By Robert Lewis – ELT Teacher
Writing your CV can be a tough task that can seem to take forever, but by employing a few common writing skills, you’ll get the job done in no time!
Firstly, it is important to know what a CV is. CV stands for Curriculum Vitae, which is a Latin phrase that can be translated as ‘course of life’. A CV is a short document (2 pages as standard in the UK) that summarises the relevant life experiences of a person applying for or seeking a job. Primarily, the experiences shown on a CV will be a person’s education and work experience, however, other areas of life may also be relevant to a job, such as volunteering, sports and hobbies. CVs are read by hiring managers to learn about a candidate and determine whether that candidate may be suitable for an available role. A good CV will get you the interview, and a good interview will get you the job. Writing a professional CV, therefore, is an essential skill for those seeking employment.
A CV is one of the most important documents you will write, but don’t worry – the skills you need to write a really impressive CV are skills that you likely already possess and have used many times before. Writing honestly, expressing yourself clearly, including detailed examples to support your ideas, sparking the interest of the reader, understanding the reader and making your document presentable are all general writing skills that likewise apply to CV writing.
Start from what is true. In all non-fiction writing and, indeed, all communication, honesty and integrity is often the best place to start. While it may be tempting to ‘stretch the truth’ or include one or two ‘white lies’ on your CV, the negative consequences of such indiscretions are almost guaranteed to outweigh the positive. If you lie on your CV to make yourself seem more hireable, you’ll probably get caught out during the interview, or worse, look extra silly once you’ve started the new job. So while writing your CV, remember that we are all human and therefore imperfect. Being let go from a previous role or failing to get a promotion for several years are normal occurrences in the average person’s working life -negative elements, such as these, need not be highlighted in your CV, but nor should they be falsified. Providing false information on a CV is in many cases illegal, however, the real reason not to fib on your CV is that you will be able to confidently and calmly explain your experiences and answer any questions during an interview safe in the knowledge you have nothing to hide.
Make your writing clear so that the hiring manager won’t get frustrated struggling to understand the information. Again, this is a skill that applies to all forms of communication. In this regard, your aim is to make reading your CV a pleasant and informative experience that does not require much interpretation or excessive mental energy. In order to achieve clarity in your writing, you should consider: coherence – is the structure and order of your CV intuitive and easy to comprehend?; cohesion – are all the elements ‘glued together’ appropriately, for example with headings?; vocabulary – are the words you use precise enough, or perhaps they’re too colloquial or even outdated? All these factors contribute to the overall clarity of a CV. Ultimately, for each word, phrase, and sentence, you should ask yourself if there is a shorter or simpler way to get across your precise message.
One of the man functions of a CV is to inform the reader of the skills a candidate has, but just asserting that you have a certain set of skills is unlikely to convince any but the most novice of hiring managers. The key is to prove you have a skill by giving an example of when you have used that skill to achieve some practical goal. If you are good at leading a team, in your CV you should mention a specific example of a time your leadership enabled you/your organisation to achieve a particular goal. Perhaps you were able to convince your workmates to do some overtime in order to complete a project on time, or maybe you were able to improve your department’s profitability by spearheading a new initiative. Even for something as normal as IT skills, a hiring manager will look far more favourably on a candidate who, for example, produced a company brochure using Microsoft Word, compared to one who merely asserts they know how to use the software.
As well as using examples to demonstrate the skills you have, you should also demonstrate a solid understanding of your industry and the fundamentals of the business side of the organisation. All respectable organisations aim to create value for minimum cost. The hiring manager at a restaurant knows that a clumsy waiter or waitress who drops dishes will increase the costs to the company. If you are hoping to be employed as a waiter you should also have an understanding of the value you bring to the organisation and how you can help minimise costs. A waiter who understands that recommending certain menu items adds value to the organisation, and that dropping plates increases costs, is a highly-desirable candidate to a hiring manager. So before writing your CV, take time to understand the industry, market and business conditions of the company as this will help you understand what is important to the hiring manager, and therefore what to include in your CV.
Stand out from the crowd. Sometimes hiring managers read through hundreds of CVs just to fill a single vacancy. Many of the candidates for a job are likely to have similar educational and vocational backgrounds, so the deciding factor when it comes to who gets an interview may be down to the preferences and psychology of the individual reading the CVs. It is therefore imperative that your CV is memorable, and for the right reasons. Try to include unique points about yourself in your CV that you can be sure will catch the attention of the reader. Perhaps you volunteered helping pigmies in Sumatra, or maybe you’re an amateur lepidopterist. While these kind of facts may not help to demonstrate you have the core skills needed for the job, they will help your CV to stick in the memory, and for highly-competitive jobs, standing out from the crowd is essential.
A CV is a visual form of communication that goes beyond just the text you have written. As a digital document, there are numerous options for enhancing the aesthetic quality of your CV. Page borders, titles, headings, font, text size, coloured highlighting and text alignment are just some of the factors that can make the difference between a CV that looks as though it has been thrown together on your auntie’s PC, and one that has been produced by a consummate professional with an eye for detail. Seemingly insignificant details, such as misaligned text or mixing of fonts can produce a strong negative impression on the reader, so spend the time to check and double check that everything is exactly how you want it to be. One useful tip is to zoom out when looking at the document and see if anything looks out of place. Remember, just like people, documents also make a first impression.
Finally, always keep in mind purpose while you are writing. In most cases you will be writing your CV in order to apply for a particular job, and when this is the case, the job description for that particular job will be the most important factor determining what should be included in your CV. If the job description includes the requirement that a candidate must have experience in sales, you would be a fool not to mention your own sales experience in your CV. The fact that your CV should be tailored to a particular vacancy means that each time you apply for a job you should produce a new version of your CV. This can be laborious, however, if you can cover every item in a job description on your CV you give yourself an excellent chance of getting the job.
Good luck with your CV writing – let us know how you get on in the comments.