It is well known that Curriculum Vitae translates as ‘the course of life’, but what clues does this give you about the ideal structure and content of your CV? In truth, not very many! I say this because I believe it is important not to treat your CV like a story telling exercise. Also, despite CVs being a hugely important part of job seeking for most of us (this is not likely to change any time soon), the average candidate is not actually getting any better at writing one. Many schools do not appear to teach these skills any more. If they do, it’s extremely basic and lacking any foundation in the real world of employment decision making. The same goes for colleges and universities.
From my experience of reading thousands of CVs whilst recruiting for various jobs, I would like to set out some of the fundamentals:
Don’t tell the story - sell your skills
Imagine the reader of the CV - your potential next employer. It would be great if they were sitting reading your CV patiently searching for positive ways to interpret any of the vague statements that you may have made; giving you the benefit of the doubt that you may be the person who they are looking for so, hey - they might as well see you. They are not. Your proposition needs to be significantly stronger than this to be successful. It needs to be a persuasive sales document that makes it a total no-brainer that they will see you because it will benefit their business to do so.
How can you ensure this happens? There really is no mystery to it - they have a set of criteria that they are scoring your CV against. Take the time to understand what this is and give them this information in a credible way, with appropriate evidence.
Invest time in finding the best way to present your skillset
It’s tempting to believe that the more applications we fire off, the better will be our chances of getting a new job. This would only be true however if we believed that employers made decisions to a large extent at random. Hence, this is not the case.
It can be comforting to feel that we have ‘done all we can’ by responding to lots of adverts. You may even go as far as believing it is the employers’ fault for being so rude as to not respond to you. In truth, employers know the difference between a one off, specific application written specifically for them and a standard letter and CV that has been used 100 times before. When I recruit I always, 100% of the time respond to the former and rarely to the latter unless they call me.
If someone has not bothered to provide an application that addresses the criteria that I spent time providing, I feel no obligation whatsoever to contact them. Employers have businesses to run. You can either demonstrate how you will help them in this endeavour or you will be one of the hundreds that the employer may want to help and may be able to provide good advice to but will not have the time to do so.
Don’t use templates
Guidance and templates abound. What results do they produce? A lot of documents that look the same but are not particularly persuasive. Templates are a constraint on your ability to produce a convincing impression of what you have to offer. They persuade candidates that once they have finished filling in the gaps, they are left with a complete CV, ready for use. This is never the case.
A CV is not an objective list of facts. Of course it’s not – it’s written with a particular purpose in mind – to get you an interview. So let’s not treat it like a list of facts. There is no value in following supposed rules about what should and shouldn’t be included. We are all different and this should be reflected in the CV.
I define a CV as an opportunity to write persuasively about why you should be shortlisted for a role, providing credible evidence in support of this. Write it with this in mind and you will soon see a more impactful result.
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