It doesn’t matter who you are, whether a well-seasoned professional at C-suite level or someone just starting out in the world of work, writing or updating your CV can be a daunting task.
Talking about yourself can be embarrassing or it’s difficult to keep the details concise. And then there’s the added pressure of knowing you have seconds to grab the attention of the recruiter among hundreds of CVs they might be reviewing. I know I always put it off and procrastinate until I really have to get down to it.
I’m pretty sure I have not followed my own rules on some occasions, but here are my 7 top tips for writing a good CV and what I look for from a candidate:
1. Impact – less is more
You have to make an impression straight away. Be succinct and readable. Do not clutter your CV with too much information. Use one typeface and only use bold or italics where really necessary. Use space to distinguish between roles and responsibilities. Avoid too much jargon and even with digital roles, try to steer clear of too many abbreviations. Aim to fit your CV on two sides of A4 if you can.
2. Tailor your CV to every employer
I look for someone who has actually understood and read the job specification for my organisation. Less important for entry-level jobs but for high-level/managerial jobs or even sales jobs you will need to do your research. What has the company done, what is the vision, where will you fit? I want to know how your skills are relevant to the job.
It can be a good idea to create a master CV with all your experience and then tailor a copy to the job you are applying for. Make sure it matches the job specification and includes relevant information that was ranked highly – e.g. for lorry drivers a heavy goods vehicle license is important to highlight from the start. I think a good overall format is: Name and contact details; Summary; Roles and responsibilities in consistent chronological order (with career gaps explained)*. Also include your notice period and availability early on (e.g. would you require a visa, is your notice period 6 months); Education; Interests/other achievements (awards, volunteering, etc., if relevant).
3. Tell the employer who you are.
I think a brief summary of 50-100 words, depending on your CV length, gives you the opportunity to grab the attention and tells the recruiter why they should read your CV. Avoid clichés like “team player”, “self-motivated”. Instead, tell the employer what drives you, what sums up your experience and what you could bring to their organisation.
4. Be confident but prove your achievements
It will depend on the role you are applying for. Some roles don’t need much explanation. But if you’re in management or sales for example, it’s vital to state the actual results you achieved. Better still, include targets you met or ROI in financial terms if you can. If you are a Developer or a project manager for example without direct financial impact, include what deadlines you met, projects you completed and how you played a key role in their delivery. If in Social Media, the strategy you applied and the campaign/project results in audience and ROI like Cost per Acquisition for example. You could include challenges you faced and how you overcame them. But only if you can keep it brief and it is highly relevant.
5. For Digital roles avoid the “Unicorn” lists
CVs for Digital roles can be overwhelmed by detail. Developers (back end or front end) want you to know they are good with every single programming language they’ve ever worked with. I call this the Unicorn CV. And, I’ll break this to you gently if you’re a believer, unicorns don’t exist I’m afraid, despite what millennial recruiters say. It is rare for someone to be an expert in many languages, so list the ones you are highly proficient with, then list the ones where you’ve had some exposure but are intermediate or novice, I’ll be more likely to believe you! It is good to see a bullet-pointed list of skillsets but I also want to know how you’ve directly applied your skills to real-life projects.
6. Easy to access format and a covering letter (or covering email)
A Word doc or PDF is the best way to send your CV electronically but note how the employer wants you to send it. There might be an online process, where you input your CV in a form as well as attach/upload it. A brief covering letter is very important to capture a very short summary of who you are and why you would make a difference in the role you are applying for.
7. Don’t forget the contact details
It’s no good if an employer thinks you’re great and then can’t get hold of you. A large name at the top so employers recognise it quickly, plus your address, email and telephone contact, perhaps with a LinkedIn URL too, is vital. You’d be surprised at how many people forget!
That’s it. Now all you need to do is buckle-down and get to it! Write as many drafts as you need and ask others you trust in confidence to review them.
Good luck with your job hunt and I wish you a long and prosperous career. Don’t forget to come back to getthat.com to list your CV or find an employer to work with. We’ll be adding new features that will help with your job search in 2018. Watch this space!
*In the UK it is not required to put any dates on your periods of employment as this would ‘age you’ and would be open to age discrimination, or discrimination because you may have had career gaps due to childbirth, etc. You are also not required to put your date of birth, gender, marital status, religion, sexual orientation or any other such personal information. Personally I would avoid putting your date of birth or marital status, etc. on a CV as such details like age are irrelevant. Details like family will be important to the employer later if you are emigrating to the UAE for practical purposes, but you don’t need to put it on a CV. Length of service is no direct indicator of expertise or competence. However, most employers (admittedly even me) do like to see time-served at each role you’ve had in order to gauge staying power, loyalty and the credibility of delivering the duties you carried out in the time you were there, etc. So not including the dates might go against you and do explain career gaps briefly and honestly.
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