Thread: CV Help
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Old 13-07-09, 01:38 AM
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Tips for writing a CV

These tips apply to general CV writing. In a few very specialised cases (the performing arts or modelling, for example) they may not apply entirely. But you won’t go far wrong in following them as a starting point.

Occasionally, an employer will give specific directions which will contradict this advice. In cases like this you must always do exactly what the employer requests or risk being overlooked. Remember, if you demonstrate that you can’t follow simple instructions you are likely to be marked down immediately and, possibly, irreparably.

What format should I use?

It is important to realise that a CV is an exercise in selling yourself in a highly constrained and abbreviated format. Write one that is too long, or in the wrong format, and you run a serious risk of it being binned without a reading. It is not a document for the verbose or for the essay writer. Rather like poetry and script writing, condensation is all-important. Include only what is relevant and positive. A CV is not anything like a UCAS personal statement, so don’t start off by cannibalising one. A resumé (which is shorter) is not generally used in the UK for job applications.

Order and content

You won’t go far wrong if you include the content detailed here in the order outlined below. The key is to give the most relevant information first, and follow on with less important information, or information that will be used later by the reader.

1. Your name (typically centred in larger letters as a heading)
2. Telephone number(s) and email address (on the next line under your name) - the employer will, you hope, need to find this easily and quickly
3. A profile of you as a potential employee, drawing out your best assets (usually factually, in bullet points or short sentences)
4. Your education history from secondary school onwards, including your major qualifications, most recent at the top
5. Your employment history, in reverse chronological order, outlining:

a. Employer’s name
b. The job you did
c. The dates
d. Your responsibilities
e. Your achievements

6. Personal details, including:

a. Professional qualifications
b. Relevant post-education training received
c. Other relevant facts (such as the possession of a full, clean driving licence, language skills, generic IT skills)
d. Your postal address (on one line)

Each of the sections (profile, education, employment history, personal details) should have a heading. Numbers 4 and 5 (education and employment history) should normally be reversed once you have some post-education work experience – remember, the most important information should come earlier and this can change as you go through your career. Later on your, as your career progresses (though not in academia, of course) education can even be condensed to a single line in the personal details section. At this stage much of your early career might be condensed very considerably as it is no longer very relevant to what you will be applying for.

It is important to ensure that you review a standard CV each time you send it out to make sure it is still correct, reflects the current situation and that all the information is relevant to the job for which you are applying. Remember, it is not necessarily important to include everything for every application.

Notice specifically what should not be included:

1. The words or heading curriculum vitae – it is obvious what the document is, so don’t waste the space
2. Your address at the top of the page – it is not necessary, and is a distraction if you place it there
3. Any mention of references – they are not needed at this stage and the employer will ask for them when they are required
4. Anything more than a line or two about your interests and hobbies, unless you know that it will be especially relevant. If you are short of space this should be the first information to be taken out entirely
5. Repetition of any information – this is both unnecessary and irritating to the reader
6. Headers, footers and page numbers (or any other extraneous information such as document names or version numbers)
7. Page borders, title pages, binders, covers
8. Reasons for leaving previous jobs
9. Salary information
10. Irrelevant information
11. Negative information
12. Photographs

And don’t forget, this document is all about what you have already done, not what you are predicted to do or hope to do in the future. Such matters should be reserved for the covering letter.

Format

Follow generally-accepted typographical conventions:

1. Use a serif font for body text and, perhaps, a sans serif font for headings
2. Do not underline headings (or anything else) – use bold text or a different font size for headings

As a school leaver or recent graduate, keep the CV to a single side of A4. Treat this as an absolute rule. In mid-career you would be able to use a second sheet. When you become an old lag (i.e. a highly experienced senior executive), with decades of experience and expertise to offer, you may permit yourself the indulgence of a third side.

Because space is so tight, you will sometimes have to place several pieces of information on one line (for example, company name, job title, dates), separated by tabs. This may offend your sense of what looks good, but don’t worry about it – it is entirely conventional and makes good use of space.

Do not use esoteric fonts (such as script fonts or Comic Sans), coloured text, boxes of any kind, tables (even those that do not have borders around them), drawn lines, borders or any other fancy embellishments. Just don’t – they are distracting, can ruin the layout, and many readers will find them irritating. The last thing you want to do is irritate the reader.

Make sure there are no spelling mistakes, colloquialisms, grammatical errors or punctuation errors. Don’t rely on your word processor’s spelling checker to spot these – get the document checked by someone you can trust. Do not fall into the common trap of capitalising common nouns such as subject names. Make sure that your columns and tabs are all aligned as you intend.

Don’t tell any lies. After you are employed you can be fired if the employer finds out that you have lied on your CV. And being caught out in a lie at the interview is likely to be fatal to your chances. You’d be surprised how many recruiters personally know the man you are claiming to have worked for previously – it is a very small world in recruiting. And many are not averse to ringing these contacts for an impromptu discussion about a candidate. In any event, most employers will formally follow up references in writing.

Make sure there is a reasonable amount of white space on the document. This makes it easier to read – and you do want it to be easy to read and understand, don’t you?

If you are sending or delivering your CV in hard copy format, use a good quality paper rather than ordinary photocopy paper, though avoid card or coloured or embossed paper.

Style

Make strong, brief, condensed statements (excluding personal pronouns) such as “Successfully implemented a system to blah blah…” in preference to “I successfully blah blah…”.

Do not make unsupported statements (such as “I can/am able to blah blah” or “I have blah blah". It is much better to demonstrate what you can do by outlining where you have previously done it (and with what success).

Use strong, active verbs such as “implemented”, “achieved”, “planned”, “initiated”, “developed”, “launched”, “improved” where relevant – avoid the wishy-washy. You must, however, back up your claims with events or numbers.

Do not write essays. There should be no paragraphs or mini-essays at all.

Avoid industry jargon unless you know the reader can understand it.

Avoid a naïve style of writing – you are trying to impress in the world of adult work and the phraseology should reflect this.
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