles and work together using your own website (time consuming) or quickly with a profile page at a service like About.me (free) that you can link to from LinkedIn and include in your CV.
You need to get into the habit of curating what you write or create online to showcase your talents, and giving potential employers a one-click way to find your work. Graphic designers and photographers have been doing this for decades with printed and online portfolios.
Employers glance at CVs. I know that doesn’t sound fair when you have spent ages preparing your CV, but it’s the harsh truth. People are busy. Any job ad will get multiple applications – from the irrelevant to the highly competitive. So your CV needs to be clear, cleanly laid out and to the point. If you are straight out of education, one or two pages is fine. If you have 20 years’ experience, a succinct CV across three to four pages is acceptable.
I know there are advice articles that say one page, three pages etc. – but the reality is everybody has different experience; strike a balance between showcasing your experience, skills and education, and not providing too much info. It won’t be read.
Keep it simple
Fancy layouts, stand-out fonts, text at angles – all are no-nos on CVs unless you are good designer. You might think they make your CV stand out; actually they normally get in the way. I want to know about you, not a pretty border around your CV.
I prefer CVs that follow this format:
- Name and personal details (including languages spoken, nationality and any visas held)
- Notice period on current role
- A succinct description of their experience and what they are looking for in a new role (two sentences)
- Brief education summary (not every single grade, unless it’s an entry level job)
- Career history – this section is key, and should include employers, start and end dates, job titles, responsibilities, how many people were managed, the verticals worked in and brands worked on, key achievements and, if budget management was involved, how much
- Technologies and software they have hands-on experience of
- Industry qualifications and a summary of training attended
- References with contact details
- Interests and hobbies – a chance to give a flavour of yourself outside of work
Don’t leave unexplained gaps on your CV – they will be noticed. Where you travelling? Training? Job searching? Be honest – or you may find your CV is overlooked.
Tailor your covering email
It never ceases to amaze me that people apply for jobs with a covering email and CV that isn’t tailored to the job in question. I understand that candidates might not want to change their CV every time they apply – but at least refer in some way to the role in your covering email (just including the company name isn’t enough; we all know what find and replace is). Tell an employer what you are looking for and why you think the role and company fits, and what you can do for their organisation.
Don’t send the wrong letter to the wrong company or include spelling mistakes and poor grammar – the next candidate will have done a better job.
Don’t spam when applying for jobs – if you don’t have the experience the role requires, don’t apply. You might think there’s no risk to applying for jobs in a scatter-gun way via job boards, but your application may be recorded in recruitment software which notes whose application was irrelevant. If you apply for another role in future that is relevant, you may find your name is flagged as a time waster.
Don’t apply for several, unrelated roles at once either – you’ll look like you are desperate or simply lazy, hitting apply on everything you see without reading the job description and knowing what the role entails. The delete key will quickly come into play.
Most of all, don’t apply for jobs in countries where you have no legal permission to work. Unless the job description says help will be given with visas, you are wasting everybody’s time. If you do have legal permission to work in the country in question, put that in bold in the first section of your CV.
One final piece of advice – put yourself in the employer’s shoes. You’ve dozens of CVs arriving through the day – and your time is pressured; you’ve a job to do, as well as vetting CVs. Ask yourself: how would you react to your CV? Would you ask yourself in for an interview if the roles were revised? Ask relatives or friends who deal with recruitment to give you some feedback, too; it might be a little hard to take if you are told to start again, but it’s better than finding yourself still applying for jobs in three months’ time.
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