How to Write a CV (and Grab the Reader’s Attention)
Stating the obvious, working in the recruitment world we see a LOT of CVs. Some good, some okay and some less than impressive. If you’re one of those people that know how to write an excellent CV, stop reading now. This post is not for you.
If, however, like many people you are not sure that what you’re presenting is the absolute best representation of yourself and experience, please hold the line.
So What Makes a Great CV?
There are many answers to this question and they don’t all revolve around what experience you bring to the table. Style, layout, detail, presentation and how you present your experience all play a massive part. So let’s run through them.
Style / Layout
The main idea to consider for style and layout is that you’re presenting a clean, easy to read, well spaced out document.
Humans are visual creatures – we like attractive things whether it be food, clothes or what we read. Use this to your advantage. Consider the following:
- Length: Your CV should be no more than 3-4 pages (without good reason such as project experience, design examples etc).
- Cover Page: We often recommend using a cover page as PART of your CV rather than as a separate Cover Letter document. This should contain the following:
- Your name, profession and years of experience;
- A career summary (basically a short, customisable cover letter – no more than 4 paragraphs) that provides you an opportunity to highlight your professional achievements.
- Your career timeline (dates, titles & companies without the job details)
- Style: Keep it clean, easy to follow and well spaced. If you find it difficult to follow, then chances are the Hiring Manager will too. Use colour sparingly and for effect – the danger with using excessive colour is that it can distract the reader from what is actually important.
- Layout: Use a consistent template. Microsoft Word has 100’s of CV templates, or you can find many free templates online.
- It’s a Funnel: Your CV should look like a funnel with the most recent experience having more detail than your past experience.
Grammar, Grammar, Grammar
Spell and grammar check your work, then do it again. A CV is a professional document and a reflection of your quality of work. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors tell a potential employer that you don’t pay attention to detail and have poor writing skills.
If grammar is not an area you are confident with, it is worthwhile to ask a grammatically gifted friend or professional CV writer to take a peek. Remember, your CV is the first impression an employer receives of you, make sure you impress from the very beginning.
You should always tailor your CV / cover page for every job you apply for. This doesn’t mean massive changes to your content, but rather just highlighting the things from your experience that are the most relevant to that specific job.
This could be as simple as rearranging bullet points to being on top of a section – but you want to make sure the most important information you want the employer to see is the first thing they see.
Highlight your most relevant achievements (not literally with the digital highlighter tool) but maybe by having a subheading labelled “Achievements”
Sell yourself but avoid using highly descriptive language (more detail on this below). The ideal type you language to use is factual, informative and separates you from other candidates based on your experience.
Always, Always, ALWAYS remember that your CV is the first step towards securing an interview and will often guide the conversation you have when you do meet. If it’s something you would want to talk at interview stage, it sure as buckets needs to be in your CV.
Back it Up
When detailing your experience and highlighting your professional attributes, avoid using superlatives like “good team player”, “hard worker”, “great attention to detail” etc.
All of these things may well be true but in isolation, they mean absolutely nothing to a Hiring Manager. If you have to use these types of descriptors, back them up with examples such as “I work well in a team as evidenced by the ______ project, where alongside a team of 6 colleagues, we achieved ______ objective in less time than was allotted”.
Highlighting any projects you’ve worked on, or clients you’ve worked with and what you did for them is an excellent way of defining your experience without resorting to overly descriptive superlatives.
What Not to Include
We have very strong feelings about what shouldn’t be on a CV that not everyone agrees with. That’s okay and by no means are we providing hard and fast rules – take our advice with a grain of salt.
What we don’t like on CVs are usually things that might cause a Hiring Manager to judge your CV based on something other than your career experience. A few examples include:
- A photo of yourself
- Your date of birth
In a perfect world we should be able to put these and anything else on a CV, but a photo for example creates a personal impression rather than a professional impression – better to leave it out.
Your date of birth is similar, people may unknowingly carry prejudices about age and what people of certain ages are like – e.g. “young people are lazy” or “older people don’t pick up new skills”. Both assumptions are of course a complete load of cow pat, but to avoid this being a problem, let your skills do the talking instead.
Finally, always keep in mind the very simple fact that even if the Hiring Manager has the same working background as yourself, they don’t know your experience. Never assume that the reader of your CV will know what you’ve done. If important career experience is not on your CV, then you may as well have never done it in the past.
If you’d like further advice on constructing a CV, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org