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Making the most of your CV

Despite its importance when securing interviews, many CVs are at best underwhelming and at worst seriously flawed. Your CV is your ambassador to potential employers – if it doesn’t shine, then you won’t land an interview.

Filed in Changing jobs

When you attend an interview, you have to be your own salesperson. To land the interview, you need the equivalent of a brochure - your CV. In a competitive world, just as a company brochure needs to stand out, so does your CV.

Many CVs are dry 'career obituaries' - seeking to cover everything that a person has done in the past, delivered in a factual but essentially uninteresting way. They are created based on a whole series of 'unwritten rules' - such as 'a CV can be no longer than 1 or 2 pages'. None of this is true: there is no international standard for CVs; they are what you make them.

You want to win the job? Your CV has to be more compelling than all the rest that land on the recruiting company's desk. This is partly content, and partly presentation. And, in a Web-connected world, your CV can be more than just a few pieces of paper.

The length of a CV

While a CV can actually be as long as you want it to be, common sense dictates that you won't be thanked for submitting a twenty-page tome. However, many people are put off from spicing up their CVs with an interesting layout (which often means more white space) and charts or images, simply because they will add to the page count.

A 2-page CV that is wall-to-wall with 8-point type may conform to the supposed norm, but it will be far less engaging than a 4-page CV with a snappy layout and some images or charts. There's no rule to say that you can't include anything other than text - but like all content on a CV, everything has to earn its keep. Pointless images, used solely for decoration, won't win any favours - but valid examples of your work are worth including. This might include a picture of you winning a key award, which, as a single line of text, might get overlooked.

Content first, presentation second

When you're writing your CV, don't get bogged down with thinking about its layout. Concentrate on the content. The layout is important, but a great design won't mask a lacklustre CV. Write the content first, then think about the layout.

More than one CV

One of the key reasons that many CVs are too long is that they try to cover all the bases. Many CVs can be broken down, with some elements that are only relevant to specific audiences. See if you can create multiple versions of your CV, with a core part that remains constant, and additional elements that you can change, based on need.

What's more, your CV generally should be reviewed and revised before you submit it for specific jobs. When you apply for a specific role, do some research. Carefully look at the job advertisement, and make sure that your CV provides evidence that you are capable of undertaking the role on offer. Take a look at the company's Web site; find out how and where it operates, what products and services it offers - then tune your CV (and your career aspirations) so that you can be seen as a good match in terms of both skills and culture.

Sell yourself

Many people are shy when selling themselves, feeling that they will appear self-important or even arrogant. Put those fears to one side. A factual list of places where you worked tells the interviewer very little. You will be hired because you can make an impact - so you need to describe where and how you have previously made an impact. So, it's not just about where you worked, but also what you achieved - with the focus on achievements. Make sure that you list your core skills and attributes in a summary - don't leave it for the reader to deduce these from the CV as a whole. It's also a good idea to create a summary at the start of the CV, to give an overall impression of yourself. Be clear about who you are: start your summary with a clear statement, such as 'I'm a proven sales person, with ten years' experience in IT training…' and then build on that.

Go beyond the paper

A paper CV has inherent limitations - but you don't have to accept these. If it helps your case, you can create an on-line CV, which can include content other than text and images. You can then link to this from your CV - and, of course, you can add the link to your CV on on-line job boards. Whatever you include has to have value - but, as an example, an e-learning developer could include examples of training programmes; or a trainer could show a video of a presentation session. You could set up your own Web site to do this, but if you want to save time, or Web development isn't something you can attempt, there are dedicated on-line sites, such as VisualCV, where you can create an on-line CV for free. Remember at all times that frivolous or non-relevant content is going to hinder rather than help you - people aren't going to be amazed just because you're using video for its own sake.

Get rid of the fat

Especially as your career progresses, your CV can become littered with information that doesn't support your careers goals. Do you really need to say which primary school you went to? Does your summer job while at university have any relevance? Does your first job as a postman help you with your career in training? Keep your CV focused and be sure that you only include items which are relevant to your career. For the CVs of more senior people, it's even possible to dispense with most education information, just summarising the key information in a couple of lines - as your last three management positions are of far more importance.
However you go about it, make sure that your CV isn't just a 'tick in the box' - a task that's done and then forgotten, apart from the occasional update. Your CV is your salesperson by proxy - make sure it works as hard as it possibly can.


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