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Your CV is your future, not just your past

CV Writing

Graham Thornton How to write a CV, Finance CV, CV Advice...

By definition, a Curriculum Vitae (or resume if you are American) is a record of the key components of your working life to date.  However, for a recruiter your CV is an indication of your future potential based, of course, on what you’ve achieved to date.  It’s amazing just how much variety I see every day in candidates’ CVs and how often people make basic errors which could, and often do, prompt their CV to lose out in the first sift.

Bear in mind that many different studies have shown that in general, professional recruiters take just a few seconds (usually c. 30-60) to assess a CV.  That’s right: you have less time that it takes to read the first few paragraphs of this blog to make an impression.  However, before we consider how we might lengthen a recruiter’s attention-span, I think it’s important to start with a fundamental question…

 

How long should your CV be?

This depends on a) what type of job you are applying for and, b) how far advanced your career is. To keep matters simple, use this rough guide.

If you have recently graduated or are a Non-Exec then one page is fine.

For everyone else, a CV needs to be between two and four pages long.

“But what about the two-page CV rule?” I hear you cry. Do not nail yourself to the “two-page CV” cross. It is much harder to achieve than you might imagine. My advice; don’t give yourself the headache of trying to achieve it.

 

What should be in it?

Every CV should have the following, though not necessarily in this order.

Current role and employer on 1st page.

Dates of employment (get the chronology right and if there are gaps - e.g. a career break or time spent travelling.

Employer name.

1-2 lines about what the employer does (why make the recipient of your CV have to guess?). 

Job title(s).

Responsibilities.

Achievements – these need to be tangible/measurable and ideally include numbers

Professional qualification (near the top).

Education - if good near the top, if not then at the end!

Profile/personal statement – this is up to you. Some people like them, some don’t. Personally, I don’t read them and I remove the ones that are poorly written before sharing a CV with a client.

N.B. Your CV is NOT a job-spec so don’t simply list all the jobs you have had. Identify and highlight your achievements.

 

Style, aesthetics, typography and format

A well-laid out CV is more appealing than one which looks as if a spider with inky feet has run across the page.   Make sure to have a sensible amount of white space.  Use only one font (Arial or Calibri are usually a safe bet) but play around with different fonts and sizes of type till you get the effect you want.

Ensure there is consistency in the layout and formatting: don’t overuse bold, underlining, italic or larger type.

Colours and images are a distraction: concentrate on your achievements.

Writing style differs from individual to individual, but it’s probably best not to try and show off with flowery prose: keep it simple and use plain English.

Hobbies and interests are fine but be careful what you tell someone about yourself.  If, having checked up on your interviewer, you find an area of common interest then by all means include it.

Use the spellcheck, but always get someone else to proof-read the final version. Though probably not you’re boss!    

 

Capturing attention

Let’s be honest, a lot of this is down to whether your experience and achievements match what the recruiter is looking for.  That said, a well-written yet simple CV with white space around the headings and a logical sequence of employment and achievements is easier to read - and that’s a major plus. Recruiters don’t like having to search around for information, so make it as easy as possible for them to find what they want.  Don’t create questions in the recruiter’s mind.

If you are a recent graduate, you may not have much experience to shout about. Consequently, highlight what makes you different. Emphasise your behaviours and attitude/work ethic as these are especially important to many employers.  Think about what you’ve done in and out of university that distinguishes you from your peer group.  This may be something entrepreneurial or evidence of leadership in a student body or organisation.  

Do what you can within your powers to make your CV simple, transparent and aesthetically pleasing. 

And finally …

Do some basic checks.  Does your LinkedIn profile tell the same story as your CV?  What about your social media presence generally?  It is festival season after all! Of course, your views and opinions are your own, but be sure that most potential employers will check you out and start to make decisions based on the digital footprint they see.

Remember this is a business document.  Yes, you need to put a layer of your personality on your CV, but it’s important to get the balance right.  In-depth insight into your personality will be tested at the interview: your CV is the tool to get that interview.   

The last piece of advice is one which most people don’t follow, but is very important.  If you are serious about developing your career then don’t wait till you see a job you want to apply for before doing some work on your CV.  Review your CV every 12 months and keep it fresh and relevant.  It’s a pain to do, but trust me it can pay off in the long run

Graham Thornton, Director, Finance, Cedar Recruitment