Preparing your CV

Your CV is your brochure. It is your opportunity to communicate your strengths, skills and achievements in a way that will allow the reader to be clear about who you are and what you can do. It is the most important document that you will produce in your job search. With your letter, it is the information on which the recipient will make the decision whether or not to invite you for an interview. Remember that your CV is designed to get you the interview, not the job.

The starting point for your CV is collecting data about yourself. Identify your achievements, skills and expertise. You will also find it useful to create a chronological record of your career and education to date. Start from now and work back, year by year, to your last years in secondary school. Make this record as accurate, honest and detailed as your memory will allow. You will be the only one to see it, so it doesn’t matter what you write – it can be destroyed when you’ve created your CV. The objective is for you to create an accurate inventory of your career.

Guidelines for writing an effective CV

Write it yourself. Your CV is designed to communicate who you are to the reader and by writing it yourself this will show through clearly. Use your network of contacts to give you feedback so that appropriate changes can be incorporated. Their reaction will also help you to judge how it will be received when making job applications. But remember that it is designed to advertise you so be careful not to change yourself out of all recognition. How you describe yourself at interview will then flow naturally from your CV. You will know the content intimately so there is no uncertainty in your mind about any aspect of it. If you do not have the facilities to produce a well presented CV, have it done professionally but write it yourself.

If you have a CV that is two or three years out of date do not make the mistake of adding a piece to bring it up to date. It will not be an accurate statement of how you see your career today and could end up several pages too long. You will, no doubt, have had new insights into your achievements at work and these need to be included. A current, powerful CV will only come if you start from scratch each time.

Make your CV factual, accurate and honest. Most employers take up references, so any inaccuracies will be quickly spotted, which could mean a rejection letter rather than a job offer. If you have gaps in your career – for example, unemployment, maternity leave or a long period of illness – show them. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and anticipate what to include and how to make the biggest impact. Your aim is to have your CV in the ‘Yes’ pile.

Clearly list your achievements. The most common failing in writing a CV is the omission of achievements. It seems that communicating achievements causes the British embarrassment. We don’t like to feel that we are ‘showing off’. A list of responsibilities tells the reader nothing about how well you performed at work, and this style of CV is usually consigned to the ‘No’ pile. If you want the interview, detail your achievements clearly. Using action verbs will give a positive feel to your CV and will aid the clear communication of your achievements.

Layout. There is no standard layout for a CV. This is one good reason for avoiding CV writers. They tend to produce to a specific layout and style which is often spotted by the interviewer and another reason for a CV ending up on the ‘No’ pile. Your CV is a personal document and the layout and style should reflect you and your needs. Guidelines for layout are as follows:

  • Make it look good so that the recipient wants to read it. Ask your network contacts for a readability rating when giving you feedback. You should be aiming for 10 out of 10, 9 is the absolute minimum.
  • Make sure that you have a balanced presentation with sufficient white space to encourage reading.
  • Don’t make it any longer than two sides of A4. If you have a technical or professional background with technical qualifications or publications that need to be included, these should be on a separate sheet at the end of the CV.
  • If you mail a copy use good quality paper. This will help it to stand out in the pile of CVs.
  • Use normal size type. Never try to cram everything in tiny type to make it fit two pages. This is a turn-off and your CV will end up in the ‘No’ pile.

You may find that you need more than one CV. It is possible that in deciding what to do next, you are applying for all sorts of different jobs. One option might be a continuation of your career in advertising sales and another might be to get into the film or television industry on the production side. Here two CVs will be required. Each should emphasise the skills, attributes and achievements that will best support the different applications.

The letter that you send with your CV is an opportunity to personalise your application with relevant information or comment.

The content of your CV is particularly important. Applicants often include unnecessary information yet leave out vital facts to keep the length to two pages. Here are some guidelines on content:

  • If you include a summary or personal profile, it should be the first item after your personal details.
  • Your career summary should be in chronological order with your most recent job first. The amount of space taken by each job should be reduced as you go back in your career. The last ten years are the most important. Jobs you had 15 to 20 years ago need little explanation.
  • Make sure that you include your main achievements.
  • Include a chronological history of your education and training experience. Unless you are a student seeking your first job, it is not necessary to list each O and A level. Their cumulative number is quite adequate. When listing training courses, only mention those that are significant and applicable. If you have worked for a reputable company, it will be assumed that you have attended courses relevant to your position.
  • Listing interests is an optional extra and a matter of personal choice. If you do, keep the list short and accurate. Some applicants put down an unusual hobby, long since dropped, and are caught out when they meet an interviewer who challenges them with expert knowledge of the subject. If you cannot substantiate your hobbies, doubts may be raised about the validity of the rest of your CV. However, if you have a hobby that is directly relevant to the position you are applying for, include a reference to it in your covering letter.
  • Do not include your salary on your CV. If you are replying to an advertisement which asks for salary details, include them in your covering letter.

Your CV is a critical document. It will make the difference between getting an interview or not. Allow yourself plenty of time to write it and get as much constructive feedback as you can.