There are many schools of thought on how to make a good CV, and just as many on what constitutes
a bad one. Fear not, fretful job seekers! Behold our ten commandments for a great CV, bequeathed
to you in the hope that it’ll make struggling with that important document just a little bit easier.
Get personal – it’s all about you
Let’s start at the top. Your personal statement isn’t an easy part of a CV to nail, but it’s important to
get it as well done as possible. It only needs to be a few sentences long – basically an overview of
who you are, where you’re aiming to go, and what you can offer an organisation.
You are your own best advertisement, and you need to impress your recipient early in the page.
Basically you’re selling yourself in one bite-sized morsel, like you’re a puppy for sale, or competing to
be Miss Universe.
The skills to pay the bills
The modern school of thought on a strong CV is that details on your skillset should be placed above
your employment history in your document – that’s how important your skills are. Go through the
job advertisement with a fine tooth comb and see if you can match the skills the position requires
and directly with your personal strengths.
For example, a request to be ‘Able to manage a team effectively’ could result in ‘Enjoyed and thrived
in a leadership role managing a staff of six in my last position to exceed their sales targets for two
‘Able to communicate in writing’ could translate for your CV profile as ‘Responsible for issuing press
releases and managing my previous organisation’s social media accounts.’
The amount of space spent on your employment history is dependent on how much of it you have. If
you’re a newish graduate, it’s imperative to mention every position you’ve held, including
internships and work experience. If you’ve been in the business for 20-plus years, those few jobs you
had when you were first starting out probably don’t need to be mentioned in detail.
Don’t brush over gaps in your work history. These can be a red flag to your reader but if explained in
a cover letter, aren’t generally seen as a liability. PS: Don’t fudge any employment dates.
Are your interests that interesting?
Including your personal interests in your CV is a matter of preference. You may spend your free time
concocting the ultimate gin cocktails and judging the real housewives of wherever from the comfort
of your couch, but unless the job you’re going for is in mixology or, er, professional reality TV
viewing, it’s not really relevant. Are some better than others? No. Don’t think if you write down playing chess, fine wine tasting, and
going to church that you’re going to have a leg up on other applicants. That said, someone who likes
travel, plays football and enjoys reading can say to the recipient that they’re keen on teamwork,
tackling new environments and learning.
Keep it simple, stupid
Make your text bite sized, digestible and easy to process. Screeds of information is too much,
particularly if your document’s being read off a screen. Everything’s in there for a reason and
everything needs to pack a punch. Many a CV has been browsed in our house after hours via mobile
phone, so that can be a screen size you need to consider when laying out and formatting your
document. Often the person you want to lay eyeballs on your CV isn’t the first to screen it, so it
needs to be punchy enough to get through the gatekeeper.
How? Bullet point your information (hard if you’re wordy like me, but possible). Also, keep your
document to no more than two pages in length. And it might seem obvious, but stick to a basic font.
What are the things you can do well which make you particularly suited to this position?
You don’t have to rewrite your document every time you apply for something new – it’s just a
matter of highlighting your strengths relevant to that particular position. If they’re looking for
tangible results, provide them with numbers and percentages. If it’s a strong leader they’re after,
make a point of mentioning the results your team achieved under your management.
Get it right
I can’t stress enough the importance of accuracy when it comes to your CV. When even our major
national newspaper frequently lets a typo or two slip through the gate, spelling and grammar may
seem to be not such a big deal. It totally is. Do not, I repeat not, put all your faith in spellcheck.
When recruiters or potential employers take mere seconds to initially browse your CV, errors in
spelling and grammar mean lack of attention to detail on your part.
It goes without saying that your CV is not the place for any nicknames, text lingo or emojis.
It’s the little things
Likewise, a mistake in your contact email address or phone number is a big boo-boo. If an email
bounces back or a mobile number is invalid, you’d best think someone won’t necessarily bother
trying to chase you down. Keep your contact info current, friends.
‘References available on request’ is enough to provide on a CV. If the recipient is interested, they can
contact you for the relevant info. If you are going to provide contact details for your references
make sure they’re accurate – and just as importantly, make sure they’ve had a heads up someone
may be getting in touch.
Links on the loose
Recruiters and potential employers can, will and do check your social media accounts if they are
interested in you for a position. If your profile is public, perhaps take down any images which you’d
rather a potential employer wouldn’t see. Alternatively, set your profile to private.
A cover letter isn’t strictly part of your CV, but the two are naturally entwined as part of the package
you should send off to any potential job vacancy. Ideally a cover letter should be written and
adjusted specifically for each position you apply for. Tailor your text to highlight why you’d be
perfect for this particular position and the strengths you could bring to the table.
That said, there’s some things that perhaps need not be mentioned. We still laugh about a CV which
crossed our desks years ago for a job at a certain media organisation. The applicant asked that, if
successful, the position could be deferred for three to six months as he was about to be sentenced
for a GBH conviction and would probably be doing prison time.
He didn’t get the job.
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