Putting together an effective CV is always a challenge. Do you include every little detail of your experience or just the main most relevant highlights? How long should it be? Do you use a standard template or create your own? Should you adapt your CV based on the position you are applying for? Do you need a CV at all or is your online public presence enough?
There is no right or wrong answer to these and other similar questions and a CV should probably indeed be designed based on its target company.
Here are the twelve main things to keep in mind when writing your CV:
- Keep it short and to the point. It is useful to think of your CV as an inverted pyramid, the most important information should be at the top, and assume that this is the only part of the CV that your prospective employer will read. Particularly if you are applying for an advertised position it is likely that yours will be one of many CVs a potential employer has to review in a short time. Also, keep in mind that your CV might first be reviewed by the company’s HR department and not by the actual department where the vacancy is. HR might tend to be less technical so if your expertise is highly technical try to explain it in a straightforward way. Recruiting companies will want to narrow down their field of candidates quickly and will not necessarily take the time to understand every detail in a CV in the first round of shortlisting. If you want – or think it is important – to include a lot of detail (for example a comprehensive list of publications or speaking engagements) you should consider adding this as an appendix. In any case, it should take a potential employer no longer than few minutes to understand whether or not you are worth shortlisting.
- Introduce yourself in a short paragraph at the beginning of your CV. A covering letter, or a covering email, is usually a good idea but keep in mind that employers might print out just your CV and ignore or miss the rest especially if they are handling a large number of applications. So make sure that the essence of what you want to say about yourself in your covering letter is included as part of the actual CV. It would also be good to explain briefly why you are interested in this particular position or why you aspire to work with this particular company, use this paragraph to show that you have done your research about the company. If you intend to use a photograph in your CV make sure that is one that looks the part. Whilst you might be proud of the photo of you rocking on stage with your band 10 years ago it might not give the best impression to a prospective employer.
- Keep every section clear and concise. You probably can write an essay on each phase of your career, or on your undergraduate thesis. Potential employers, however, will not be interested in such detail, at least not at the stage where you are just introducing yourself to them. Being able to present things concisely is an important skill and will increase the chance that an employer will want to know more in an interview.
- Highlight how you satisfy all requirements for the job. If you are applying for an advertised post there will be a number of mandatory requirements listed in the advert. Make sure that the employer will be able to see quickly and clearly that all of these are satisfied. Particularly if the CV is being reviewed by the HR department missing even just one of these requirements will likely lead to you not being shortlisted. If there is a requirement you do not satisfy but you still think that you would be suitable for the post, highlight why you think so in your covering letter or introductory paragraph – maybe you have an alternative qualification or have proven yourself in a similar role previously and have strong references. Be convincing but tread carefully as companies are usually quite familiar with what is required of a candidate to fill a particular post and might not take kindly to being told that they are wrong.
- Organise your CV uniformly throughout. This way it will be easier to read and understand. It will also show help you come across as organised and efficient which are usually important attributes for most jobs. Whilst there are a number of templates you can use (e.g. Europass) and which might give you some ideas try to create your own layout if possible.
- Stand out but don’t get too creative. Unless you are applying for a creative position such as in marketing, advertising or PR – in which case it might be a good idea to grab attention by using something out of the ordinary – you should use traditional presentation techniques in your CV.
- Pay attention to detail. First impressions count, it’s a cliché but it’s particularly true when it comes to forming an opinion about a person from their CV. It should go without saying, but check your spelling and your grammar, as such errors will make you come across as lacking in attention to detail.
- Be honest. This should also go without saying, but it is important to make sure that anything you write in your CV can be verified. Increasingly companies – particularly in sectors such as financial services – are carrying out detailed due diligence on people they employ. In fact, make sure that there is nothing on your public online profiles that contradicts what you are saying in your CV or that might shed a negative light on you. The first place a potential employer is likely to go after looking at your CV, assuming it has generated enough interest, are your facebook, LinkedIn and other social media pages, so make sure there is nothing there which might make you lose momentum.
- Make sure your references know they are on your CV. It is safe to assume that if you put a referee’s name on your CV that the company you are applying with will call them. Do not put your referees in the embarrassing situation of receiving a call they are not expecting.
- Make sure your CV is up to date. It should accurately reflect your current employment and qualification status. Pay particular attention to any headers or footers that tend to be forgotten and sometimes include dates.
- Check formatting of the final version. It is usual to send our your CV in .pdf format after preparing in with a word processor. When converting your file to .pdf check that the formatting has remained intact. Often there may be font or pagination errors that arise from such conversions.
- Once you get the interview go prepared. Review your own CV in detail before attending the interview, as this will be the main source of questions from your potential employer. Also, prepare some questions of your own and show that you have researched the company and the role. Finally be confident, after all, you have been shortlisted and keep in mind that it’s not just the company that is interviewing you, you are also interviewing the company.
As a final comment for jobs, you apply for online something that is becoming more common. This should not remove the requirement for a CV. Always attach a CV to an online job application otherwise it will tend to be overlooked. Do not rely just on your online profile.
Anything we left out? Share your experiences with CV writing and let us know if you have any comments of your own on how to write better ones. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.