There has been a surge in people contacting me to “take a look” at their CVs recently (I don’t want to assume, but I’m guessing these “unprecedented times” have got something to do with it.)
Usually, their emails will apologise for how terrible the CV is, or they’ll include a question or a comment about how it should be presented.
Things like, “Should I use the first or third person?” “What should I list at the top, education or employment?” “Do I mention hobbies and interests?”
If you Google CV tips and advice – other search engines are available – you’ll find lots of conflicting information.
And there’s the rub. Recruiters and employers are human and complex (I know… shocking), which means they’re all different.
Which means the best CV you could ever come up with will still get rejected on occasion.
(Did you know there are actually awards for CV writing? Take a look at the winners’ examples for guidance on how different CVs are presented.
I think they’re all terrible, but that’s just my opinion.)
My biggest tip? Your CV should put you first.
The only thing you can ever really be sure about with your CV, is that it truly represents not just what you’ve learned and what you’ve done, but who you are.
That way, if a recruiter or employer likes it, there’s a high chance that their job will be the right fit for you.
Reading your CV should make you smile, because it contains the very essence of who you are, and what you’re all about.
It shouldn’t be a dreary list of jobs and certificates, with a few universal skills thrown in for good measure, and a dull mention of “reading, socialising, and going to the gym” at the end.
So, if you want to write your best CV, you’ll have to be a bit selfish. Don’t think about what employers want; at least for the moment.
Focus on what you want, instead.
Step One: Write down all the things you want from your next job.
Do you prefer the thrill and the multitasking involved in small business life, or the security of a large company?
What do you want to spend the majority of your working day doing? What benefits are the most important to you – big bonuses, or flexible working?
Would you like to work in a collaborative team, or have an office to yourself?
(Despite what the vast majority of CVs say, most people don’t “work well in a team and on my own”, they like one or the other best.)
Asking yourself these questions will help you understand how best to approach your CV, so that it highlights what you’re looking for.
And if you highlight what you’re looking for, the more likely it is that you’ll find it.
Step Two: Think about what makes you a great fit for that amazing job.
Now, think about all the attributes you’ve got that makes the job you’ve just described perfect for you.
That may not be direct experience or qualifications. Instead, you could bring voluntary or unpaid experience…
…combined with the infectious kind of enthusiasm you just don’t tend to see in someone who has already done the job for years.
For example: a client I worked with recently wanted to make a career move from law into marketing and communications, but felt her restrictive CV made that impossible.
However, in her free time she’d set up her own website and podcast channel for a cause she loved.
As we chatted away, she casually mentioned that she’d also promoted her family’s business on social media, which had generated hundreds of new followers.
Don’t you think that would be worth mentioning somewhere on her CV?
Step Three: Weave your personality into your CV.
There are, of course, some universal tips to remember as you write your CV.
Things like, be clear and concise, don’t say you’ve got an “excellent eye for detail” if the rest of your CV is riddled with spelling mistakes, and highlight your skills.
There’s also no need to state personal facts, such as your marital status or date of birth. Oh – and don’t write ‘Curriculum Vitae’ at the top (everybody knows it’s a CV), as that spot is reserved for your name.
(You can get rid of that “references are available on request” line at the end, too.)
But if that CV is really going to explain who you are, you’ll have to weave some personality in with all the facts.
You can do this by explaining not just what you do, but how you do it. For example, don’t just say you’re a great communicator, explain what makes you so great.
It could be because you listen more than you talk, you’re good at building instant trust, or that you approach conversations with an open mind.
And instead of including a separate ‘Hobbies and Interests’ section, you could try including them as examples of your skills.
Being a member of a group means you’re likely to be a good collaborator, while learning a language takes drive, commitment, and self-motivation.
And Finally: Don’t be put off by recruitment ad-speak
If the ad for the job of your dreams says you need a certain amount of experience, or a certain qualification you haven’t got, don’t be too quick to dismiss it.
Obviously, some jobs do come with non-negotiable entry requirements. But many employers don’t really know what they want until they see it – which is why recruitment ads are often worded so blandly.
In fact, a lot of them ask for degrees and experience simply to reduce the avalanche of applications they know they’re going to get.
So, if you don’t have exactly what the company claims to be looking for, make a direct approach to tell them what you do have.
Find out who the job reports to – this will probably not be HR – then send them a friendly and personalised message explaining why you’d love the job, and why you think you’d be a great fit.
I haven’t got a degree, but that has never put me off applying for jobs that stated I had to have one.
The last time I disregarded a ‘degree is required’ ad, I ended up getting a job that, at the time, was a dream career move.
If you need some help reviewing or writing your CV, my eBook for students, You on a Page: How to Write Your First CV will take you back to the basics!
I also offer a CV writing service that includes an in-depth chat about your career, skills, and personality, so I can help you make them shine.
Find out more here.