We’ve all heard the usual stuff when it comes to writing a CV – keep it to two pages; check your spelling and grammar at least 147 times; make sure you make up include some wholesome “hobbies and interests” so that your prospective employer will know how much of an all-round top person you are.
But when it comes to CV writing, what’s really important?
Here are some simple things that you can do to really help you stand out from the crowd.
A bit like an online dating profile, these are the few sentences at the top of the page that summarise you – and why you should get the job. Your headline, if you will.
Some recruiters like them and read them in detail, some skim on past. Me? While I do read each one briefly (honestly, I do!), I don’t usually give personal profiles too much attention simply because they tend to all read the same – “Hardworking, enthusiastic, talented, dynamic…” All quite empty words that aren’t really going to make you stand out.
However, I also like to be proved wrong. A GOOD personal profile CAN get you noticed. If you are an articulate writer and can put together a short, to the point, profile that really captures a recruiting manager’s attention by bringing out something different about you, then go for it! If you can communicate your unique strengths and attributes in a well-structured way, that you know will be important to this particular company, then go do it! A good idea is also to ask a trusted work colleague or friend to help you define what qualities really make you stand out.
But if you really can’t think of anything to write other than the clichés, then don’t waste the space. Rather than wreck your brain to think of something, focus on perfecting the rest of your CV.
Let’s face it. You can’t fit everything in to two pages. Even if you’ve only had a little bit of work experience and have only just finished your studies, it’s hard even to include everything about you within 1,200 words or so.
Likewise, every job you apply for is going to be different. A good piece of advice is to really look in depth at the job description and company you are applying for, and each time, tailor a version of your CV to this job. Hard work, I know. But no-one ever said landing your dream job is easy. Not only will it bring out the specific skills that you have that are relevant to this role, but it will also show that you have worked hard to research the role, understand what is required, and that you really want it.
So if you know that ABC Software Company Ltd uses primarily Java, then talk about projects and work you have done in Java. If you can see from the job description that they take an Agile approach, then ensure you talk about projects you have worked on that were Agile. If their clients are in the financial services sector, and you’ve got some experience in the financial services sector…you see where I’m going here.
But don’t lie, of course! Nobody likes a liar. If you find yourself embellishing the truth, then this isn’t the job for you anyway!
I’ve seen loads of candidates take a job description of the role that they are currently working in, and simply copy and paste the “responsibilities” section in to their CV. Not good. Everyone knows on a broad sense what a software developer does. Or an Administrative Assistant. Or a Marketing Executive. Instead, you want to show where you have excelled, what you’ve achieved, what strengths you’ve shown, and what challenges you’ve overcome.
So when talking about your work experience, take each job you’ve done, and think, what were my achievements, key projects, milestones? What important deadlines did I meet, what targets did I achieve, or even exceed? What budgets did I work within? What challenges did I overcome? What feedback did I get from customers, peers or senior management?
Someone told me once that when summarising your work experience on your CV, you should try to start every line with an adjective – “Successfully, effectively, efficiently, pro-actively.” This is difficult, but great advice, and even if you don’t manage every line, it will help you to stay focused on the “It’s all about me.” Even when you worked in a team, (yes, I know, teamwork is important to every employer) try to keep the focus on your individual contributions. It’s YOUR application, and yours alone.
If you have only just finished your studies and have limited work experience, then don’t worry. You can apply this approach even when describing your extracurricular activities and interests.
And then there’s the “no-brainer” things –
- Make sure there are no grammar and spelling mistakes. Find a friend who studied English to check over it.
- Ensure that your dates of employment are correct, and that you can explain any gaps either on your CV or in an interview
- Keep your formatting consistent. A particular bug bear of mine! It makes me think that you’ve either copied and pasted, or just can’t be bothered. Make sure the font and line spacing are consistent.
- Use the space. Two pages isn’t a lot. And while you of course shouldn’t use tiny writing and cram it all in, think of what you can do to be articulate and structured. Use bullet points. Be selective (see above, you can’t include everything for every job). And above all, don’t have wasted space. I’ve seen some people use up the whole first half page for only their name and contact details!
- Don’t include your date of birth or a photo. We don’t need to know, and we don’t care. We just want to see if you can do the job.
- If you are straight out of university or school, then include your module results as well as overall grade. You will get asked about them in an interview anyway, and not including them just makes it look like you have something to hide.