In case you’ve missed it, we’re fast approaching a brand new year – something many people will want to mark with a brand new job. Of course this means starting work on a CV, which can be a daunting task…particularly when your career, with all its peculiar ups and downs, can start to feel longer than the Queen’s reign.
Every career story is different, and as someone who has changed career twice, I understand the challenges you’re facing if your career path has strayed from convention every now and again!
I'm a CV writer and former Head of HR, and throughout my career I’ve seen and written CVs for some very interesting people. It’s wonderful to get people talking about everything they’ve achieved, particularly when they’d previously pushed all their fantastic accomplishments into the process of a simple ‘working day’.
So as we move into preparations for 2017, I thought I’d put my own experience to good use and compile a list of some of the very best CV advice. Think of it as a ‘Greatest Hits’ countdown if you will, though these tips are listed in no particular order of importance.
Don’t just cobble together a bland list of employment dates and a few skills, then send them haphazardly out to any job you vaguely think you could do. Not only is this the worst way to find a job, but it’s not doing you any justice whatsoever.
In short, don’t start work on a CV without knowing exactly what you want it to do for you. What sort of company do you want to work for, with what kind of people? What kind of role are you really looking for? Don’t just think job titles, think about the day-to-day responsibilities and how your skills and achievements will contribute.
Taking a few moments to think about what you actually want will help you focus, meaning your CV will be crafted with that all-too-rare combination of care, enthusiasm and relevance.
9. Do your research
Limiting yourself to online job boards means you’re only seeing a fraction of all the potential employment opportunities available to you. So once you’ve identified the type of company you’d like to work for, have a look online to find other, similar ones. Some companies only post job vacancies on their own websites, and others won’t post any at all, preferring employee referrals or recruitment agents.
If you discover a company you’d really love to work for, send your CV and a well-written introduction letter to a named contact (LinkedIn is good for finding these). This is something I really appreciated when I worked in HR, and I made many successful appointments this way. After all, everybody wins – the company doesn’t pay a recruitment fee, and you get a great job!
8. Make sure your CV tells a specific story
To a certain extent, the rules of storytelling work very well when composing a CV. You need it to be attention-grabbing, so think of yourself as the main character…what will a potential employer want to know in order to keep on reading?
To stand out from the crowd, don’t simply explain what you do, but add how you do it, for example “Successfully achieved record sales figures by developing strong client relationships, improving product knowledge and keeping updated on the latest industry trends”.
7. Make career gaps work for you
The very best stories give readers a chance to pause for breath every once in a while, and this is where a career gap can come in handy! If you’ve lived life, the chances are you’ve got at least one of these somewhere along the way.
Most recruiters won’t be put off by gaps (think about it, would you want to work with any that are?) – so be honest and explain why the break happened and what you did with it in a way that adds to your employability. For example, if you took time off to have children, the chances are you’ll know the mechanics of organisation, time management and working to strict deadlines better than most!
6. Be bold about your achievements!
Jobs can become incredibly routine, and you’d be surprised what amazing achievements people forget in the course of an everyday working life. Working on a CV for a Sales Director, I found out he’d been responsible for successfully launching a well-known brand into the Middle East. I only discovered this through talking to him, however, as he hadn’t included it on his CV!
Your CV is your introduction to people with the power to employ you, so don’t be shy – tell them why they must!
5. Don’t commit ‘knowable CV crimes’
You’ll often see CV advice that contains a set of strict rules which seem completely non-negotiable and if broken, will set you ever-adrift on the stormy sea of unemployability.
The truth is that if you can do the job and you show it, most employers will overlook the fact that you started your CV with ‘Curriculum Vitae’, or you added the phrase ‘References available on request’ However, both of these are well-recognised no-nos…so now you know about them, why have them on your CV distracting people from all the good stuff – your skills and achievements?
(The same goes for marital status, career history going back further than the last ten years and the dreaded “I work well in a team and individually”.)
4. Make your summary statement short, snappy and sparkly
Think of your summary statement as the introduction to your compelling career story. Just like the back cover of a novel, it should contain all the right elements to keep people reading – all in one snappy opening paragraph!
The statement can be the most difficult thing to write, so it’s often helpful to leave it as the last thing you tackle on your CV. As you do the rest, make a short list of the words and phrases that best describe your skills and career, to get you started on that killer headline.
3. Don’t worry about CV sifting software
Most companies still prefer to deal with applicants personally – CV sifting software simply isn’t as prevalent as some people might imagine. I’ve trialled a few myself and promptly ditched them; when it comes to hiring the right person, there’s nothing like the personal perspective.
If you’re applying for a role with a large global organisation and you think they may be using sifting software, it will help if you ensure some of the wording they’ve used in their ad is reflected in your CV. Do this without taking anything away from your career story – even if software is being used, at some point your CV will be read by a human.
2. Two pages doesn’t have to be the limit…
If you’ve had a long or complicated career and you simply can’t fit everything on two pages, three is fine. There’s nothing worse than squinting to read a squashed-up CV in eye-wateringly small font, in someone’s desperate attempt to keep to the mythical ‘two page limit’.
There’s just one caveat – make sure that every last detail on your CV is relevant to whoever’s going to read it, and that every word adds to your employability.
1. Proofread with the eye of a Victorian headteacher!
You might think if you’re not going for a job involving written English, that you’ll be forgiven for spelling or grammar lapses. In some cases you might be right, but I’d wager not many.
I’ve worked alongside hiring managers in industries from construction, to engineering, to retail, to specialist architecture – and they’ve all had one thing in common. They rejected CVs containing spelling mistakes, because they saw the writer as sloppy and lacking attention to detail.
This is such an easy one to get right…so don’t get it wrong! Ask someone else to read your CV before sending it out if you’re not confident about your own proofreading ability.
One last ‘extra’…be yourself!
Yes, I know it’s cheesy…but with a new year approaching I can just about get away with it!
After all, while your CV may get you interviews it’s the real you who will be turning up to work every day, so you need to make sure it’s the real you who impresses the interviewers and fits in with the company right from the start.
If you want to make sure your CV gives you a head start in a brand new year, why not get in touch? I’ve helped many people get the job of their dreams through crafting a truly personalised, targeted CV – and whatever your career story I’m confident I can help you, too.
(Oh, and Happy New Year!)
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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