A brief blog about CVs

October 23, 2016

I am not sure how many CVs I read a month; ten to fifteen would be my guess. Very often it is just to “cast an eye”, sometimes it is a more involved critique. It has prompted me to write a few words about CV writing generally.

I do not believe there is a perfect format for a CV and neither should we be fixated by length or style, but I do believe there are guiding ideas that can shape every CV. In effect the ambition should be to create a CV that is the best of us.

  • First, be clear (by which I mean be really, really clear) about the purpose of your CV. It can start as a generic document, but whenever you share it with a head-hunter or a prospective employer I think it needs to do three things:
    • Reveal a close alignment for the role you now want to take on.
    • Show you are progressing through the challenges you have faced and the experiences you have gained as a leader or manager or lawyer, and
    • Offers some insight into your approach to significant work
  •  If your CV reads like a list of jobs and tasks completed, it will seem dull and two-dimensional.  Too often it seems to me the author is so concerned by word-count, or fitting everything into a designated space, it might as well be excerpts from a telephone directory. Write your CV like you want someone to read it.
  • A common mistake is to take the last version used and then to update it. This misses the chance to put a current and relevant perspective on past experiences, but it also makes most CVs look disjointed and imbalanced. For each version of your CV start again with a blank page and write it with fresh eyes.
  • The best CVs, while obviously looking back, also show a trajectory/direction of travel that gives confidence to the reader that you are ready for your next bigger role. Remember that the people reading your CV know all about the role they want to fill. They are looking at your CV to see if you might be the right fit. Why wouldn’t you write your CV to show the reader that you tick the boxes they want ticked?
  • Some people find that a brief personal statement of attributes makes them look arrogant or over confident. My view is that it will only do this if you write it in that way! I am clear that self-assessment, accurately and fairly stated, is an essential skill. Therefore spend time ensuring you say something that is worth saying – avoid clichés and management-speak. I expect you to be a “self-starter”, “commercial” and “innovative” but these words (and others) whatever you think they mean, are trite and meaningless filler words. Work harder to say something interesting.
  • Before you write the CV, jot down what you consider to be your strengths, significant attributes and major achievements. Make these the scaffold on which to build your CV. I am less interested in the components of the deal you did ten years ago and far more interested in how you have matured as a contributing and important player in the teams you have worked in.
  • Be clear if you have skills that might be relevant to your future employer, even if not obviously relevant to the role in question – for example proficiency in languages, project management, or third sector experience etc. In a very competitive field, I would expect most candidates to be close to the brief. What might make a difference is that you have something else you offer as well.
  • The likely readers of your CV, especially if they are not themselves experts in your fields, can be incredibly judgemental about small things. Knowing this, be forensically accurate in grammar and spelling. Don’t just rely on spell-check, but have the CV reviewed by a trusted friend or colleague who will critique it with you.
  • My personal view is that if written in the third person (“…Paul did this and then Paul did that”) it will lack warmth, look contrived and you may also appear to be a bit of a dickhead. Also PLEASE set out the document so it is easy to read and pleasing on the eye. If you are using font size 6.5 you lose! Also, a quick note on how long a CV should be – a three-page CV is absolutely fine, but if you have two full pages plus one line on a third, please edit this to two pages!
  • Finally – work on the idea that your CV is the start of your interview for the role; it really should sound like you are human and that you want the job!

Good luck and take care


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