The golden rules of CV writing
'Employers only spend 30 seconds scanning your CV'. It may surprise you to know that many recruiters are actually spending far less time. 80% less, in fact. You may have just 6 seconds to persuade an employer to take a second look. Now there's no such thing as a perfect CV - no 'magic bullet' - but you can improve your chances by following such pretty basic rules.
Tailor your CV
- It may sound obvious but many applicants still fall at the first hurdle. Graduate recruiters tell us they still see far too many CVs that are bland and generic. Don't send a vanilla CV.
- You need to align your CV with the job and person spec and provide evidence that you have the skills and competencies required.
- Take heed of sector and industry norms. And 'cultural preference'. My recommendations are specific to the UK market, other countries may differ.
Highlight your work experience
- Prioritise the most relevant work experience and emphasise any specific projects, tasks or skills that relate to the job.
- It doesn't have to be paid work to count. Voluntary work can help you showcase an impressive array of skills and experience.
- Don't feel daunted if your work experience isn’t directly relevant; you can still draw out some useful skills and demonstrate to a potential employer you understand the most basic requirements of the workplace: time management, communication and team work. Any work experience is better than none!
Find your selling points
- You may not have everything the employer is looking for but remember the job spec often represents a ‘wish list’. Don’t rule yourself out because there are gaps. Highlight your areas of strength.
- Make the most of your skills and experiences by providing tangible evidence and examples. ‘Illustrate and substantiate’. Don’t assume an employer will infer anything – if you don’t tell them, they won’t know.
- Find your USP. What makes you different from your fellow students/grads?
Speak the language
- Try not to pepper your CV with too many buzzwords or jargon. Use industry or professional terminology to show you understand the environment but don’t overdo the ‘management speak’.
- Use powerful keywords that mirror the job spec and show how you will add value to an organisation.
- A CV is a sales document, not a biography. Avoid padding. Be selective and edit.
Think about presentation
- Most employers in the UK expect to see a two page, reverse chronological CV but this isn’t always the case. Many investment banks prefer one page. Check what’s required and use the right format and style.
- Use a professional, modern, ‘sans serif’ font; separate sections with clear headings; use bold or italics for emphasis and check spelling and grammar.
- Avoid gimmicks and novelty CVs. It's better to err on the side of caution. Unless you're going for creative roles, stick to a more conventional format. You can always link to your visual CV or infographic, but this should complement not replace.
Before you click send, print off a copy and adopt the arm's length test. Hold your CV out in front of you - at arm's length - and see what overall impression it creates. It should be easy to read, well laid out, with clear headings and good balance of text and white space. If in doubt, ask a job search adviser to check it for you. A good CV may not guarantee you a job, but a poor one will certainly end in rejection.