The perfect CV – does it exist?
You need a CV that works for you. If you ask a career coach or recruiter about CV format you’ll get a different answer from each of them. There’s no right way to write a CV but it’s really important that you are happy with it and it reflects your brand and so is “fit for purpose”.
I think there’s an over-emphasis on the importance of the CV. Jobseekers spend hours redefining, refreshing, rewriting them. I firmly believe that, a great CV notwithstanding, networking and getting in front of the relevant ‘point of purchase’ person is your first priority. The CV is little more than a “leave behind” albeit an important one.
It is a marketing document and you should be aware that the average recruiter is likely to spend no more than 2-3 minutes reading it. In my experience most people who interview others for jobs look at the CV on the way to the interview room.
Your CV should evolve & adapt
A CV is a working document, an organic and flexible tool that evolves. It’s always written for a particular organisation or a particular job and so you must constantly adjusting the content so that you tell your readers what they want to hear.
Having said that you should always have one ready. So although I tried to convince you that it is not really important here are the things you need to know about a good CV.
You want it to stand out and you want it be different. A marketing document needs to be eye-catching but for the right reasons. All too often the wrong reasons are spelling and grammar! You’d be surprised how many people go to grammar school but can’t spell the word ‘grammar’.
Write it from the perspective of the reader or, increasingly, from the perspective of the search engines that search on key words.
The key elements of your perfect CV
- Start with a profile – to catch the eye and tell where you have come from, where you are going, what you are looking for. Avoid words like dynamic, ambitious, creative – there is no way to prove those things. Make the profile a factual statement.
- Previous experience should be listed, in chronological order from the most recent role. Recruiters are only interested in the last 10 years. Focus on outputs which should be quantitative. Process, i.e. what drove outputs, is less important.
- You might include a brief positioning statement – what the job was and where it sat in organisation but avoid in-house jargon.
- Tell it as a journey – a successful one.
- Arrange achievements to reflect the importance of these issues relative to the organisation or role you are applying for.
- Outside the 10 years just briefly say where else you worked.
Make it memorable
Now the tricky bit – that really distinguishes the excellent candidate from an average one. If you listed achievements you have probably got onto page two. If the interviewer is still reading then you have caught their interest. What you have to do next is take that to another level. You need to say something memorable about yourself to spark an interest in arranging to meet. Here are some examples I remember from outplacement client CVs:
- A Lloyds broker who worked as part of Tony Blair’s delegation to China
- A marketing guy responsible for the introduction of Fosters lager via the Paul Hogan adverts
- A finance director looking for move into general management role who had no marketing experience. He had, however, worked actively for a small charity on flag-day sales as Chair of trustees and there had been significant revenue growth under his aegis
Something like this quoted in your CV is really useful. This is where you name-drop people you know or have worked with. You can use your life outside work. If you’ve done work for a trade association, have been published or undertaken public speaking engagements mention them here.
Don’t put cycling, walking, or theatre, down as hobbies. Dull, dull and duller.
It’s as long as it needs to be
The length of your CV is a matter of discretion – it doesn’t have to be one page of A4 but it can’t be on 15 pages. Designed to sell you as an individual, a research analyst may go into some detail reflecting varied or specific research capability whereas a City trader may get a CV onto one page, there’s no fixed rule.
Next is qualifications – show the highest level of qualification you have. If you have degree then don’t list your ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels or your cycling proficiency certificate. That’s all there is to it.
Make it easy to use, don’t forget your contact details, preferably at the top of the page. Your mobile number is very important. Don’t have a stupid email address – hotbabe@hotmail is not going to make a good impression. Equally something obscure such as mdm136@gmail is not memorable and my Outlook drop-down won’t find it easily. Your email address should be name-based.
Job done. Don’t spend too much time on it, get networking.