Having a well-written Curriculum Vitae (CV) can be very important throughout your life. While at school, it will help you in your applications for part-time work and membership organisations; when applying for university places it will help you to hone your skills and experience; when applying for employment it is almost always an absolute ‘must’.
Over the years I’ve written and updated scores of CVs for myself and reviewed many thousands of job applicants’ CVs. There is no ‘one best way’ to write a CV but I hope this blog post helps you, the reader, to formulate an attractive and effective CV – and to keep it updated throughout your life and for different uses.
Curriculum Vitae is Latin for ‘the course of one’s life’. The document is sometimes referred to by the French term résumé, meaning a summary, or the anglicised ‘resume’ which is pronounced the same way (reh-zuhm-ay) but without the accented ‘e’s. It is an outline of your educational, professional and personal history which gives the recipient an idea of what you have done, what you can do and a little of what makes you ‘you’.
It’s a flexible and convenient way to apply for positions but you need to see it as a marketing document, competing with many others (often with thousands of others) for the same position. You need to ‘sell’ your abilities and present them in the best light but without exaggerating or appearing big-headed.
Some recruiters will not accept CVs, instead insisting on their own application form – but in my experience it really helps to have your current CV close at hand to remind yourself of dates, grades and other detail.
What to include in your CV
Bullet points help the reader to gain a quick view of ‘you’ to date. (Also see ‘hard to read’, below.) Don’t use solely bullet points, though: introduce each set with a sentence or two about what they relate to. Don’t elaborate too much, but express yourself in succinct, convincing short sentences and paragraphs.
• Summary. A short section on where you are in your life, who you are and what you seek. Don’t boast and be specific.
• Personal information. Include your name and principal contact details on every page. Put them in the header or footer. Include the ‘page X of X’ facility which Word and similar programs allow you to do quite simply.
Later on in the document (after your educational and information about positions you’ve held) elaborate on the personal information: see ‘more about you’, below.
• Education. Ensure you include your education to date: what schools/colleges you attended, what you studied and what your grades were. If you have not finished your current one, include it without the grade.
If you are young and your CV is in its early stages of development (see ‘the long and short of it’, below) you have an opportunity to expand. Why did you choose your subjects? Have you gained any particular accolades to date? Why did you win the class prize for your GSCE Graphic Art project?
If you are more mature, keep your education to the facts: schools; dates; exam successes and grades; any notable achievements and awards.
• Positions held (paid): no matter what stage of life you are in, put on your CV any paid positions you have held. If you are still at school but you have had a paper-round, include it. If you are later in life and have had multiple positions, include only the more relevant ones. The level of detail you include will depend upon how many positions you have held. Include the dates, employer name and address, your job title/s, key responsibilities and any particular achievements.
• More about you. In my experience, you can tell a lot by what someone has achieved voluntarily or outside ‘formal’ groups. For example, if you have supervised Brownies or Scouts; or completed the ‘Duke of Edinburgh’s Award’ or ‘Ten Tors’ course; or if you bake 150 cup-cakes for the annual village fete, tell me! It’s an important part of your CV which gives you the opportunity to express what you do with your life outside school/college/uni/work. If you are a volunteer for a charity or a regular campaigner for a certain cause, include this in your CV. Also briefly outline your leisure time hobbies and interests.
Some things to avoid!
• Don’t allow errors and typos (typographical errors) to appear on your CV. It’s a real turn-off to the reader and suggests you’re not sufficiently bothered about the position you’re applying for. In my experience (and many far greater than me – just Google it) concur even the most accomplished person’s CV can be chucked on the ‘no’ pile because of a simple mistake. Positions can, as I said, be highly competitive: you cannot afford silly mistakes. Ask someone (or multiple people) to proof-read it for you.
Take particular care when ‘tweaking’ your CV for particular positions. It’s very easy to let errors creep in, such as typos, mistakes in dates or the verb tense you use.
• The long and short of it: sometimes, less is more. The person reviewing your CV will pay less attention to the important parts if they’re crowded out by unnecessary details or ‘puff’. A focused CV will signal to the reviewer you can prioritise and ‘sort the wheat from the chaff’ (which is exactly what they’re doing). Don’t tell your life story – save that for the interview (or the most important parts, anyway). Simply pull out the most important facts.
• Don’t ‘over-egg the pudding’ and certainly don’t fib. For example, don’t say you were a ‘retail display engineer’ if you were restocking shelves in a shop. Tell the reader how it is, but instead comment on the pride you took in that role. Give short anecdotes, such as how you were voted ‘assistant of the month’ or your 100% punctuality record.
Don’t fib, whatever you do. Many mighty people have fallen spectacularly from grace because they lied on their CV about what they’d done. Don’t say you were employed in a position longer than you were. Don’t say you have 10 GSCEs when you only have six passes and four ‘near misses’.
• Don’t make it hard to read. Very often, people reviewing CVs/résumés are doing so in their own time, at home or in the office, after the regular work day is done. Even if they’re reviewing during work time, don’t make their life difficult. Use a font which is at least 10, if not 11 or 12 point. Don’t use fancy fonts as they can be hard to read in any length. Use black ink on white or cream, quality paper. Have sensible margins, align your text and be consistent with line spacing. It all helps the human eye to assimilate the information.
If you’re e-mailing your CV, consider saving it as a PDF as it will run less risk of being corrupted during its travel through the internet.
• Don’t ‘diss’ (disrespect) anyone on your CV. Please don’t try to argue your point of view if you’ve been dismissed. Don’t make oblique references to employers. If the reviewer is interested, they will ask when you meet them.
The first time you prepare your CV is likely to be the hardest but you’ll need to hone and change it as your life progresses. Make sure you keep a hard copy as well as an electronic copy in case your system or back-up crash. Good luck with it: it’s one of the most important documents you’ll ever prepare.
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