Even if you are currently fortunate enough to be employed, or self-employed, it is always a good idea to have an up-to-date CV stashed away, just in case. Like that carton of UHT milk in the back of the kitchen cupboard, you never know when you may suddenly need it! You may spot the ideal job advertised, or be pitching for some work, but if you present a hastily-cobbled-together CV based on your erratic memories of the last five years, you won’t get very far.
In my work as an HR consultant, I see more CVs than, well, a thing that sees a shedload of CVs. And most of them are rubbish. That doesn’t mean that the people who send them are rubbish, I hasten to add – just that they have done a rubbish job of presenting themselves effectively! So don’t do yourself a disservice with a garden-variety CV from CVs-R-Us dot-com; instead make sure that your CV stands out, and for all the right reasons!
The main mistake for most people is to make their CV nothing but a collection of previous job descriptions! That may focus on what you’ve done, but not on how successfully you did it. Then your CV is an identikit job to others with a similar career path – because having experience doesn’t always mean having ability!
Don’t just list your tasks and responsibilities. Add in key achievements as well as descriptions of how you actually did your job.
Here’s an example:
I work closely with a team of 7 – this involves contributing to team meetings, participating in discussions, being willing to help others manage their workload, and the flexibility and adaptability to cover other people’s work when needed.”
How to create a super CV
Use dynamic words for maximum impact
So instead of – “I did…” try – “I created/managed/developed/implemented/initiated/presented…” Use some more dynamic words to describe how well you did things, such as accurately, efficiently, on time, to budget, proactively, effectively etc. After all, which sounds more impressive – “Responsible for doing monthly reports” or “Produced reports accurately and on time each month.”
Focus on your key skills
Most people also miss out a section focussing on key skills. Remember, any potential employer wants to know about what you can bring to the job, not what you left behind at the last one! Choose four or five skills or qualities that are critical to job success – such as team working, communication, organisational skills or customer service – and give some examples of when and how you’ve demonstrated those skills.
Don’t limit yourself to job-related achievements and experiences though, especially if you’re in the early stages of your career. Refer to other activities to show off your skills and attributes, such as hobbies, sports, involvement with clubs and societies. Being on a committee, whether it was the University trampolining society or your local am-dram group, is a great example of using team working and communication skills!
Don’t forget a cover letter
Don’t just send a CV on its own – that’s like sending someone flowers with no card to say why or who they’re from. Always submit a cover letter with your CV, which gives a brief overview of what you’re applying for and why. The cover letter should give the recruiter enough of a taster to make them want to read your CV, instead of filing it under B (for Bin!)
Make it personal?
There does seem to be a trend for a ‘personal profile’ – a brief section at the top summarising your experience and skills. I’m a bit iffy about those – after all, this is the stuff that should go in the accompanying cover letter, so why repeat it?
Plus, many are really badly written, in my experience. They often make vague statements with little real content, and any written in the 3rd person (“Sarah is a marketing executive – she has good client service skills and a positive attitude”) either sound like you got someone else to write it for you (possibly for a Miss World voiceover) or are having a dissociative episode. But if you really must (sigh) then here is an example of a good one:
A highly competent and enthusiastic professional Marketing Executive with 10 years’ experience, who enjoys being part of, as well as leading, a successful and productive team. Quick to grasp new ideas and concepts, and to develop innovative and creative solutions to problems. Is highly proactive and has the motivation required to meet the tightest of deadlines. Even under significant pressure, possesses the resilience to perform effectively.”
Just make sure you can back it up with examples and evidence.
Remember, a CV is a business document, not a letter to your mum.
So don’t put in long paragraphs of flowery narrative – chances are they won’t be fully read anyway. Instead, use bullet points and simple formatting (such as bold type) to make key words and phrases stand out. Make an effort with presentation but don’t go overboard. If you try to stand out with colours, images, different fonts and OTT formatting, you’ll just give the recruiter a headache.
Proofread, proofread, then proofread again!
I often want to send CVs back with all the corrections marked in red pen! There’s no excuse for errors in a CV. Proofread, proofread, proofread – and then get someone else to proofread (preferably someone who can spot the mistakes.) Make sure you fix not just spelling mistakes and typos, but also grammar, punctuation and poor wording.
Read it out loud to check what you have said makes sense!
Although it’s a business document, use plain English instead of trying to sound too formal, as often people end up simply making no sense (I have a collection of CVs sent to me over the years that prove this point, sadly).
Keep your CV in electronic copy so you can tailor it for each potential role you use it for – e.g. using the client’s/employer’s terminology (do they refer to clients, customers or service users?) Highlight skills and experience you know they are looking for. One size does not always fit all!
‘In Curriculum Vitae Veritas’
In other words, don’t fib. If you have the right approach to presenting and wording your CV, you should have no need to tell porkies – which means no-one can sack you later if you get rumbled.
So, get your up-to-date, stand-out CV ready, and update it from time to time. You’ll find this much easier than having to revamp it several years later, and like a little black dress in your wardrobe, you can pull it out and accessorise it for any occasion!
Do you keep an up-to-date CV on file ready for action? If so, how has this benefited you? Do you find it hard creating the perfect CV or have some tips on what information to include? Please do post your comments here – we’d love to hear from you.