Making sure your CV secures interviews.
A CV has one purpose, securing valuable face-to-face time with employers.
As your personal selling tool, your CV must make the reader believe you’re a worthwhile investment. So always start by thinking about what your potential employer is looking for. When writing a CV look at it from your prospective employer's point of view. Would you stand out against the competition (the other candidates) and would the manager want to talk you for a possible job?
Business people generally have the same objectives; profit, bigger market share, developing their business and creating new products for their customers. They will look for candidates who will help them to achieve these objectives. Whether you have ten days or a decade of experience, the rules are the same – show what you’ve done or have the potential to bring to the table, and link that to what they will need.
We have put together the following basic advice and standard CV layouts to help you begin that process and start thinking about how to sell yourself on paper, concisely and honestly.
This advice looks at the following areas in turn to make CV writing a less daunting task:
- How should I prepare for writing a CV
- How should CVs look
- CV Layout – what should you include, what order
How should I prepare for writing a CV
1) Work out the simple messages
Before you ever write any kind of application take time to pause, take out a clean sheet of paper and write the title: What do I want them to know about me? Put your personality aside for the moment, it will be important in the job but doesn’t look so strong on paper. Anyone can say they are enthusiastic, tenacious, good at teamwork and kind to lost kittens, but they can’t substantiate that with work-related evidence! At this stage, don’t try to lay this down into sentences; simply note down the most important messages that would impress someone who might recruit you.
2) Translate these into recruitment language
Try to think like a journalist writing an article or report, in your work life what would the key headlines be. Remove the personalisation such as “I”, “my”, “our” and “we” – and phrase things objectively.
Write down the important buzzwords or factors that recruiters in your industry will be looking for in a checklist, and aim to tick these off in your CV.
3) Back up each key headline
Once you have picked your key headlines overall about you and in each job you have worked in you can now elaborate and evidence these, ideally using bullet points when describing key aspects of your jobs. Try to write these to build a connecting story which ticks off the buzzwords and key qualities you previously identified.
How should CVs look
Your CV's presentation gives an advance picture to businesses of how you might present yourself, and their business, in person. Presentation can't be overlooked as many employers are actively put off by bad layout and look. A good CV should be:
Short and succinct – 16% of employers in a recent Randstad poll admitted they are actively turned off if an applicants CV is too long. Try to keep it to 2 pages, and use headings, bullet points and tables to present your information concisely.
Legible and presentable – use a clear, professional typeface to ensure it can be easily read (e.g. Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman). Cut out the clutter and make it easier for employers to read your key attributes by bullet-pointing or highlighting key facts.
Correct and typo free - pay close attention to weeding out typos and spelling mistakes, not only by spell checking but by double proof reading, or asking someone else to proof read it. A recent Randstad poll highlighted spelling mistakes as THE pet peeve for employers when reading CVs, with 54% of employers billing it as their top CV irritation.
Organised and orderly - split your document into clear headings (work experience, education) so that these can easily be scanned. This shows you are well-organised and have logical thought processes.
Relevant - Don’t be tempted to put everything in. Leave out those roles/jobs at the start of your career if not relevant. Order your experience and education into reverse chronological order to highlight your most recent experience – which will likely show your strongest selling points. This shows you know how to concentrate on what’s important and prioritise
Professional – not flowery – Avoid flowery fonts, photos, pictures, bright coloured fonts, graphs, too many styles or fancy lines and designs between sections. Remember this is a business document – think professional and neat.
In short, your CV should be clear enough for an employer to understand your key strengths quickly. It should make it easy to appraise your key skills and experience to determine whether you are appropriate for the role.
CV Layout and Content
There is no foolproof format, so tailor the format below to your needs and the needs of the employer you are applying to. The first page of many CVs focuses on personal details and education - however, it is your employment experience and ability to do the job that is most significant to recruiters and prospective employers. For professional roles people should list their work experience and career history before education, as this is the part of your CV which shows an employer what you have achieved for other companies in practice, rather than academically.
The following layout guide below follows this principle, as does the content referred to in each section.
CV Header contact details
Make this clear and in a large font to show your contact details clearly. It needs to contain your full name and contact details, including telephone number, address and email address. You are not required to include your date of birth, sex or age, so leave these out, but mentioning a full clean driving license may be useful for some roles.
This short section is ideal to sell your skills as a person, indicate your career aspirations and to convey in a positive way why you are seeking a new role. A poor personal profile can do more harm than good, so don’t over-complicate things. Avoid information that has no relevance to your CV, your bubbly personality for example, and steer clear of clichés and jargon. Use your profile to showcase your skills, experience, attitude and behaviour in 2-3 sentences maximum.
Career History, including key achievements
Your career history is a showcase of your employment history and the responsibilities that you held in each post. It should show the key achievements in each job you have held. Create a heading for your most recent or current employer, with the month/year you started and finished, together with your job title and the company name and location. If you had a number of different roles in the same Company, list the dates and the specific roles and responsibilities below.
For every position held summarise the key facts and figures in a short paragraph below the heading – including such details as your key duties, the size of your team, turnover, and your level of responsibility. This is critical information and helps an employer or recruiter assess your level of experience. Lastly show your key achievements and responsibilities for each role. For clarity we would recommend bullet pointing this information.
Your key achievements form a key section of your CV. It needs to really engage your prospective employer - so use facts, figures and timescales to demonstrate that you are an accomplished performer in your current and previous positions. Don’t be scared to sell yourself, but make sure you back up each statement with solid evidence. For example:
"As store manager in the North West I successfully led a team of 20 to increase sales by 8% in 2006. I achieved this through improving staff communication systems, introducing absence procedures and developing team exercises."
Describe these using strong words that demonstrate what you actually did, such as: organised, achieved, formulated, planned, designed, executed, created and led. The achievements you select should demonstrate a number of different competencies, and be tailored to the particular job you are applying for. Many successful candidates tailor their CV each time they apply for a different role to personalise it to the reading manager's needs.
Education and Qualifications
Rule of Thumb here, put your best foot forward and start with your strongest qualifications. Begin with university or college if appropriate, followed by high school qualifications at A level or equivalent, and then more junior qualifications. You need only provide details for your most important and relevant qualifications – e.g. course content and level of degree achieved at university with subjects within, reduce the detail for less significant qualifications, e,g, 6 O Levels at Grade 1-3. Remember vocational and trade qualifications which may give you the edge over other candidates.
Include skills and training here that is additional to your roles, and not immediately obvious from the previous sections. Examples of this would be: IT skills, Office Skills, Language Proficiency or Health and Safety.
You do not have to list these on your CV, it is sufficient to simply state references available on request. Most employers will expect you to have two work references, ideally one from your most recent role. You do not usually have to name in your CV and they will not be contacted before you are made an offer of employment.
Using this order and the content in each section should aid you in making a strong first impression.
Once that is achieved all you have to do is excel at interview.