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CV Writing Guide

by on February 26th, 2011

CVs are tools used to introduce you to potential employers. A CV is a document which demonstrates your qualifications, employment history and achievements. These days employers often receive a lot of CVs for each advertised position – jobs advertised can often attract hundreds of applicants. So your CV has to be just that little bit special to stand out if you want to obtain interviews.

Of course your CV can continue to work in your favour even after it has obtained an interview for you. It can help you at an interview by carefully focusing the interviewer’s mind on your good points and on your achievements. Once you have left the interview it will continue to work in your favour as the interviewer will probably reread it before making a decision, either on who should be invited to the second interview stage or who the job should be offered to.

It is therefore very important that you tailor your CV for the role you are applying for. Too often, individual send a generic CV for a position and when they are contacted by a recruiter/employer the individual often tells them a lot more relevant information to that position which is not on the CV – in some cases you could lose out because recruiters/employers do not see this on the CV and therefore you do not get a call.

Key things to include in your CV are:

  • Profile
  • Achievements
  • Skills
  • Work history with dates of employment
  • Skills / Qualifications
  • Interests

What do people look for in a CV?

When applying for a specific role we would advise you to highlight relevant skills in the CV to the advert or job description. For generic applications aim to demonstrate the breadth of your experience whilst highlighting those skills most relevant to the type of role you are ideally looking to secure.

Some practical issues

  • Brevity is essential – keep your CV to between 2 – 4 pages. Some people will demand a 2 page CV and that can be appropriate in some instances but any more than 4 or 5 pages is a definite non-starter.
  • Avoid unusual symbols or other presentation gimmicks such as italics or exclamation marks!
  • Take care that it does not look cramped; the layout should invite the reader to continue and not be too wordy.
  • Be a stickler for spelling and punctuation, especially with the names of people and organisations.

Your first page

This should contain all of your key details in a well laid out easy to read format which should be very focused on the type of role you are applying for as today’s job market is extremely competitive.

Address and education

Page one should list your personal details ideally over the first two lines; name, address, phone numbers and e-mail. Education and qualifications should be left to the end of the CV (unless you graduated in the last two or three years) and ordered to reflect ongoing professional development (i.e. MBA should be at the top, followed by degree etc.) and do not go into too much detail listing all GCSE and A levels – the grades will often suffice especially if you sat the exams 20 years ago!

Your ‘Personal Profile’

The next few sentences are often what will ensure that the reader is encouraged to read on. It is a snapshot of what you are and, everything that you have achieved in your career condensed into two or three sentences. Your profile should contain all of your USP’s (unique selling points) giving a brief overall view of the skills and experience that you offer, as well as the type of role that you seek. You should make it a concise summary of your capability and yet at the same time make it forward looking. You may need to rewrite it for each job that you apply for.

Example: ‘I am a highly successful Senior Business Change Programme Director experienced in delivering large-scale change initiatives across the financial services sector.’

The second part of your profile should state your career goal, and show evidence of self-analysis and forward thinking.

Example: ‘I am seeking a Programme Director or Change Director level role offering the opportunity to build upon my 10 years experience within change and ecommerce and where I can make a real difference to a company’

A clear objective shows you to be a candidate who has carefully considered their career plan and their next job move. You are serious about getting the right role.

Key achievements

This should list your main significant figures such as size of budgets and headcount managed. It should also list key outputs such as – reduced operating costs by £2m and improved efficiency by 23% over 12 months.

Key skills

This should outline your current key skills which are relevant to the role you are applying for and preferably laid out in bullets and easy to read.

Your career history

Ensure your CV is in chronological order with the year and months of employment visible

This should be written in reverse chronological order and should concentrate on the last five years. Start with your current employer, position and length of time in that role. Describe specific projects and demonstrate clear career progression by taking care to quantify your achievements.

Do not make the CV content heavy and too blocky to read as you will not be able to pick out key points/achievements

For each position you have worked at, use bullet points to break up what the actual role was and then underneath what were some key achievements – try to use as much facts/figures to back this up if applicable

Use of language

Try to start each sentence or point with a dynamic word that demonstrates your key skills (i.e. implemented, spearheaded, redesigned, created, launched, managed, developed and directed). Don’t forget useful adjectives such as; successfully, rapidly, smoothly and profitably. Avoid bland statements like ‘good team player’. You should, quantify these statements by stating how big the team was, what your position was within it, what was its objective and how was this met?

For example: ‘Promoted from Programme Manager to Programme Director to lead a team of 85 responsible for implementing a business critical system to our 55 offices worldwide including all business process change and training. I successfully delivered the programme within the 6 month roll-out timescale enabling the client to achieve a 21% improvement in efficiency and saving £200k.

Do not use different colours, fonts, use black and use Arial size 10

There is no need to attach a photo

Avoid self-opinion at all costs and concentrate on providing quantifiable proof of your achievements. Ensure you do not have anything on there that could offend anyone; no matter how trivial it may be to you, to someone else it could be very disrespectful.

And finally…

Interests: keep these to a maximum of 4 ideally and avoid anything controversial or too extreme. Pit Bull wrestling and snake charming may make you seem interesting and confident, but may appear to a client to reflect a thrill seeker who takes risks and not someone to be entrusted with high-level authority. Likewise Conservative Party or Accrington Stanley Football Club Supporter might not be as attractive to everyone as it is to you!

That said be honest if it is not potentially controversial (as in the above examples) then interests are worth mentioning as they show you have a life outside of work and you never know when the interviewer has the same interest.

Referees: a matter for personal consideration. Put ‘Excellent Referees Available on Request’ if you wish to preserve confidentiality or make it clear that you do not wish references to be taken up prior to job offer being accepted.

Overall, your CV is a promotional document that sells you to potential employers. It should be succinct, clear, without spelling mistakes and absolutely correct in its detail. After all, initially it is what is going to get you that interview. Good luck!


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