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Writing a CV

21 January 2004 by
Writing a CV

A CV is like a passport. We may feel we look a bit silly on them, but they're essential if we want to leave where we are and go somewhere else.

For some reason, writing about yourself on a CV is always tricky. How do you know what to put?

Basic rules

There are certain rules that you can follow to produce a good CV. They aren't set in stone, though. In fact, if your CV is identical to everyone else's, you're much less likely to interest any potential employer. But here are a few basic tips to get you started.

The best CVs not only tell a story, but also tell it quickly, clearly and simply.

Your CV needs to make all your relevant abilities and potential stand out to the reader. The skills you have that make you perfect for the job need to be visible at first glance.

Try to use language that is active and animated. Describe your relevant work experience with words that show how enthusiastic you are about the subject.

Remember that you are selling yourself. You may believe that your skills and experience speak for themselves, but you have to make the reader sit up and notice them among dozens - or even hundreds - of other CVs.

Specifics

OK, so let's get into more detail.

Length

A good CV will never be more than a couple of pages of A4. No matter how extensive your experience, it's unlikely any reader will want to wade through pages of heavy detail about it. If you write your CV well, you can get your knowledge across in a really crisp, snappy way without missing anything out.

Mistakes

Check every single word and punctuation mark. Then check them again. Give your CV to somebody else to read just in case you have missed something - a fresh eye is always useful. If you make errors in your job application, how are potential employers going to know that you won't make mistakes if they give you the job?

Modify your CV for every job application

When looking through a pile of CVs, an employer is looking for those that stand out, those where the applicant has not only prioritised the information specific to the vacancy, but has also put in that extra bit of effort.

For example, if you're responding to a small magazine ad that has few details, there's nothing wrong with contacting the company to find more out. You never know who you might end up talking to.

In other words, there is no definitive right or wrong order to lay out your details. If your work experience and skills are the most relevant factors, then put them first. Vice-versa if it's your qualifications.

Qualifications

Arrange your qualifications to illustrate an ongoing career development. Think about what qualifications the employer will be looking for as essentials and highlight them accordingly. If it's obvious to the reader that you've thought about what you're doing, you're well on your way towards the top of the pile.

Remember that a CV isn't an official form. You can put whatever you like on it, in whatever order. Don't make a big deal giving extensive details of your school education if it's not relevant. If you're applying for a chef's job, then it doesn't really matter if you got a C in GCSE geography.

Work experience

As with the qualifications, each rung on your career ladder should be laid out so that it clearly shows the most recent and most relevant parts first.

Never start each section with the phrase: "My duties and responsibilities included…" Make the descriptions of your experience full of your achievements rather than just a dull outline. If you're applying for a restaurant manager's position and you have experience then you don't need to take half a page saying what a restaurant manager does - the reader already knows that.

For instance, instead of just saying "I was in charge of a team of 12 people", highlight what you helped those people achieve. "I ran a team of twelve people and all of them obtained their NVQs in hygiene under my supervision."

Or instead of "I was responsible for purchasing and budget" put "With a responsibility for purchasing I renegotiated all the major supplier contracts, which led to a 10% cost-saving."

Employers like to see quantitative as well as qualitative achievements. If you raised turnover by 50%, then say so. If you lowered staff absentee rates by 25%, then put it down.

Try to avoid to using phrases like "I am good with people" or "I am a very hard worker". These things should be clear in your descriptions of your experience, if you have written them well.

Personal information

This is always a difficult section to write well on a good CV, but the trick is to imagine the poor employer with a stack of 50 CVs to plough through. He's looking for a new assistant pub manager, so what's the most important thing he's looking for? Experience, of course. Why then do the vast majority of applicants start their CV with their full address, phone number, e-mail and marital status? Are they the most important things the employer needs to know about you?

The classic CV also includes an invariably cringe-worthy section on hobbies and pastimes. If your hobbies have no relevance to the job vacancy, don't feel obliged to include them. Alternatively, if they make you look good, include them. If, for example, you can say "in my spare time I help out at the local handicapped school" then great. But if all you can think of is the timeless "I like to keep fit and go to the cinema" then don't bother.

As tempting as it is, do not lie in this section in an attempt to make yourself look interesting and build yourself up into something you're not. It's guaranteed that if you say you go windsurfing on Lake Geneva every other month, then whoever is interviewing you will turn out to be the Swiss windsurfing champion and will ask why you've never met before.

And finally…

Once you've written your CV, leave it for 10 minutes and then go back and reread it. Always do several drafts, edit it down, keep rearranging it and rewriting it until you're happy. Show it to a couple of friends and listen to what they say. If you know anybody who does the hiring and firing in their job, corner them and ask their advice.

Above all, spend time on it. It may seem like it's only two pages, but it could make the difference between getting that job of your dreams or not.

Prepared by Caterer-online in association with Blue Arrow Personnel Services and Mayday Group

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