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November 01, 2012

The golden rules of CV writing

CV man

'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.

October 02, 2012

CV profiles: are they killer or filler?

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Careers profiles, career objectives, personal profile, personal statement – all permutations on a theme and one you can’t fail to have noticed if you’re pulling your CV together. The big question is: do you need one? Well, the jury is well and truly out on this one. Some people – including careers consultants, HR managers and recruiters – swear by them. Others – including including careers consultants, HR managers and recruiters – don’t! So it’s not surprising if you’re feeling a little bewildered by such conflicting and contradictory information. I’m going to try and get to the bottom of this thorny issue and help you decide if, when and how you should use one.

Personal profile or career objective

Although they occupy the same space on the page, there is an important distinction to draw between the personal profile and career objective. A personal profile highlights your current situation, skills and USP. A career objective describes the type of job you’re looking for, and where.

Career objective

Computer science graduate seeking challenging position in software development company to fully utilise my Java programming skills and confidence with concurrency and multi-threading.

Personal profile

A highly motivated computer science graduate with a first class degree, experience in Java and award winning undergraduate dissertation.

I have chosen these examples to contrast the different approaches but in practice the two often merge to create a hybrid statement, along the lines of:

Highly motivated computer science graduate, with an excellent academic credentials including first class degree and award winning undergraduate dissertation. Looking for a graduate position in a software development company, where my Java programming knowledge and strong problem solving skills can be fully utilised.

If you're applying for an advertised vacancy then think twice before you include a careers objective. The parameters of the role are already defined so an employer will be confused (or worse, irritated) by the inclusion.

How to write one

The internet is awash with examples of personal profiles, and this is something to bear in mind should you decide to include one. Recruiters are savvy folk – they spend a lot of time sifting through applications, CVs and cover letters. They have a well-honed (*insert fruity word*) detector and can sniff a fake or a liar a mile off. They’re also time poor, and don’t want to waste it reading a bland statement that reads like a laundry list of adjectives. If you're going to add a profile, try to follow these simple recommendations:

  • Avoid making bold, overblown statements. You’re a student/graduate not the CEO of Coca-Cola. If in doubt, ask someone to sense check it for you. Explosive laughter is not endorsement!
  • Say something specific or tangible. Try to find a point of difference or USP. You’ll be competing with your peers. If everyone has a 2:1, work experience and society involvement what makes you stand out?
  • Keep it factual. Yes, you need to sell yourself but not at the expense of your future reputation and integrity. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
  • Make it focussed and succinct, not vague and repetitive. Space is at a premium so aim for 2-3 lines maximum and please, please, please give buzzwords a wide berth.
  • Read your statement aloud and apply the ‘so what’ test? If your intended audience could respond with a 'so what', the chances are they will.

Do you need one?

At this stage in your career, probably not. Career profiles work best when they include demonstrable – and often quantifiable – experience or, achievements. For example, an applicant with '3 years in-house marketing experience, implementing a successful social media strategy and co-ordinating retail campaigns' is more notable than a 'recent graduate with strong communication skills and creative flair seeking a challenging role in a marketing or PR agency'. The latter may promise potential but recruiters are generally looking for cold, hard evidence.

It is really difficult for a recent graduate to offer the range of experience and knowledge that transforms a bland, generic statement into an impressive, eye catching profile. I have worked in HE careers for over six years but despite reading many careers profiles, less than a handful have made any kind of impression. A memorable example was the PhD student who used a careers profile to great effect, pre-empting concerns about her ability to transfer 'academic' experience to the workplace. She found a job in publishing soon after. Careers profiles can work well for career changes but for most graduates I would advise against. Feedback from our recruiters is lukewarm at best and a weak profile may hinder, not help, your application.

July 03, 2012

Are visual CVs the future?


I was catching up on my LinkedIn groups this week and found a really interesting thread on visual CVs. I've certainly seen some of the jazzier infographics doing the Twitter rounds, so maybe it's a good time to consider how – and where – visual CVs fit within the application and recruitment process. Are visual CVs the way forward or a pleasant distraction?

A digital portfolio

Creating a visual CV can help you develop and consolidate your online 'brand'. Think of it as an online portfolio; a means of collecting and updating evidence you can share with prospective employers. If you're looking to enter the creative and digital industries, it's a great way to showcase your creative thinking and technical skills. Whether you decide to use presentation software like Prezi (maybe PowerPoint for a retro feel!) or web applications like and VisualCV you can build an interactive and dynamic CV, ready for sharing.

How to do it

  • Choose the right software or application. Prezi is great for creative people, but you need to have good material and visual flair. Strong concept + good execution = great prezi!
  • If you're not quite the multimedia genius then you might be better off with This is a handy web application that pulls through your information from LinkedIn and turns it into a CV infographic, with scope for you to further edit and customise once the 'conversion' is complete. Just make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and up to date.
  • Approach the task just as you would for a standard CV. Think clarity, focus and 'readability'. If your message is lost in a sea of flashy animation that promises much and delivers little, recruiters will just switch off.

Do I need one?

Well, there is an escalating trend towards visual CVs, but don't be tempted to think this is an either/or approach to job seeking. A strong visual CV should complement, not replace, your traditional CV. And even then, you need to decide whether it's the right format to use. A visual CV is a great way of 'personalising' your CV – and job search – but do remember certain industries and sectors are more conservative than others. if you're considering law or accountancy, I'd probably stick to more conventional methods.

A few of the pros:

  • You can embed all sorts of files – video, audio, charts, graphs and PowerPoint. This is great for showing samples of your work and saying to an employer, "I have the's the evidence".
  • By integrating your visual CV with social media channels (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) you have access to a huge potential network. Have you heard about the US student whose CV went viral?

And the cons:

  • Visual CVs can sometimes appear 'content lite'. Try not to sacrifice substance for style – you need both!
  • Don't assume all recruiters and HR managers will be impressed with your creativiity. They won't always have the time to spend interpreting (what can be...) quite complex visual information.

And here's how it can work...

Charles Oben, a final year student at Warwick, created a visual CV to "encourage recruiters to have a look at something that is far more interesting than my conventional CV". The response has been positive. In recent interviews with WDMP and Adconion Media Group both recruiters commented on the power of Charles' online presentation. Adconion have since offered Charles a 6 month internship!

I think what has really helped me stand out from the crowd is that I'm told that my conventional CV is great in itself, but whenever responding to a job ad I always include a link to my online CV

Click this video to play or go to Prezi

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