What is a CV and what role does it play for you?
Your CV (or curriculum vitae) is a marketing tool that is designed to get you an interview; a document that needs to tick all the boxes to survive a ruthless filtering process but then sell you as a contractor so effectively as to set you apart from the rest, once someone actually sits down to give a shortlist of CVs some serious consideration. Developing a winning CV requires you to think confidently about your abilities and take a targeted approach to produce content that is compelling but still clear, concise and very accessible. The layout of your CV needs to be eye-catching but still conform to the tried and tested conventions of CV writing.
The CV filtering process
Let’s consider the ruthless filtering process first of all. At this point your CV has literally 10 seconds to make a positive impact before it, and ultimately you, get put on the reject pile. Your prospective employer has a large pile of cvs on their desk and need to whittle them down to the much more manageable number that he/she will then take the time to read properly. They may only have a short period of time in which to perform this task and therefore will need to be fairly ruthless in their method of filtering, so it’s your job when writing your CV, to ensure that it makes its way firmly onto the “read it properly” pile rather than into the bin with the other rejects. Below is a checklist that you can follow to ensure that your CV survives the filtering process and stays securely in the running.
Checklist to survive the filtering process
Presentation is key – Always type your CV. Occasionally employers may ask for a hand written covering letter but the CV should always be printed and on as good a quality paper as you can find without it being too thick
Be concise – Make your CV no more than 2 pages of A4 in length, longer CVs are likely to be rejected without further thought
Create a positive visual impact – Use bullet points for impact and break up the text, essay style CVs are too laborious to read. Talented design and layout using different type setting etc will always have a positive impact but take care not to overdo it. Use sensible margin spacing to prevent your CV appearing cluttered
Logical layout – Use titles so that the reader can quickly find what they are looking for and always put your profile or a list of skills on the front page, the prospective employer will not want to go searching for them
Tailor your CV – Ensure that your profile or list of skills are relevant to the contract being advertised
Now that your prospective employer has a more manageable number of CVs, all of which demonstrate skill sets that would match the contract being applied for, they will look beyond the first page and read each CV thoroughly looking for those non-technical qualities that they consider to be necessary for the position and to ensure that you will “fit in” with their organisation. Their aim now is to filter the CVs again to produce a smaller “for interview” pile. The checklist below shows what the employer will be looking for now and the order in which they will expect to find it, consider this list when developing your CV and ensure that you demonstrate how well you fulfil the criteria wherever possible.
Making it onto the “for interview” pile
Contact details – Check and double check your contact details because if the prospective employer likes what they read, they will want to get in touch with you quickly and without hassle. A daytime telephone number is imperative and an e mail address is also very useful, particularly a Hotmail address which is likely to remain the same even if a CV has been kept on file for a long period of time.
Date of birth and nationality – Although the days of discrimination are long gone, putting these details onto your CV will save a prospective employer from having to ask you for them for administrative purposes. If you are not a citizen of the country in which you are applying for jobs then the employer will need to know in order for arrangements to be made
Introduction – Although this section will appear towards the beginning of your CV, write it last. Keep it concise but guarantee impact by ensuring that it reads fluently and summarises your key qualities and aims. This section does not require a heading.
Previous employment, particularly experience in the last 12 months is closely related to the skills required for the contract – Include your employment history in reverse chronological order so that what the employer is looking for most is highly accessible and explain why you feel that you have had relevant experience if it is not immediately obvious from previous contracts/job titles listed. Also include concise details about duties, responsibilities and achievements in each role. Showing your achievements from previous employment in bullet points at the beginning of this section is powerful, use active verbs such as “I am trained in….., I have experience of…., I managed…..”.
Contract renewals – Within the previous employment section, make it clear if you have had contracts that have been renewed. This is a positive indicator to a prospective employer. Lots of short contracts and no renewals will be viewed less favourably. If the latter describes your contract history then be sure to give positive explanations for this.
Experience with Blue Chip companies – if you have worked for any Blue Chip companies, either as a contractor or as a permanent employee in the past, make sure that this is included in your CV
Finally, ensure that any gaps in employment history are explained eg. travelling, studying etc
A good academic background – It goes without saying that you need to put your academic qualifications onto your CV but there is no need to list every subject for your O’levels/GCSEs. You can keep it simple by writing 10 GCSEs grades A-C for example. A-level and higher education qualifications should be listed, together with the name of the school, college or university where your qualifications were gained. Again, as with employment history, your academic background should be detailed in reverse chronological order ie with the most recent first. Also ensure you also include any relevant vocational courses that you may have completed, employers view continued professional development very favourably
Some personal insight – Employers want to get a feel for you as a person to help them determine whether you would “fit in” with the general ethos of their organisation so make sure that you include a section on your CV where you can try to put across personality by describing your hobbies and interests. However, you do need to keep this section brief so consider the implications of what you include and choose those hobbies/interests that will show you in the most favourable light in respect of the contract/type of organisation that you are applying to. For example, team sports will demonstrate that you are a team player and the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme or time spent charity fund raising will show that you are keen for a challenge.
References – You do not need to list referees on your CV, “References available upon request” will suffice.
You’re winning CV has made it to the “For Interview” pile, so what next?
Once your name is on the interview shortlist, the job of your CV is done for the time being, its then over to you to sell yourself to your employer in an interview setting. Although this is normally face to face, today’s global marketplace sometimes dictates the need for telephone interviews, and some employers even conduct telephone interviews as an additional rung on the recruitment ladder. Either way good interview skills are imperative as you have a very short period of time in which to make the right impression.
Look out for our guide to developing your interview skills which is coming soon!