Understanding how to put yourself forward in the best way to a potential employer is a vital part of a job application. Generally, an employer will base their decision on shortlisting a candidate based on the information in their CV. Let us help you get it right from the start.
What is a CV for?
A CV, or resume, is quite simply an ‘advert’ to sell yourself to an employer. The purpose of your CV is to make you attractive, interesting, worth considering to the company and so receive a job interview. An employer may have several hundred enquiries about a single job, he or she will only choose a few people who appear suitable for interview. Therefore, your CV must be as good as you can make it.
If you are a student, there is probably a career advice office in your place of study. They are there to help. They may have fact-sheets of advice on how to prepare a CV. Make full use of them. However, employers do not want to see CVs which are all written in exactly the same way. Therefore, do not just copy standard CV samples! Your CV should be your own, personal, and a little bit different.
A CV should be well laid out and printed on a good quality printer. Do use bold and/or underline print for headings. Do not use lots of different font types and sizes. You are not designing a magazine cover! Do use plenty of white space, and a good border round the page. Do use the spell-check on your computer! (Or check that the spelling is correct in some way) Consider using ‘bullets’ to start sub-sections or lists.
As you are using a computer or word-processor, you can easily ‘customise’ your CV if necessary, and change the layout and the way you write your CV for different employers.
Picture yourself to be a busy manager in the employer’s office. He (or she) may have to read through 100 CVs in half an hour, and will have two piles – ‘possibles’ and ‘waste-bin’.
Chop your CV up into easily digestible morsels (bullets, short paragraphs and note form) and give it a clear logical layout, with just the relevant information to make it easy for the selector to read. If you do this, you will have a much greater chance of interview.
When you have written a first attempt at your CV, get someone else to look at it, and tell you how to make it better. Ask your friends, your tutors or teachers, your career office, family friends in business. What you have written may seem simple and obvious to you, but not to an employer! Go through it again and again with a red pen, making it shorter, more readable, more understandable!
Before you start:
Sit down with a piece of paper. Look at the job(s) that you are applying for. Consider how your skills, education, and experience compare with the skills that the job requires. How much information do you have about the job description?
Sometimes employers do not give enough information. Ask for more detail if needed. Spend time researching detail about the job(s) that interest you and information about the employer – their structure, products, successes, and approach – from:
- Their own publicity, reports and publications
- A library (business reports, trade papers)
- College career office
- Newspaper reports
- The Internet
What to include:
Name, home address, phone number, email address.
Choose a sensible email address! Believe it or not some people spend hours constructing a professional CV and then ruin it by having a ridiculous email address for the employer to respond to. Addresses such as boozyben@ or lovebunny@ are not going to show you in a good light to an employer.
Make sure your voicemail is professional, if an employer calls to speak to you they don’t want to hear your favourite music or encounter some form of comedy routine.
Give places of education where you have studied – most recent education first. Include subject options taken in each year of your course. Include any special project, thesis, or dissertation work. Include grades, subjects taken and passed. Earlier courses, taken at say age 15-16, may not need much detail.
Use action words such as developed, planned and organised.
Even work in a shop, bar or restaurant will involve working in a team, providing a quality service to customers, and dealing tactfully with complaints. Don’t mention the routine, non-people tasks (cleaning the tables) unless you are applying for a casual summer job in a restaurant or similar.
Try to relate the skills to the job. A finance job will involve numeracy, analytical and problem solving skills so focus on these whereas for a marketing role you would place a bit more emphasis on persuading and negotiating skills.
They will be particularly interested in activities where you have leadership or responsibility, or which involve you in relating to others in a team. A one-person interest, such as stamp-collecting, may be of less interest to them, unless it connects with the work you wish to do. Give only enough detail to explain. (If you were captain of a sports team, they do not want to know the exact date you started, how many games you played, and how many wins you had! They will ask at the interview, if they are interested.) If you have published any articles, jointly or by yourself, give details.
If you have been involved in any type of volunteer work, do give details.
The usual ones to mention are languages, computing (e.g. “good working knowledge of MS Access and Excel, plus basic web page design skills” and driving (“full current clean driving licence”).
If you are a mature candidate or have lots of relevant skills to offer, a skills-based CV may work for you.
Usually give two names – two from any work situation you have had. Or if this does not apply, then an older family friend who has known you for some time. Make sure that referees are willing to give you a reference. Give their day and evening phone numbers if possible.
Maybe all you need to say will fit onto one sheet of A4. But do not crowd it – you will probably need two sheets. Do not normally go longer than this. Put page numbers at the bottom of the pages – a little detail that may impress.
There are two main styles of CV, with variations within them:
- Chronological – Information is included under general headings – education, work experience, etc., with the most recent events first.
- Skills based – You think through the necessary skills needed for the job you are applying for. Then you list all your personal details under these skill headings. This is called ‘targeting your CV’, and is becoming more common.
It can be good to start with a Personal Profile/Objective statement. This is a two or three sentence overview of your skills, qualities, hopes, and plans. It should encourage the employer to read the rest.
You may vary the style according to the type of job, and what is accepted in your country and culture. So a big company would normally expect a formal CV on white paper. But, just perhaps, a CV applying for a television production job, or graphic designer, could be less formal – coloured paper, unusual design, etc! Consider using a two column table to list your educational qualifications and courses taken.