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How to write a CV

First impressions last

Your CV – or Curriculum Vitae to give it its full name – is the first opportunity you have to make an impression on a potential employer. And as the saying goes, first impressions last. So it’s important to take care over presentation, and include information that’s relevant, and which demonstrates that you’re just the candidate that this employer has been looking for.

An opportunity to sell yourself

In essence, a CV provides a summary of your education and career to date. But in fact it’s much more than this: it’s an opportunity to sell yourself, your qualities and your experience. The really great thing about a CV is that it can be a much more flexible way to present your information than a standard company application form; you can focus on your strengths, and present information in a way that suits you, rather than being tied by a form’s rigid format.

Another advantage of putting together a winning CV is that you can use it to apply for multiple posts in a similar sector – perhaps even ‘on spec’ if no vacancy has even been advertised – and it’s easy to create several versions with just slight variations to tailor your application precisely to the role you’re applying for.

So a CV is useful when a company asks to receive applications in this way, doesn’t say how people should apply, or when you want to make speculative applications.

Presentation counts

Ultimately, it’s up to you how you present your CV. There are no hard and fast rules, but there are widely accepted conventions that make it easier to write, and simpler for employers to compare candidates.

It’s also useful to put yourself in the shoes of a busy employer: they may have lots of applications to sift through – perhaps even hundreds – so your task is to make your CV stand out for the right reasons and not the wrong ones, so it makes it onto the shortlist pile, not into the recycling bin.

These are the sections that people usually like to include:

Personal details

The generally accepted place to start is with your personal details. On the face of it, this bit’s pretty easy: put your name at the top, in bold and larger type, and then in a normal sized font, add your address(s) (put both if you spend term time in one place and holidays in another), telephone number(s) and email address.

You don’t usually need to include information about your age / date of birth, marital status or health.

Make sure that your outgoing voicemail messages sound business-like, and you are using a serious sounding email address for job application purposes. Include a web address if you want to – it could swing the balance if the post you’re after is web related – but make sure the url is appropriate, and the site ‘adds value’ to your pitch. Remember, there’s no guarantee that your site will be viewed, unless an employer has specifically asked to see work examples online.

Education

This usually comes next. Put down the details of your education and training, specifying courses, institutions, dates, and ideally grades achieved.

Work experience

Not only list any you have – including voluntary or work experience roles – but give more detail about your responsibilities and what you learned. Relate this to the job you’re applying for. So time spent work shadowing in a design studio might have taught you much about the process of completing a creative project, for example. Or a job in a café may have taught organisational, leadership and people skills – probably more important to mention than those great cappuccinos you learned how to make!

Achievements, interests, responsibilities

You can vary the title of this section to suit you, and if you don’t have much work experience, here’s your opportunity to shine. Try to show a range of interests and describe how these demonstrate personal qualities – ideally those required for the job in question. For example ability to: work with others; take responsibility, stretch yourself, problem solve, etc.

References

Include two – or have them up your sleeve and put ‘available on request’. Generally one would be an academic referee, like a tutor, and another work related, such as a previous or current employer. (Top tip: consult with them before you include them.)

Other headings

Some people like to include a brief summary of their career aims, or a personal profile. These are generally short, sharp, and (well) written in the third person. Often they appear after personal details. You could also include a section on your technical skills, or software you’re proficient at using: it’s all about including information that is relevant to the post in question, to prove that you’re the right person.

Tricks of the trade

As we’ve said, the key to success is match your qualities and abilities to those required by the employer, so always read through the job description and person specification carefully.

Presentation

Most importantly, recruiters want to be able to read your CV easily, so unless you have very good reason to do so, it’s probably best to stick to a conventional layout and typeface and keep content concise (generally no more than two sides) and jargon-free. You will probably find examples of CVs you can download from the internet to get stylistic inspiration, but make sure they are suitable for your industry – and preferably from your own country. Always check the spelling and grammar a couple of times, as errors create a really bad impression. Consider asking a trusted friend to also check it for you, too, before sending.

If in doubt, farm it out

And if you’re really serious – or just plain stuck – you could even pay a company to create a winning CV for you. There are plenty of people willing to help, but do your research and be clear about what you’ll get for your money, and if they have experience in your industry.

Finally, while your CV is a chance to shine in front of a future employer and highlight your plus points, if you go too far and exaggerate the truth, you may well be found out, so it’s always best to err on the side of caution.

Next: Interview Techniques

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