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Making the most of your CV or resumé

After considering what you really want from a job come the practicalities of actually securing the work.

What information do you need to provide to an employer that is likely to get you the job you want?

Much has been written on the subject of job hunting. My enduring favourite book on the subject is What Colour is Your Parachute. It’s a total classic that is revised annually. It tells you that an alternative approach to job searching is necessary. It also tells you that only a very small percentage of jobs are secured through CV and resumé submissions. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need a good CV.

Why? Because even if you are offered an internal role, are head-hunted, are successfully recommended for a job by a friend… you’ll still need to share a record of your job history and achievements. This will be evidence of your suitability, and a taster for a prospective employer of what they might expect from you.

A well-presented, enticing, considered resumé is very important. And a good CV will be a useful reference for any job applications you fill in, or for constructing your linked-in profile.

What to include, what not to include in your CV or Resumé

Below are some of the common errors that people make with their CV, and how to fix them.

Including everything that you have ever done in your resumé

Some people just dump everything in their CV. From the make-up counter they worked on as a teenager to their volunteer stamp licking gig (I know, nobody licks stamps anymore, and a very good thing too given the current pandemic).

But an employer in, say, nursing, or finance, doesn’t need to know any of this.

Unless these things inform your suitability for a job directly, you should not include them.

For example, if the job you want is a retail post, and your make-up counter job highlights your longevity of experience at all levels of the industry – then by all means include it. And if you are a school-leaver, for example, then any paid work you have done matters while you build up your experience.

Whatever your other reasons might be for including everything, they are probably misguided.

Tip 1: Tailor

An employer wants to know how your skills, experience and personal qualities fit with the job role they are seeking to fill. They don’t want a potted history of your career to date. Keep it brief and make sure it’s relevant.

Parroting the job description by merely listing skills and knowledge

While the purpose of a resumé is to show that you have the competencies required for a position, it should do much more than that.

A good CV or resumé will pique the interest of the reader to find out more about you. It will plant the seed in the mind of a prospective employer that you would not just be a suitable hire, but a good hire: a great hire even.

Even though an employer wants to know that they won’t have to wait for months for you to get up to speed with certain software packages (for example), this is only the basic requirement. They might need you to be able to use database programmes, but they will be most interested to see how you use those effectively in service of your goals. What they want to know is how well you work, and you should provide examples to show them this.

Tip 2: Describe your achievements not your daily to do list

Show how your competencies and knowledge have translated into e.g. good relationships, increased sales, greater efficiency, improved staff retention etc.

Sticking to the same CV or resumé format for every situation

The purpose of the CV or resume is to get employers interested. They will not spend enough time on it (see below) to take in large amounts of information about you. Most CVs are processed by real people rather than machines, so they are more than a box ticking exercise in fulfilling stipulated requirements.

Tip 3: Tailor your CV

You shouldn’t lie or exaggerate on a CV, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be selective about the information you present and how you present it.

Decide beforehand whether the role calls for a:

  1. Simple chronology (if your career path has an obvious progression route);

  2. A skills-based CV highlighting your main strengths and achievements without too much emphasis on particular positions (useful for career changers, people that have mostly freelanced, or people who have done numerous jobs with similar job titles and want to avoid endless repetition);

  3. Or a targeted CV that are is a mix of the chronological and the skills-based (for when the CV is submitted in response to a particular advertised job role, or you want to emphasise skills that weren’t acquired in your most recent job).

Not putting yourself in the shoes of the reader

Picture this: a pile of more than 30 CVs and cover letters to get through in a couple of hours. This is the reality for most people looking to hire. So while you might have spent hours committing every skillset to paper (or screen), the chances that somebody will want to wade though it (especially if yours is the one at the end of the pile, and lunchtime is looming) are very slim.

Research shows that each CV is read for a total of 6.25 seconds. So you’d better make those seconds count.

Tip 4: Be kind to your reader and mindful of their time

We know that most people reading your CV will have limited time, attention and energy to give to it. So remember that they don’t want to have to work hard to find the information they need. Nobody wants to wade through reams of text, or to read a CV that isn’t relevant to the job on offer. So be nice to your reader and let the effort be yours not theirs. Learn to edit ruthlessly (or be prepared for your CV to be disregarded before anyone has read a word of it).

Make your most notable achievements punchy, prominent and digestible. Make good use of bullet points. Format in a way that is easy to scan rather than expecting anyone to read with full attention. Cut everything extraneous that doesn’t fit the exact role and employer that you want to impress.

The take-home: A good CV or resumé

There is a knack to writing a good CV, and what looks simple can take a long time to perfect. Make sure that you put in the time and effort.

I followed these simple rules myself through a long freelance career and successfully secured much of my work through submitting both solicited and unsolicited CVs.

The most important thing is to know that employers don’t know they want to employ you until you show them why. So by treating their time and attention with respect, you will earn respect in return. By giving them enough information to motivate them to know more about you, they are more likely to want to meet with you in person.

So make sure that you refine your CV or resumé into an interesting, intriguing and engaging document.

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