Your CV – getting it noticed
Your CV is one of the most important documents you will ever write. Don’t ‘knock it together quickly’ – take time to make sure it presents you well for each position you apply for.
The main purpose of your CV is to get you a first interview with a prospective employer or, if you're going through an agency, to convince the agency to recommend you to the employer.
You need to make sure your CV will stand-out from all the others. This doesn’t mean it should be bright and gaudy – it needs to be smart, legible and clearly address the requirements of the role.
Your CV is a very personal document. It needs to sell you and it also needs to reflect some of your personality. This article should be used as a guide and not too prescriptively.
The term ‘Curriculum Vitae’ loosely translates to ‘course of my life’ and it’s exactly what the CV is.
This is a contentious subject. Most agencies recommend you to limit your CV to two pages, whilst others like to see your complete career history and some even want one page!
My view is that the absolute maximum is four pages. Sometimes two pages may not be enough to whet the appetite of the recruiter.
CV dos and don’ts
- Do avoid long wordy paragraphs. Try and bullet-point where possible – it’s easier to read. The CV is no place for long wordy sentences!
- Do use a standard font. Don’t use a fancy script – not only are these more difficult to read, but some agencies use OCR to read your CV and scan it for key words.
- Don’t use a font size smaller than 11.
- Do use the same font throughout – consistency is important.
- Don’t have a paragraph of text that spans more than four lines.
- Do use headings, short paragraphs and bullet points. Remember that a recruiter sees many CVs and you need to make sure yours stands-out by making sure the reader is easily drawn to the information they need.
- Do use up-beat and positive words and phrases. Always avoid negativity or ‘knocking’ an employer.
- Do list your previous jobs with the current one first.
- Don’t include acronyms, project names, system names or buzzwords that are internal to a company. Change the name to something meaningful – for example, don’t use ‘Project Golden’ – use something descriptive like ‘project to centralise settlement’.
- Don’t copy your job description into your CV – it’s obvious and it's lazy!
- Don’t exaggerate or tell lies. These can (and will) be found out either at the interview, by references, by external reference agencies or when you start the job. You can be dismissed for doing this.
- Don’t put your education on the front page unless you are a graduate. Put your education on the back page and only list your secondary and further education – believe it or not, some people still detail their primary education.
- Do include the equivalent level of academic qualifications if your education results were from a different country to the job, so that the employer/agency understands your qualifications.
- Do include Internet links (URLs) to examples of your work if applicable to the role, such as graphic design or web design.
- Don’t include the following on your CV: age, date of birth, gender, marital status, children, health, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
- Don’t include reference details on your CV- this will take up valuable CV space. You can supply them separately when you get to the interview.
- Do send your CV with an application form. Some employers ask prospective employees to apply for a job using their application form. In this case, sending your CV with the application form allows you to emphasise your skills and strengths more than an application form will.
Every job is different and has different requirements, skills, attributes or experience needed. Every time you apply for a job, make sure you ‘tune’ your CV – don’t just send the same version.
- Look at the requirements of the role you are applying for. Make sure that your CV clearly relates to those requirements in approximately the same order.
- Don’t lie or over-inflate your achievements. Remember that if you get to the interview stage, you will need to be able to talk through your CV.
Before you send your CV
- Check and correct the spelling.
- Re-read the whole document and ask someone else to read it as well – this needs to be a ‘sense’ check as well as a grammar check. Spelling checkers don’t pick-up everything and they certainly won’t pick-up if you use a wrong word correctly spelt.
- Make sure you have removed any document revision information – if you are using Microsoft Word 2016, use the File/Info/Inspect document option. This will allow you to remove any hidden content from your document.
- If you are emailing your CV, make sure the format is readable to the recipient. PDF is usually a ‘safe bet’.
- If you are posting your CV, print it on good quality paper and send it in either an A4 or half-A4 (A5) sized envelope. Do not fold it more than once.
- If you are emailing your CV, before sending it, print the CV on a black-and-white printer. Remember that most offices print in black and white because it is much cheaper than colour. Testing this makes sure that it prints in the layout you want, fits onto the right number of pages and makes sure that any colours appear in the right shade of grey.
Here is a recommended structure to follow for your CV. Remember that your CV is a very personal document, so use this as a guide only.
- Your name as a heading.
- Your contact details – e-mail address, postal address and telephone numbers.
- Personal statement.
- Your key experience and skills.
- Your significant achievements.
- Details of your current role.
- Details of your previous role(s) with the most recent first.
- Your education, qualifications, training and professional body membership.
- Your hobbies and interests.
CV structure – heading
The purpose of the heading is to advertise you!! Make sure your name is the heading. All too often, the applicants name is in a smaller font further down the document.
Don’t use your full name, use the name that you are known as. For example, if your full name is ‘Benjamin Horatio Smith’, but have always been known as ‘Ben Smith’, then the heading should be ‘Ben Smith’.
It’s your choice whether you include ‘CV’ or ‘Curriculum Vitae’ in the heading. It isn’t really needed, because it’s obvious it is a CV.
CV structure – contact details
Your email address
Include your email address that the prospective employer (and/or agency) can contact you at.
It’s not a good idea to use your current employer’s email address, in case it is seen. Remember that many employers archive and check incoming and outgoing emails for security reasons.
Use your private email address but make sure it has a sensible name. For example, if you set-up your email address years ago and still use ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’, it will create an immediate impression of you with the employer. Create an email account with a professional looking name, such as ‘email@example.com’, but remember to monitor it for email.
Your postal address
Most employers want to know where you live and for some roles, it is important for immigration/work permit type controls.
Include your postal address – such as ‘Birmingham, UK’. You don’t need your full address on the CV – that will be on the covering letter (if you send one).
Your telephone number(s)
It’s probably not a good idea to include your desk phone number at your current employer, even though it may be the most convenient for you. Imagine if a colleague picked-up a call and the agency started the conversation.
Include your mobile and home phone numbers, but make it clear it is your home so the prospective employer/agency will understand why it may not be answered. If you have an answer machine or voicemail, make sure it is a professional message.
CV structure – personal statement
This isn’t mandatory but is now very common. Some people find these a bit ‘cheesy’, but if worded right, it is a headline and a great opportunity to sell yourself.
Don’t make it too generic and bland. Remember that employers/agencies see many CVs and your personal statement needs to ‘hook’ them, not bore them. Think about the role, what you are selling yourself as, together with your attributes. For example….
Prince2 qualified Senior Project Manager with proven experience of delivering complex integration projects on-time, within budget and with client satisfaction
CV structure – key experience and skills
List your experience and skills that are relevant to the role you are applying for, in the order of most relevant first. For example, if you were applying for a project manager role in a financial company, you may have something like this….
- Prince2 qualified Senior Project Manager
- Specialist in foreign exchange (FX), derivatives and settlement processing
CV structure – significant achievements
List your achievements that are relevant to the role you are applying for, in the order of most relevant first. For example, if you were applying for a project manager role in a financial company, you may have something like this ….
- Implemented complex derivative risk monitoring project within budget and timescale.
- Recruited and managed a project team located in five countries.
- Identified and delivered a back-office transformation project resulting in operational savings of £2M.
CV structure – your current and previous roles
Usually, the prospective employer is interested in what you've been doing most recently. For this reason, list your job history starting with your current (or last) role.
Don’t give more page space to an older job than your current role. It’s amazing that some people cover their current role in a few lines, but a job ten years earlier gets a whole page!
If you've had many different jobs, keep your CV to a reasonable length by just listing the oldest jobs with the start/end date, job title and employer name.
Please bear in mind that these are personal views, as someone who sees a lot of CVs.
Your CV is a very personal document. It needs to sell you and it also needs to reflect some of your personality so that it stands out from the rest, opening the door for your first interview.
Good luck and I hope this helps you.