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Creating a winning CV is an important first step to advancing your career. Here are some top tips to help you make your CV a success.
The look of the CV is important. If in doubt, keep it simple. Choose a clear typeface, don´t be tempted to use anything but black text, avoid any other ‘gimmicks’ and make 100% sure that there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes.
If you are providing a hard copy of your CV, use good quality paper and always print off a clean copy with no handwritten alterations/updates.
When you have written your CV, check the following points:
- Is the layout clear?
- Do the relevant points stand out?
- Is the language clear and understandable?
- Are your skills and achievements emphasised?
- Can the employer see the key points at a glance, or does the information have to be searched for and guessed at?
- Is the document free of qualifying words such as fairly, usually and hopefully?
- Is it well presented, smart and professional looking?
What is a good CV?
A good CV is simply one that gets you an interview for the job you want.
Your aim, then, is to make sure that your CV clearly shows the recipient that you know how to do the job. You need to know what to put in, what to leave out and how to highlight your skills, experience and qualifications to the best advantage.
This brief general guide will help you put together your best CV, putting the most important information first and bearing in mind the three main aims: to attract attention, create a good impression and present your relevant skills and qualities clearly and concisely.
Different types of jobs require different styles of CV, but regardless of the industry sector in which you work, there are a number of features common to all good CVs.
The aim of a CV
Imagine you´re the employer for a moment. You have 150 CVs on your desk and from all of these you have to choose just a handful to interview further. What are you looking for? How do you decide?
As the applicant, your aim is to clearly show that you are the right person for the job, so your CV should demonstrate that you have:
- The specific skills needed for the job
- The right sort of experience
- The right personal qualities
- An understanding of the specific requirements of the job.
But you must also keep it simple. It should be:
- Short and concise – ideally no more than two A4 pages
- Clear – typewritten and laid out with wide margins, section headings and
- Information in logical order
- Relevant – address the employer´s main question: can you do the job?
- Choosing your words
Take care with the language you use, because words convey more than their literal meaning. This is easy to do when describing yourself but harder when describing your achievements. The boxes below indicate the sort of words and phrases you should aim for when you talk about yourself, your skills and your achievements. They are not exhaustive lists, but guidance on the tone you should aim for.
These words are examples of personal attributes often seen as positive and useful in the workplace. Choose those that suit you best:
- Adaptable Accurate
- Confident Decisive
- Enthusiastic Efficient
- Flexible Friendly
- Hardworking Innovative
- Motivated Organised
- Perceptive Professional
- Punctual Responsible
- Reliable Smart
- Successful Team worker
- Trustworthy Willing to learn
These are examples of positive, active words that you can use to describe your responsibilities:
- Achieved Broadened
- Completed Co-ordinated
- Demonstrated Expanded
- Evaluated Formulated
- Generated Implemented
- Launched Managed
- Negotiated Organised
- Planned Represented
- Shaped Trained
- Upgraded Co-ordinated
- Formulated Managed
- Represented Won
Instead of saying ‘ I am good at’, when describing your strengths you could say:
- Skilled at…
- Adept at…
- Expert in…
- Competent in…
Employers are looking for people who can:
- Product turnover
- Market opportunities
- Staff turnover
- Time taken
- Potential problems
- Competitive advantage
- Appearance and / or marketability
- Information flow
- Staff performance
- Teamwork and relationships
Problems you might encounter
Often, you can overcome problems by emphasising some sections of your CV and playing down others. These are some of the most common problems, and how to tackle them:
1. My CV would fill four pages, at least
Solution: Highlight the skills most relevant to the job you are applying for. Detail your recent experience and summarise everything else – your recent activities are more interesting to an employer than what you did years ago.
2. My work history is not straightforward
Solution: Summarise the main themes of your career history under the heading ‘profile´ at the top of your CV. Organise the skills and experience you have acquired into groupings under appropriate headings, covering the full range. For example, use the headings ‘sales´ and ‘business management´ under key skills. If you have a wide range of skills, select those that are most appropriate for the job you are applying for.
3. I´ve had a lot of jobs
Solution: Condense your employment record and focus on the skills you have achieved through your experience. Only give details of your most recent and most relevant positions and lump together jobs done 10 or 15 years ago, or in a period when you changed job frequently, as ‘various´.
4. I´m changing careers
Solution: Use a heading, ‘career objective´, at the head of your CV to make your new direction clear. Pick out the skills, qualities and achievements that are most appropriate to your career and emphasise these.
5. My last job was actually a bit of a step backwards (or sideways)
Solution: This is true for many people these days. Don´t draw attention to it. Put your abilities and achievements in a separate, major section and just summarise the rest of your employment details.
6. I´ve had gaps between jobs
Solution: If the gaps include voluntary work, training or relevant experience – travel, for example – put these down as part of your skills, qualifications and experience.
7. Most of the jobs I´ve done have been very much the same
Solution: Concentrate on your key skills and achievements and simply summarise your actual career history. Pay particular attention to the Key Skills section on your CV as a place to bring together all of the achievements and abilities learned over the course of your career.
8. I don´t have many qualifications
Solution: Concentrate on what you do have. Emphasise your practical skills and experience; these are often more valuable to an employer than theoretical knowledge anyway. If your lack of qualifications is becoming a serious handicap to your progress, consider applying for further training. This can, increasingly, be undertaken in the workplace without the need to go back to full-time education for two or three years. You may also find that your existing experience can be counted towards a qualification.
9. I´m overqualified for the job I want
Solution: Emphasise the relevant practical skills and experience that you have for the job. Focus attention on your Key Skills section, and choose the skills that fit the job you are applying for. ‘Excess´ qualifications can be discreetly mentioned in the education section. Highlight, instead, any relevant on-the-job training you have had.