Your CV is nothing less than your working life on paper – which means it's pretty important. The strength of a CV is not based entirely on your experience and achievements - it's also about how you communicate them.
Based on years of reviewing CVs, in this two-part blog we will focus on things that should be in every CV, things that shouldn't be in a CV and things you can do to ensure that writing your CV in the future is as hassle-free as possible.
I want you to think of a CV as something that represents you and that you can and should be proud of. Absorb the information in this article and you may just approach your CV differently in the future.
1. Let's start with the obvious...avoid the avoidable errors!
CVs can be a lot of work, and the fact that many people produce one only when they really need to – and often at short notice – means they often contain avoidable mistakes like typos, misspelling and poor grammar.
In addition to using a spellchecker and enlisting a helpful friend to be a proof-reader, it's a good idea to "sleep on" a CV once you've written it. If you possibly can, allow a time delay of a day or so between your first draft and your first edit. You may well see things you wouldn't have otherwise spotted – not just typos but ways in which you can craft a more compelling version of yourself!
Another common error is a lack of care in job start and finish dates. Don't forget to ensure there are no confusing overlaps with those dates, and that any gaps in your career are accounted for.
For all but the newest to the job market, CVs are an exercise in editing. Most people can't relate absolutely everything they have ever done to the role they're applying for, so the key is to focus on those areas or parts of your career that demonstrate your achievements, skills and eligibility for a particular role. Highlight the most relevant achievements from past roles that make you a strong candidate for the role you're applying for, and edit out any unnecessary detail, even if it hurts to get rid of something you're proud of.
3. Create a powerful profile section
Work on a powerful, strong profile section at the start of your CV that summarises what you can bring to a role. As we've noted elsewhere in older blogs, this is effectively your "elevator pitch" and should include your soft skills as well as your technical ones. If you're skilled at driving performance, this is the place to say so. Your profile should give a clear impression of what you bring to an organisation. If I'm a hirer, what do I really get when I hire you?
4. Don't ignore your soft skills – but back up your claims
In times where businesses are facing uncertainty and widespread, new and often unexpected challenges, skills like emotional intelligence, resilience, adaptability, resourcefulness, cultural awareness and diplomacy count for a lot. But if you claim to possess these skills, back it up with evidence.
5. The big one: achievements over responsibilities
Apart from obvious errors like typos and dates that don't stack up, probably the most common problem I see with CVs is that people spend more time and space focusing on responsibilities than they do on achievements. This stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what a CV is.
Your CV is not a chronological list of job descriptions for the roles you've held – it's a document that evidences why you're a good hire.
CVs are about providing evidence that you're a valuable employee, so the bulk of your career section should be demonstrating this. And how can you can provide evidence that you're effective at what you do? By talking about your achievements.
When writing your CV for each role you've held, ask yourself, "How did I make a difference?"
As a broad rule of thumb, you should be able to summarise your responsibilities in a few lines. Some people do this in a brief narrative section under each job title before going on to summarise their achievement in bullet lists, which can work well – but there is no strict formula. (There are, however, plenty of templates available online).
Figures, numbers and statistics such as margin and profit gains, numbers of units sold etc. are useful evidence data for sales or BD professionals.
But achievements don't have to be numerical, margin or profit-based. Think about the context of your role and what you were hired to do. You still made a difference – you just need to find a way to articulate this difference. Remember that all CVs will be read in the context of the role for which you're applying.
6. Active language
It is commonplace today for people to adopt a slightly corporate language when writing their CV because they assume that, as many people in businesses write this way, it will go over well with their intended audience.
In fact, most business language is fussy and abstract and full of "management-speak" – and this frustrates most people! That's why simple, persuasive sales copy is an art in itself. Similarly, a strongly-written CV with lots of active verbs that show exactly what you did and how you did it will stand out a mile from a "corporate language" CV full of passive verbs.
Facilitated cost savings and simplified the supply chain through ongoing audit of outsourced functions and reduction of duplicated effort...
...sounds pretty highfalutin, but language like this will start to become hard work for the reader after a while and eventually starts to sound like someone is trying to hide the fact they didn't achieve much, when compared to something like:
Saved 15% of supply chain costs in one year by negotiating fees and removing duplicated effort in the supply chain.
Go straight to part 2 of this blog!