Written by Catherine Adenle
Do you know how to write a winning CV? Your CV is an important self-marketing document that will introduce you, showcase your skills, outline your experience and educational background to a potential employer. Your CV is typically the first item that a potential employer encounters and it is typically used to screen you as an applicant. The first step in writing a winning CV is to document your prime selling points for the job that you are applying for. This article will outline the key principles and signpost common mistakes that should be avoided when writing your CV.
“Only a piece of paper” is what some people say about a CV or Resume, but a CV is the single most important document that you will ever craft to get all the jobs that you will apply for throughout the course of your life. Like it or not, this piece of paper will shape your future.
The Latin term ‘Curriculum Vitae’ actually translates loosely to ‘Course of Life’. If your CV does not appeal to the reader then it is unlikely that it’ll get a second glance. So, ensure that you put the effort that your CV deserves in it!
Write a winning CV
To prepare an effective CV, you need to follow the 15 steps to CV Success listed below:
1. Compact and well structured CVs win interviews
Ok, this is stating the obvious here; remember that recruiters do not have enough time to read each CV from cover to cover. So it is important that for your CV, you always remember the 3 ‘Ps:
Your CV must be professional, informative and relevant, but punchy too. You must highlight only relevant or important points. If your current CV is crammed with pages and pages of text, then edit it to a super 2 page CV.
2.Include important items
An important aspect of how to write a winning CV is knowing that certain items have to be included in the CV regardless of the format used. Your CV must contain the following information:
3. Sell yourself, skills and achievements
If you don’t blow your own trumpet, then who will? You must be prepared to sell yourself throughout your CV in terms of your character, skills, experience and achievements.
4. Work experience
One thing that you must bear in mind to write a winning CV is to list your employment in reverse order – chronological order, starting with your most recent role first. You must bear in mind that there is little point in beginning your work experience section with a role that you occupied twenty years ago, that bears little or no resemblance to the role that you are applying for. Instead, focus on the jobs held and experience gained during the past five to ten years and include the rest in a brief list form. This helps to both reduce the length of your CV in general and prevents a recruiter from being bombarded with more information than necessary.
For each of your detailed employment entries, you should begin the description by offering 10-20 words on what the company actually do – If a recruiter knows what kind of environment you were working in, then the rest of the description will make twice as much sense to them. It’s imperative that you realise the importance of this particular point so that you do not lose out on valuable opportunities. Give a positive description of your role and objectives within the job. Be sure to mention any equipment, software or systems you became adept at using.
Knowing how to write a winning CV is knowing how to package and sell your attributes. These are your pieces of evidence – think about the achievements and experience you have gained within each post and insert them in bullet-point form after the job description for each post. Think carefully about these key points and write them in a punchy manner. If possible, use facts and statistics to give a particular achievement more backbone.
Where you place information about your education depends on the amount of work experience that you have gained after gaining any official qualifications, such as HND/Cs and Degrees. A recent graduate’s CV, for example, will go straight into education after the profile section, whereas a seasoned professional should list educational qualifications after their employment history, typically on the second page of their CV. Wherever you place your education section, you should be sure to structure it so that it shows your most important qualifications first, listing qualification grade and where you studied.
If you have room, you may also wish to include details of the subjects or modules studied and brief details of your final dissertation, if any. Any additional qualifications supporting these ‘main’ ones, such as ‘A’ levels or GCSE’s should be listed below, in reverse order, of when they were obtained. Descriptions of these supporting qualifications should be kept as brief as possible. However, you should include details such as places of study and dates, as this information adds credibility to your qualifications.
7. Contact Details and Address
Include every possible contact method at your disposal, including mobile number, landline telephone numbers and email address. Always put this information right at the top, slightly smaller than your main body text, but not so small as to be difficult to read. This places your contact details within ‘easy reach’, but does not distract the reader too much from the profile and other main body sections.
Remember that a prospective employer may wish to contact you right away, so you must include your mobile or your current work number if possible. ‘Round the clock’ contact information will maximize your exposure and ensure that you are presented with all available opportunities because you are easily contactable.
8. Spelling and Grammar
Never overlook spelling and grammar, just one mistake can put the reader off and consequently your otherwise winning CV could end up in the bin. No employer would be keen to employ someone who cannot be bothered to correct a few spelling and grammatical errors in a two or three-page document, because such lack of attention to detail does not speak well of the candidate.
The advice here is to simply check and double-check. Make full use of any spelling and grammar checkers used by your Microsoft Word. Get another pair of eyes, – your colleague, a mentor, your friends and family to read your CV once it is complete, as a fresh look or perspective can often identify mistakes that would otherwise have escaped your notice.
9. Tailor your CV to suit the job
Be sure to always tweak your CV, adjust the profile, employment history and achievements to more relevantly reflect the specification of the job that you are applying for, never use one CV for all. This will give your application enhanced credibility and suitability. Examine the advertisement or job specification carefully, highlight the skills required and ponder the qualities sought by the prospective employer.
Whilst remaining honest, match your CV and its content to the requirements of the particular job. You can do this by highlighting those aspects of your experience that have the greatest relevance to the requirements of the job.
10. Hobbies and Interests
You should insert this information near the end of your CV, as a small paragraph of text. Remember; keep it short, simple and positive. Try not to mention activities or interests that indicate vices such as spending time at the casino or pub. Also, it is generally understood that details of any strong political or religious affiliation should be omitted.
You can list or not list any references on your CV. Your experience and suitability alone should decide whether you are called in for an interview. However, if not listed, you must include a statement to let your potential employer know that references will be provided if required and take details of referees to your interviews, as this is the most likely point when a prospective employer may require them.
Remember to choose your referees carefully. The best references that give the most accurate measure of your abilities are those that come from your current or recent employers. Also, you should make the referees aware of the possibility that they will be contacted.
12. Choose the Right Format
No matter what sector your chosen career may lie, your CV will fall into one of the following CV types formats.
Decide which category you fall into and stick to the general format suggested by the examples in this blog site. For example, a graduate CV would have its own unique format, placing greater importance on qualifications by listing these first after the profile. In contrast, an executive CV would list the employment history first, as work experience is generally of greater importance to positions of this level.
13. Recruiters and Keywords
When sending your CV into a recruitment organization on a speculative basis, it is worth remembering that quite often your details will be stored electronically on to a database. For this reason, be sure to think carefully about what area you are likely to be searched on in the career type you seek. The more specific your skill base the easier this is to achieve, for example, if you seek a career in publishing or media the more times you include the words ‘publishing or media’ onto your CV the likelier you are to come upon a search. Do not overdo it; otherwise, your CV will become repetitive. Try not to compromise the overall effect of your CV. A winning CV contains the required keywords for the attributes the job requires.
14. Do’s & Don’ts:
This quick, point-by-point guide will assist you in assessing your current CV and remedy any common mistakes that are committed:
15. Save your CV in Word and use your name
Once you have prepared your CV and it’s spelt checked, it is important to save it in Word using your name so that it is easy to remember your name, locate your CV and open it. For example, you could save your document as, ‘JohnSmithsCV.doc’.
Remember that there is no right or wrong way to write a winning CV, merely more or less effective CVs. Rather than worry about what the latest fashion or convention is, consider what type of format is best for you and the specific job application.
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