Selling Yourself: How To Create A Great CV
December 12, 2011
By: Lauranne Heres
You know how everyone is always telling you that a good CV is the only way to get noticed in a sea of applicants? Well, they are right.
Just like your personal statement was a key element to your uni application, your CV is the essential item when you’re job hunting. But like anything you can find, CVs tend to come in all different shapes and sizes, with numerous guidelines as to what needs to be put in and left out.
Most universities offer CV labs for their students, which are really great to attend when you have no clue whatsoever about how to write a CV. If you’re more of a do-it-yourself kind of gal, head to your library or any bookshop and get yourself two or three copies of CV handbooks, which can be really useful. The best books generally include how to write a cover letter, which is essential to know. Always mix up the different styles of CVs offered and feel free to use the terminology as a source of inspiration (scan the page to keep it). Make sure to write the text so it sounds like you. You can also mix different formulations of terms and phrases so it doesn’t come off as being copied and pasted. Good ones include Corinne Mills’ You’re Hired! CV: How to write a brilliant CV and Tracey Whitmore’s How to Write an Impressive CV and Cover Letter: A Comprehensive Guide for the UK Job Seeker.
Google is also very useful and offers CV templates and advice on what to avoid. Just type in “CV” into a Google search and you’ll see how many results come up, especially if you look for images. It’s also beneficial if you look at your friend’s CVs, especially if they’ve successfully applied for jobs before. But just to make your life easier, here are my top ten CV stress busters!
1. Do not exceed 2 pages
A CV should be a recap of your life, not a Facebook timeline-like exposé. If necessary, use thinner margins to fit everything in. Be concise and use plenty of bullet points or other signs (ticks and arrows work well too). Start by listing your name, address and contact details at the very top and centre of the page. Your name should always be in bold letters.
2. Don’t lie
A little extrapolation has never hurt anyone, so you can easily say that you were part of the debating team when in fact you only went twice a year, but don’t put down jobs you never did or skills you don’t possess. Saying you’re ‘computer literate’ says that you can use a computer with ease, but putting down ‘familiar with HTML and Logic’ when you’ve only ever watched someone do it, is not good at all. Imagine the employer wanting to test you and asking you to show them what you could do. Would you say that you haven’t done it in a while? In that case you might as well tell the truth.
3. Always list things starting with the latest achievement
If you’ve just graduated, your BA, MA or Phd should come first. Then list how many A-Levels you got and in what (or if you don’t come from England, write your country’s equivalent) and if you have other diplomas (TOEFL or maybe a prize for your dissertation), list those as well. Same with your jobs (if you have any): list the one you’re working at now, or the last summer job you had, and so forth.
4. Add extra-curricular activities
Were you head-cheerleader? Did you run the MUN team? Have you organised charity events, or were you secretary of a society at your university? Then write away! Employers aren’t just interested in what you learned and where you’ve worked, they also want to find out about the person they could hire. As I already said in a previous article, employers are starting to research the person they could hire and so putting all your attributes forward is a great move. It proves that you’re not just work, but also play and that you can really round up your skills. Think what your hobbies say about you and what they’ve taught you: you’ll probably be able to re-use those skills in the work place.
5. Know when to stop
I have said that you should list achievements, hobbies etc. but it is important for you to know when enough is enough (ah Barbra…. but I’m getting carried away). If you’ve never had a job, then listing all you did at school is a good way to emphasise your versatility. But if you’re already 25, have had 4 different jobs and graduated years ago, don’t overdo it. List main items (like the society you led, or the dissertation you wrote), but lose the ‘I was student representative in year 9′. If you’re ever asked you can always add this to the conversation.
6. Alter CVs so they are tailor-made for each job you apply for
I’m not necessarily saying you need four different CVs, but every time you send one, know what to cut out and what to leave in. If you’re going for a job in retail, there’s no need to explain your inherent interest in 17th century French literature. But if you’re trying to work in a library, that information can guarantee you an interview. Put certain information forward if you know it’s a requirement for the job, and feel free to leave out something that has no relevance.
7. A cover letter complements the CV; it doesn’t replace it.
When you email a possible employer, don’t just send a generic “here is my CV” email. Write a nice letter where you explain why you’re interested in the job (or internship), why you think you’d be well-suited for it and what your interest in the company is. Then you use this space to expand on things you put in your CV, so feel free to shorten them there if you’re going to explain more in the letter. Expand the “I interned at Elle for a week” to “I learned how stressful it can be to run a magazine, how useful team work and communication are when deadlines are looming; and when given a task I always performed it at the best of my abilities.”
8. Develop different sections and play with fonts and layout
Please don’t print your CV on bright pink paper like Elle Woods did in Legally Blonde and don’t use font size 18. It’s necessary for your CV to show structure. Having various sections like Education, Work Experience, Jobs, Extra-Curricular Activities, etc. makes it easier for the person reading it to find what they’re looking for. Give those titles a colour (a dark red or navy will do) and make them bold. When you give information about a job, write the title in italics, put the dates in brackets then indent to describe what you did. Your CV will look neater and make it easy to skim-read at first glance.
9. When mailing possible employers, always sound friendly.
The written word lacks body language to back up what we mean, so it can cause issues. Write “please”, “thank you” and “sorry” at will, and watch out for sentences that can pass as rude such as: :I haven’t heard from you in a while” or “Did you not get my CV?” You’re allowed to chase up someone if they haven’t gotten back to you and you emailed your CV. You can write again after two weeks of sending it and if you mailed it and haven’t heard back after a month, follow up with a phone call. The telephone is still the fastest way to speak to someone and sometimes secretaries or receptionists are more than willing to pass you on to someone in charge or to provide you with more accurate information about whom to contact.
10. Last but not least… NO TYPOS!
I’m currently on an internship at a radio station which gets plenty of CVs every day. Let me tell you that if there is even ONE SINGLE mistake in the email or the CV, you will not get an answer. Not proofreading (especially when you have word and possibly a friend somewhere) shows that you lack maturity, but also that you’re sloppy in what you do. An employer wants a responsible adult, not a mouthy teenager who writes “cnt wait to hr bk frm u abt the job”.
I hope this information helps and if you have any questions, may I suggest you ask everyone you know with a job. They’ll know exactly what you mean.
Images from: amazon.co.uk; wikimedia.org; bodyandsoulcharity.org; greexplorer.com