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In my personal career within the recruitment sector, I have seen literally thousands of CV’s. These have varied dramatically, from the good, to the bad, to the (quite frankly) straight binable. Here are my professional CV writing tips (with examples) to help secure your dream job. By Matthew Reeves.

CV writing

CV writing is not a science; however, it has to be accomplished in a certain worthwhile manner (both for you and the end recipient). After all, this document is a presentation of You. It is the first impression anyone (who is not acquainted with you) will get of you as a person and a professional. As a result, you need to ensure you spend appropriate time on it. If you’re not feeling confident about writing it in the first instance, seek valued assistance. Seek out a trusted, reputable, long standing Recruiter, HR professional or Teacher. Trust me on this!

The words ‘Curriculum Vitae’ stem from early 20th Century Latin. They translate as, ‘course of life’. The noun dictionary description of the meaning is, “A CV is a written overview of someone’s life’s work, academic formation, publications, qualifications, etc.”

With this in mind, it is important that these things highlighted above are in your document. They should stand as the minimum requirement consideration when writing your own document.

How to layout your CV

A basic rule of thumb, follow the below running order when formatting your CV:

  • Name
  • Address (then contact details – include dialing/area codes if required)
  • Email address
  • Education (Including seat of learning/location/dates/overview of qualifications awarded). If you have a university/college education level, this should be listed first, followed by secondary school level achievements
  • Workplace qualifications/training (again with dates achieved)
  • Personal statement – not war and peace in length! A quick overview encapsulating your achievements/experience/what you bring to the table. This should be written in the 3rd person perspective – just enough to tantalise and build a brief outline of YOU
  • Key skills – not always necessary to include, however, brief bullet points can add value to the aforementioned personal statement that encompass your depth/breadth
  • Career to date – starting with your current role. Ensure you have the employer/company name, followed by dates (from/to). The job role should be next, then a brief description of the role with bullet point key aspects and achievements
  • Hobbies/interests
  • Referees/references

How many pages should a Professional CV have?

The ‘keep it to one/two pages’ debate. I do not stand with this personally as a Recruiter. It’s just my personal view! I feel that, if a CV is well written and well presented, the reader will be engaged. This will then make the reader better able to make an informed decision as to whether you are a suited candidate for their opportunity. Plus, some people have worked longer, so naturally their life experience will be greater, or more complex, and usually reflected in their career journey. It is worth highlighting your depth of experience/skill levels/accomplishments.

For me, it’s about effectively tailoring your CV; sending the appropriate content to ‘mirror the role’ that you are applying for. It should not be a one-size fits all document. You should create a ‘master’ version of all your experience and accomplishments, then tailor the CV content depending on the roles you are applying for. Mirror the language (or buzz wording) that the opportunity is advertising/requiring. This will create a quick rapport with those sifting your application and reviewing its viability.

The best CVs brag!

Writing about yourself can be hard. We all sometimes feel awkward about listing our achievements or reflecting on our accomplishments. It’s common to be genuinely modest when it comes to this.

However, STOP!

Your CV is your calling card; not one to be disposed of, or unread lightly. Therefore, it needs to stand out. It needs to brag about what you have done, what you’ve accomplished, contributed, succeeded with, managed, corrected. It should highlight how you’ve trained, coached, mentored, trouble shot, problem solved, increased and cost managed, Whatever you have done in a role of significance and pertinence, must be highlighted in it. Again, tailor/edit this to the role you are applying for.

As an example, take the original CV bullet point below:

  • In role as Sales Manager, raised profitability and improved sales YoY against targets

How that could read stronger

  • In role as Sales Manager exceeded profitability by 10% YoY. This was against a target of £500k in 2019, £450k 2018, and £400k in my first year in 2017.

Better? Same meaning, but better illustrative information. You are quantifying an achievement, rather than ambivalently commenting on it.

This methodology can be utilised across all CV’s in most instances. It will better showcase achievements. It prevents ‘grey’ wording or, god forbid, a long monologue description/story of a job. These are big turn offs to Recruiters/Hiring Managers/Decision Makers. They take too long to decipher and do not get to the point (or tell anything quickly to the reader).

Keep your layout neat, tidy, and not busy

Concise, clear and clean is the way. I am not a fan of columns on a page. I don’t like sub sections – laid out like a newspaper with jazzy graphics, borders, boxes, graphs, pie-charts etc. I also know hiring managers don’t either.

The same goes for fonts (using italics etc). Keep it one size: one font all the way through your document. Keep the font legible in a popular font use, not massive in size either (11 -12 points is fine). Use bold type only as a headline, not to illustrate a point, as this comes across as shouting.

Should I include a picture in my CV?

In Europe and the USA, this is more of a ‘thing’ on resumes/CVs. In the UK, it is very much a take it or leave it scenario, unless it’s specifically requested. Again, I am not swayed either way. I believe you should be hired on ability first, not looks, to ensure you fit into an organisation.

Basic CV tips

Wording your CV correctly, as well as checking your grammar, spelling, and punctuation is particularly important. You do not know whom will be reviewing your CV details when you send them. I have seen so many CVs over the years where spelling errors proliferate, and even basic full stops are not utilised in a document. I appreciate it is not an English exam (or a University thesis), but the basics apply here. They indicate to the reader, your presentation, attention to detail, and your communication abilities. Whilst carrying out a job role, you are going to be presenting data, information, using multi-media, emails, etc, whilst representing a business or leading in a role.

The biggest no-no, and the elephant in the room as I write this blog, is do not, under any pretext or circumstance, lie on your CV (about your experience, your capabilities, or skill sets). You could, potentially, cost someone innocent of this, their livelihood, or even worse their life, including your own. It is not worth it. Ever.

You must explain ‘gaps’ on your CV timeline, e.g. whether this was for travelling, time out to raise children, being unemployed/redundant, or long-term sickness/recuperation. This shows a level of integrity, honesty, and transparency, and helps those reviewing your details to get a balanced picture, or have better empathy, when making a short-listing decision to meet you potentially. Rather than, seeing a gap, and jumping to a suspicious, inconclusive, assumption on the “why” your CV has a gap. It looks like you are hiding something.

5 Do’s and Don’ts when composing a CV

Do’s:

  1. Keep your CV in keeping with the role you are applying for. Tailor your CV appropriately
  2. Make sure the CV is neatly presented, well laid out, clean, concise, and easy to decipher
  3. Brag about your achievements, do not be modest, and quantify successes
  4. Sell yourself. Grab the reader’s attention
  5. Use wording that is assertive, and phrase sentences so that they are not wishy-washy, or ambivalent

Don’ts:

  1. Do not rush writing your document, draft, then redraft to hone the content, and impact it will make.
  2. Do not use mixes of fonts, italics, jazzy graphics, borders, or make the CV confusing to follow and grasp at first glance.
  3. Do not use lazy punctuation, abbreviations, grammar, slang, emoji’s, or mis-spell. With technology available today, there is no excuse.
  4. Use wording that is vague, grey in context, or could be interpreted that you were not responsible, or took control, delivered the result. That could be interpreted that you were a smaller contributor to the outcome.
  5. DO NOT LIE on your CV. Ever. Do not leave unexplained gaps in your career timeline.

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