A quick google search for “CV Tips” or “How to write a CV” will spit out 100’s of articles on what you should include and how to put together a winning CV. For this reason I have avoided adding to the list, however, somehow I still see an incredible number of CV’s that contain the same common mistakes, so I’ve decided to put together my own short guide to help you avoid some of them.
Your CV is not something that should be taken lightly, the first impression that recruiters/potential employers will get of you will come from your CV so it’s important to get it right and boost your chances of that all-important callback.
Below I have outlined 10 key points that should help you craft a killer CV.
1. Despite the saying . . . books do get judged by their cover.
No, this doesn’t mean you should bind and cover your CV. However, aesthetics are very important. The layout, spacing, font, colours (when relevant) and a whole host of visual features should be carefully considered. There are hundreds of CV templates available online that will do far more for you than simply listing your skills in a word document and take no more than a few minutes to download and populate with your information…so there are no excuses!
For the designers out there, you should treat your CV as a project of its own and create an easy to read and clean design that also gets some of your personality across. Be careful though, it can be easy to go overboard with too many crazy colours or excessive use of typography.
2. PDF or .Doc?
This is a topic that is always in hot debate amongst recruiters (or at least in the Zebra office) and the answers will often vary. I personally will always advise using a PDF as this avoids the risk of your formatting going crazy or fonts being swapped if you have used a different version of word.
The main argument against PDF’s is some companies use an ATS (Applicant tracking system) to scan a CV for keywords and some older software has trouble with reading a PDF document. However, most software today is perfectly capable of pulling information from a PDF provided they are set up correctly.
ProTip: If you’re sending your CV as a PDF, make sure it is not saved as an image. If you can highlight, copy, and paste the text from your PDF document then you’re good to go.
3. How many pages?
Your CV should be short, punchy and to the point. Remember, the average recruiter/employer will make an initial judgment in the first 6 seconds of reading your CV. This means it shouldn’t run to more than 2 pages of A4, EVER.
When your CV is too long – and many of them are – it suggests that you’ve either been job hopping (which is a ‘no no’) or you can’t write concisely (which is another ‘no no’).
For the job seeker with more years under their belt, this 2-page limit can often cause a real dilemma. How should you describe a job you had 25 years ago? Easy…you don’t! Instead, focus on your recent experience and achievements. If you must refer to a job(s) from a while back, a simple list with employment dates will do. As a rule of thumb, you only need to add detail to the roles that span over the last 3 – 5 years.
There is, however, one small exception to this rule. If the role you are applying for requires a portfolio, creating a hybrid CV/Folio will allow you to spread your experience across multiple pages. In this case, the “CV” section should still be no longer than two A4 pages but can be followed by a number of case studies that would dive into the key projects from some of your roles. This will give you the opportunity to add more detail to your experience that you otherwise may not have had space for. (Portfolio tips to follow in a separate blog)
4. Carefully thought out content.
Whilst I completely accept that not everyone can write like Shakespeare, it should be fair to say you all have an idea of what your potential employers are looking for (HINT: It will be in the job description). With that in mind think about your experience and how you can highlight those skill sets.
Make the most of the descriptions for your previous roles by writing succinct sentences that outline the key skills future employers are looking for. Remember, your CV will have little time to impress. The recruiter will look at your CV and think ‘Why should I interview this person? What will they bring to the organisation?’
So when compiling your CV think ‘Benefits, benefits, benefits!’ and make them obvious. That doesn’t mean putting them all in CAPS but it does mean making what you’d bring to the role easy to find, easy to understand and, above all, compelling.
5. Keep it relevant
Your CV should only contain the necessary information required to decide on your suitability for the role you are applying for. This will vary depending on your experience level and the role so use your common sense to decide what to include.
For example, if you’re applying for a role as a Digital Designer, it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to care that your first paid job was the local paper round when you are now 7 years into your career, so leave it off of your CV.
That being said, as a junior applying for your first role, including this information can demonstrate your eagerness to work and a strong work ethic. So although the role itself may not be relevant, there will always be learned skills that can be related back to your application.
6. Why you?
Following on from your well thought out content, what makes you unique? The chances are that every candidate applying for the same roles as you will have similar experience, so avoid writing generalist statements about the responsibilities of anyone who does your job. Think about what makes you stand out from the crowd? What extra responsibilities have you taken? When did you go over and above in your role? What have been your greatest achievements?
ProTip: Facts and figures add a scalable element to your achievements. Instead of an open statement like “successfully improved engagement on the site”, add a figure like “by 70%”.
7. Keep it up to date!
I cannot stress this enough. If all you have is a CV you wrote 3 years ago while applying for your current role, DON’T SEND IT. Spend 10 minutes adding your current role/most recent experience to your CV before you even think about applying. An out of date CV will 9 times out of 10 have the same effect as not sending one at all…no response.
8. Fill in the gaps
Having huge gaps in your experience is just as bad as an outdated CV. While most employers will assume you haven’t been sitting around twiddling your thumbs for months on end, you should make this abundantly clear. You may have taken a sabbatical, gone travelling or been on maternity leave but without this information, your future employer has no reason to believe you were doing anything useful with your time and you don’t want to give them any excuse to add your CV to the reject pile.
However, there is no need to include a detailed account of all the places you visited or how many sleepless nights you had thanks to your new-born baby. One simple line stating what you were doing will suffice. For example:
“Career break, traveling South America – June 2016 to June 2017”
Some of you may wonder why ‘South America’ is relevant information. Well…you never know who will be looking at your CV and that small talking point or potential common interest could be the difference between you and your competition.
9. Check, check and check again!
There is nothing worse than spelling and grammar mistakes on a CV and for roles with high levels of applicants, they will likely get you thrown straight to the reject pile. A thorough grammar review and spell check should always be conducted before you send your CV anywhere. Word should do most of the hard work for you but if you are still unsure, have someone check it for you.
There are also a number of online tools like Grammarly.com that are free and easy to use.
10. Avoid the clichés!
These fabulous little additions to a CV or job application provide little in value other than perhaps some entertainment to the reader. Carefully considered content is the key to a great CV, not buzzwords and poor attempts at self-promotion.
The phrases below are some of my biggest pet hates that are far better left off of your CV.
- “I’m very enthusiastic” – Great, but the same could be said of my neighbour’s dog! Enthusiasm alone doesn’t qualify you for much. What, precisely, are you enthusiastic about?
- “I’m an excellent team-player and can work independently” – This is just lazy drivel that everyone seems to copy. Don’t get me wrong, employers do want to see evidence that you can work collaboratively and autonomously, but they won’t be convinced by a hollow phrase. This can be proven somewhere in your well-written content.
- “Creative” – This is used far too often in the design sector. Naturally, as a designer you are expected to be creative, but if you really are…you will find a more creative way to demonstrate it than listing it under your skills section.
- “Highly motivated” – another one to add to the “so what” pile. Again, what’s the alternative? You’re hardly going to advertise your chronic lateness and tendency to pull all-nighters! Employers will generally assume you’re motivated by virtue of your application.
- “Close attention to detail” I really hate this one…especially as most CV’s that state this will be coupled with a number of typos that render the statement redundant.
- “Excellent communication skills” – If you have to say it, it’s probably not the case. Employers are perfectly capable of evaluating your communication skills by reading your CV and having a conversation with you.
- “Curriculum Vitae / CV” – this is probably the most common CV cliché of all. Unless your CV is written in code, it’s probably pretty obvious that your CV…is a CV. Stick to having your name as the title.
- “Extensive experience in…” – If you’re a senior candidate then your experience will speak for itself. If you’re a junior candidate, then this statement shouldn’t be anywhere on your CV. You’re not fooling anyone. There’s really no need to inflate your experience, stand on your own merits.
That about sums up my tips to help you refine your CV and optimise your chances of catching a recruiters/employers attention. Feel free to share any additional tips or thoughts in the comments section below.
On second thought, there is one last thing I feel I should add:
10.1 KEEP YOUR PHOTO OFF OF YOUR CV!
Unless you’re an aspiring Model or Actress applying for your next gig, your headshots have no place on your CV…no matter how great you think the latest filters make you look. Your CV is about your professional skill set and suitability for a job, NOT a beauty contest. Save them for your LinkedIn profile.