In search of the perfect CV

If
anyone should know the right ingredients for an eye-catching CV it ought to be
an HR professional – so heaven help you if their yours isn’t top notch. Simon
Kent offers some tips on making that résumé stand out from the crowd.

Giving
HR professionals advice on how to create a winning CV calls to mind a phrase to
do with encouraging elderly female relatives to do strange things with dairy
produce from chickens. The fact that many HR professionals have seen more CVs
than they have had hot dinners, however, means it is imperative that their own
CVs should be of the highest quality.

The
important stuff

Tailor
your CV to each new job:
As your career progresses, competition between
candidates will increase and employers will be on the look-out for candidates
who best fit their organisation and position. Your CV needs to key into the
organisation and the position for which you are applying with greater accuracy.

Never
let your CV go over two pages:
According to one source, 60 per cent of the
first page of a CV registers on a first read and only 40 per cent of the second
page. Such a diminishing return is bad news, but demonstrates that page three
really will not be worth writing. It is also unlikely that your prospective
employer will want to employ someone who cannot be concise.

Keep
it relevant:
The CV is intended to get you to the next stage of application
– the interview. It is not intended to give a full picture of yourself as a
person. At this stage the employer wants to identify individuals with the
skills and aptitude for the job. Present the picture of a competent and
professional applicant and don’t go overboard with unnecessary details.

Pay
attention to structure:
CVs contain a combination of the following
elements:
– Contact details
– Employment history
– Training and development undertaken
– Education and qualifications
– Personal details
– Referees

In
the vast majority of cases, following this order will enable you to tell a good
story about yourself through your CV. As your career progresses the emphasis
attached to each section will vary. Formal education and qualifications will
become less important, first jobs will fade into the background rather than
illustrating your key skills. As this process occurs be sure to summarise parts
of your CV in order to emphasise your most current and relevant experience.

Don’t
bury your talent:
Make sure your best qualities and achievements are there
on page one, ready to grab attention. Don’t meander through your career
expecting the reader to wait until the end for a reason to interview you. Let
this dictate the structure of your CV – determining whether your employment
history should come before your education and qualifications.

Concentrate
on your achievements:
Focus on projects you initiated and those to which
you made a significant contribution. Be clear and concise about the outcomes of
your work. Stating your responsibilities does not show you are a good worker,
simply that you had those responsibilities. Where possible, illustrate how your
work has resulted in achievements beyond identified targets. Show how you have
brought value to the organisation which cannot be described through facts and
figures – ie, increased employee satisfaction, increased team work, decreasing
hierarchical structures.

The
obvious stuff
(and so easy to overlook!)

Be
honest and factual:
Don’t elaborate on your achievements or try to tell
your reader what to think through use of adjectives. Your reader is less likely
to think your record is "impressive" if you say it is.

Check
and double check spelling and grammar:
Use a dictionary if you have any
doubts. Spell checkers are not foolproof and will change your name if you’re
not paying attention. Get your CV read by someone else before you send it off –
they don’t need to know anything about the job you’re applying for, just
provide feedback on how you come across.

Throughout
your CV try to avoid the following:


Repeated use of "I" – or any other phrase, particularly when
describing your achievements.


Jargon – HR jargon may be necessary to show you know your area, but don’t
overdo it. For high-level appointments, your CV will be read by company
directors and executives who may not be familiar with this vocabulary. Explain
your worth in business terms. Do not allow the way you communicate in your
current job to pollute your CV. References to "colleagues" instead of
"subordinates" may be inappropriate or confusing for some
organisations.


Humour – a quick gag wastes space and gives the impression you aren’t taking
the application or yourself seriously. Wait until interview to allow your
personality to show. It is also far easier to judge another person’s sense of
humour in a face-to-face situation.


Gaps – while employers may not expect a continuous career progression through
the HR ranks, they will question time periods which are left unaccounted for.
Don’t be afraid to explain career breaks – better to do this than raise your
reader’s suspicions.

Too
much detail – You don’t need to list every single day’s training you have
received or absolutely everything you did in a certain job. Keep it relevant,
keep it focused. Similarly, don’t go overboard with personal interests. Too
much extra-curricula activities may worry an employer as to how much work
you’re planning to do for them. The more information you give on your CV, the
more material your prospective employer has to use against you at the interview
stage. Make sure they can only ask you what you want to be asked.

Simon’s
top tips

Less
is more
– be concise and interest your reader

Tailor
your CV
– both according to the job you want and the stage in your career

Don’t
use humour
– save the quips for later

Get
a second (third and even fourth) opinion

Presentation
is key
use good quality paper, a single clear font (no smaller than size
12), good sized margins and well laid out. Make sure these elements are
continued in your covering letter. If you’re sending your CV in electronic form
use a text file (.txt), Word 95 file or earlier. Newer files may not be
readable by employers’ systems.

Be
comfortable with your CV
. Is it who you are?

Don’t
send a photo
unless requested.

Make
sure it is clear how to contact you
. If you don’t want them calling you at
work, give them an effective alternative.

Further
reading

Preparing
your own CV
by Rebecca Corfield. Kogan Page
The perfect CV by Max Eggert. Arrow
The ultimate CV for managers and professionals. How to Books

Simon
Kent is a freelance journalist and has written a range of careers books for Kogan
Page including
Odd jobs, Creating your career and Getting a top
job in the arts and media

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