Create an impact with your CV
CV’s are one of the most challenging documents to write. Most probably because the content is so close to heart, we can find it hard to evaluate ourselves objectively. The process of writing a CV can be even more taxing when returning to work after a career break.
Your CV is an essential part of your job search. It is worth spending time and care to make sure it represents you well. The good news is that the hard work you put into that process will not only result in a great CV, but will also help you put together a great covering letter, prepare you for interviews and support you in networking.
What is the purpose of a CV?
The purpose of a CV is to get you an interview. Your CV should:
- Honestly reflect your career and achievements.
- Focus on what is most relevant for a particular job.
- Make it easy for a recruiter to say “Come for an interview.”
Recruiters typically spend about 30 seconds looking at each CV before they decide whether to put it on the “Yes” pile or the “No” pile. Make it easy for them to put you on the “Yes” pile by presenting clear, relevant information which matches your skills and experience to the job applied for.
The guidelines and tips in this article will give you an outline of best practice from which you can select the ideas and approaches which will work best for you.
3 steps to a successful CV:
- Target – knowing who your CV is aimed at and what they are looking for.
- Offer – knowing what you offer (your skills) and having evidence (examples to back this up).
- Presentation – presenting what you offer to the target so that they can clearly see (e.g. layout and headings) you have what they are looking for.
To make a start, take each of these three steps in turn and look at how to go about them (see below). Work through them in order and avoid the temptation to dive straight in to presentation.
Consider and research the following points to help you target your CV:
- What you are applying to do (e.g. generic function or specific job). Speaking to contacts and recruiters and looking at job adverts will help you know what types of roles exist.
- Where you want to do it (e.g. the type of environment you would like to work in). Public sector, private or not-for-profit? Large organisation or small? A particular industry sector or business type? A busy office or a quiet one?
- What skills and experience is the potential employer seeking? Look carefully at the job advert (or a recent example if you don’t have a particular job to apply for just now). Focus on the skills and experience which the employer is looking for. Request a job description and or person specification from the employer if you are applying for a particular job and this has not yet been supplied. Talk to people who are doing similar/relevant jobs. Look at career directories, relevant trade magazines or journals, career sections of national newspapers.
- Why you want to do it? g. your reason and motivation.
Clarify what skills, experience and knowledge you offer. Here are some ways to prompt your thoughts:
- Put your thoughts down on paper. To begin with, it can be helpful to do this in a fairly unstructured way. If it helps, write a one page life story to get you started.
- Write a list of the main jobs you have had. Jot down the skills, experience and knowledge you gained in each role. Think through a typical day to help jog your memory.
- Coming back from a career break? Consider all of the things you have done while caring for children, running a household, organising activities, studying etc. What skills and experience has this given you? These are valuable!
- Use the research you did for your target, particularly a job description if you have one, to give you headings (e.g. organisation skills). Write your skills, experience and knowledge under these.
Include evidence and examples as you write. Your CV will be much stronger if you are able to back up your skills and experience with brief examples of achievements which provide evidence that you can do what you say you can.
You have identified your target and what you offer, so now you are in a good position to work on how best to present the information in your CV so that:
- The most relevant information (i.e. that matches you to the role) stands out.
- You have a clear, concise and well-presented document which will help to open doors for you.
There are two main formats for a CV. These are:
This is the traditional format which emphasises career history and a good one to use if:
- You want the reader to focus on your most recent one or two jobs.
- You have had a career break and are confident that you can describe some relevant key skills and experience gained during this time.
- You are seeking work in a field in which you have recent experience.
- You have not had many changes of direction in your career.
How to create one? Work backwards through your experience, starting with the most recent.
This focuses on skills you have developed at different times in your life. You group them under headings (for example “Organisational Skills”) and provide some achievements to illustrate how you used those skills and the results you achieved. This is a good format to use if:
- You want to use your skills to work in a different area to previously.
- You want to draw attention to skills gained earlier in your career and avoid being ‘pigeon-holed’ into the type of work you did most recently.
- You have had a career break(s) and consider the skills gained during this time to be not so relevant as others that you have.
- You have done different types of work during your career and you want to help the reader make sense of this and see clearly what you offer.
- You have done lots of brief, freelance roles or part-time roles which overlapped and find this looks ‘bitty’ in a traditional format.
How to create one? Break your experience down under skills/functional headings before summarising your employment history.
How do you choose which format?
It depends on your experience. Consider which format will allow you to present yourself most clearly to the reader and make the best sense to them.
Now you have information regarding the three steps to creating an impactful CV, you can now get started on creating a document that really works for you. If you are struggling to put your ideas on paper, do speak to a friend or seek advice from a career expert in a 1-to-1 careers advice session.