Over the past few years, I have given freely of my time to review CVs of students making their first foray into the world of work. Most CVs I review are a little ‘dry’ and ‘functional’ and could do with strengthening in the areas of achievement and presentation, so here are some of the observations I make, on a fairly recurring basis, to help young people prepare their most important piece of personal marketing and turn it into a more polished and relevant product.
The traditional objective of a CV was to inform the potential employer of your capabilities for the role, but in this increasingly competitive world of fewer jobs and higher numbers of highly-qualified applicants, the CV has to do much more. It has to get you noticed too. And employers now are increasingly recruiting for attitude, because they can train for the skills they need – and many applicants have solid expertise, so employers are looking for other ways to differentiate great candidates.
You need to make your CV shine!
It’s important to keep your CV to two pages, but put a footer in so that the second page is clearly about you if it gets separated from the first page. Include your name, email address and a contact phone number, but not your date of birth, which is a key security question for identification – so don’t give that out freely!
Also, don’t use up valuable space with references at this early stage; an employer may ask for those once they make a conditional job offer.
Consider including a photo – people will check you on social media anyway. You should think carefully about your Facebook presence and you should definitely build a LinkedIn profile. Try to get a few recommendations from people during your work experience (ask for them) and then maybe reference a sentence from one or two into your CV for impact and relevance. If you are looking for a job in business, and you don’t have a decent LinkedIn profile, it looks like you aren’t really committed, or you don’t yet ‘get’ the world of work.
A narrative style is generally preferred to a series of bullet-point sections, which can read more like a shopping list than an invitation to the reader to get to know the candidate. Try to be more open, warm and let your personality come across if you can.
Good copy content is essential and the CV has to read well. Storytelling is a great art and helps invite the reader into your world and want to get to know you. The main thing is to try to get your personality to come through, to make the reader want to meet you, find out more about you.
Think about your CV in the context of it reading more like a restaurant review than a restaurant menu. It’s the review that will get most people to dine there.
CONTENT AND STRUCTURE
I always prefer a structured approach that shows profile, achievements, work experience, education. Relevant work experience is what will get you onto the ‘potentials’ pile, but what gets you through to the interview list is your personality, so start with you and use the second page for your skills and experience.
Your opening should be a short self-appraisal. This needs to be powerful enough for the reader to get a sense of who you are and what you could become. A concise personal summary of what makes you tick, what excites you and what you want to be – to help the reader get a feel for what you are like, so that they want to meet you! Give it passion, energy, drive.
Write it in a way that will help the reader find what they want to see. The goal is to stand out, to make a prospective employer notice you and spend time exploring your resume.
ACHIEVEMENTS OR REOGNITION
You also need an achievements section – to highlight examples that can show how you can work as part of a team, think independently and demonstrate leadership. How can you show that you have learned, developed, progressed, taken responsibility, enjoyed success and handled challenges or overcome difficulty?
Help the reader by making your achievements centre-stage, not dotted around the CV haphazardly. Many readers of CVs don’t get beyond the first two sections; personal profile and achievements, so you have to make these compelling.
The third section should highlight any suitable work experience you have, internships or actual jobs you have held. Make sure you pull out for the reader the key business added-value elements of your work experience. Can you demonstrate experience in interacting with the public, presenting, working to deadlines, solving problems, working under pressure etc. Where you can, show this strongly in a narrative introduction to your work experience section.
If people are going to hire you, they want to know if you can learn, if you are ambitious, if you have initiative, if you will work hard and if you can work well with other people, be flexible and know when to adapt. Make sure you have brought all of this out in the narrative you write about yourself, your achievements and your work experience so far.
These elements will then form the basis for questions the employer will ask you during an interview, so make sure you re-read your own CV carefully before any interview meeting!
What employers are looking for in a competitive job market is talent that can add value to their business, work as part of a team, fit in with their culture and develop individually within the role.
They recruit for attitude from a small group of people who match the talents & skills they need. Attributes of leadership, communication and problem-solving are what every employer is looking for in candidates. So try to help the reader easily identify these things in your CV.
I always like to see a CV with a favourite mantra that defines the person’s personality, so maybe think about how you can add a personal flair element in that way? Mine, for example, is ‘win with honour, lose with grace, always compete’ – it will create a discussion point for the interviewer, so be prepared to speak to it, too.
Check the revision for spelling errors too; typos and grammatical errors are glaring mistakes that signal lack of preparation and thoroughness to employers. As I said at the very beginning, this is your most important piece of marketing to-date!
8 IMPORTANT RULES FOR WRITING A GREAT CV
These should be designed to catch the eye of the reader – who may be a harassed HR person with a remit to choose only 1 in 10 applicants for an interview. So make sure your CV is written on the basis that if they are binning 9 out of 10, it is your CV that wins the interview.
The following are key:
1. Maximum 2 sides of A4.
2. Minimum relevant information – too much is bad. Quality not quantity is key.
3. Good presentation – clearly presented, easy to read.
4. Either in your CV ‘Profile’ or in your ‘Cover Letter’ do include a summary of your experience and achievements and provide an insight into what you are locking for now in your career.
5. CVs can, and should, be tailored to suit the individual job application.
6. Do include your skills and interests.
7. If references are to be included then do make sure they are meaningful references – for example, depending on where you are in your career, a reference from a building site foreman or a shop supervisor saying you were on site early every morning to earn money for gap year travelling is much more meaningful than the usual run of the mill…
8. Always keep your CV updated.