Updated on 24 August 2012
Every time you find yourself between jobs or you are considering moving on from your current position, you will need to brush up your CV to not only include new job skills and career information, but also to adapt the CV to the needs of the changing job market and to an average recruiter’s attention span.
In recent years, CV writing has grown into a job skill of its own. With a significant portion of recruitment activities moving to the web and CV submission becoming faster and easier, recruiters usually end up swamped with job applications and need to perform a triage of sorts to get through a pile of unsuitable candidates and find the few who will make it to the next round.
On average, a recruiter will spend 30 seconds or less with each CV. Regardless of the CV format and your skills and experience, within those 30 seconds you can appear either as a prospective employee or as background noise in the recruiter’s daily routine. This is why CV writing has evolved from being merely a record of your qualifications and job experience to being a tool that creates an effective first impression, one that will convince the recruiter or employer to invite you to a job interview.
CV template and formats
When it comes to CV format, there is only one rule: make it scannable. The CV template you use needs to accomplish one thing, and that is to highlight the most relevant information about your career and qualifications, and to make it stand out on the page. The most relevant information always needs to be on the first page, and it needs to be the first thing that catches the recruiter’s eye in your CV.
Ideally, a CV should not be shorter than a page and a half or longer than three pages. If you are printing it out, make sure that the paper is clean and not too thin. When it comes to layout, the font size you use should be between 10,5 and 12, with the exception of headings, which should be bigger. The line spacing should not make your CV seem too thin or too stuffed with unnecessary details.
Your career information will be easier to scan and the CV will appear more elegant if you use bullet points instead of long sentences with one too many commas. Needless to say, grammar and spelling errors will not leave a good impression on anyone, so it is always a good idea to go over the whole document a few times and make sure that there aren’t any.
What to include in a CV
Your CV needs to include several things: your name, address, contact information (telephone number, e-mail address), education and work experience.
Applicants often take the extra step and include references from a previous employer, their salary expectations, a list of hobbies, a photograph, marital status, and various other bits of personal information, in their resume. More often than not, these are not only redundant, but can also distract the recruiter from the most relevant part of your CV. For this reason, unless the job advertisement specifically asks that you include a photo, references, or salary expectations and career objectives, you are much better off leaving them out. The purpose of the CV is to get you a job interview, not the job itself, and your objectives and expectations can wait until you have made it to the next round.
When it comes to format of the work experience section, you have two choices: chronological or functional. Unless you don’t have any relevant experience or you just graduated, your work experience should be laid out in reverse chronological order, from your most recent position to your first job. If you have changed many jobs in the course of your career and your early employment does not include experience relevant to the position to which you are applying, you can leave those jobs out.
If, on the other hand, you are new to the job market or changing careers, instead of listing your previous jobs chronologically, you can opt for the functional CV and break down your work experience into related areas of interest (e.g. teaching, marketing, communications). This serves a very specific purpose: it highlights the skills you have acquired as opposed to the job qualifications which you do not necessarily have. If your skills are in any way a match to the advertised position, they are more likely to land you a job interview than a list of unrelated previous jobs.
Work experience: How to make the most of it
Work experience is the most important section of your CV, the one that will most frequently get you the job you are applying for. Even if you have the necessary qualifications and professional experience, there are several things you can do to improve your odds and stand out among other qualified candidates.
The first one is to make the section compelling to read. Job seekers sometimes think of the work experience section as a list of their previous jobs. While it is obvious to them what these jobs entailed, recruiters will not necessarily have this knowledge, so it is a good idea to provide them with some insight into your previous roles.
The trick here is to focus on your achievements. Don’t just describe your daily routine, mention what you accomplished and what value your skills added to your previous employers. Focus on the results, not the tasks you performed. Anything that emphasizes your analytical skills and work ethics is a plus. And make your CV dynamic. Don’t just list facts, tell the recruiter a story. Instead of saying that your old job entailed developing a marketing strategy with the goal of increasing sales for a client, and listing the things you did to make it happen, you can present the facts in a more dynamic way, with an emphasis on action and results. For example, ‘‘I led my department to a 10% sales increase by implementing a new marketing strategy’’ will always be more effective than a description of your daily tasks. It also tells the recruiter or prospective employer that you are a quality candidate, one focused on results and achievement, not just on getting through the day.
Finally, tailor your CV to the requirements of the specific job for which you are applying. Read the job advertisement very carefully and think about ways you can match your qualifications and experience to the requirements of the job at hand.
And always keep in mind that, first and foremost, your CV needs to be a record of achievement. It does not need to summarize your entire career, only to showcase the successes that will make the recruiter take notice and invite you to a job interview.
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