Your CV: Getting it Right

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Curriculum Vitae, translated roughly from its roots in Latin means “the course of (my) life”, or literally the story. In practice it is a document summary of a person’s previous work history incorporating other relevant information such as education and qualifications. Known in other English speaking countries as a resume, it is an essential document that almost everyone will need to compile at one time or another when they apply for work or positions in organisations.

In many cases the first a potential employer will see of you is your CV. A bad first impression will often see your CV being rejected and, with employers often pressed for time, a reply is rarely given. This is why it is so essential that when creating your CV you ensure it reflects you in the best possible light.

What Needs To Be Included

In brief, every CV needs to have the following information on it:

  • Your Contact Details – Name, Address, Telephone Number and e-Mail address (You do after all want the potential employer to be able to contact you…).
  • Key Skills and Competencies – The abilities and skills you have, ideally highlighting the ones relevant to whatever position you are applying for.
  • Prior Work History – A summary of all work positions you have held, paid and unpaid. Include a brief description of your position, when you held the position and why you left it.
  • Education and Qualifications – List your education and qualifications, including grades and certificates received and the dates attending an institution.
  • Referees – Finally provide two potential referees who can be approached by the employer for a reference.

There are also several things you may want to leave off your form. In the UK and many western countries employers are prohibited from discriminating against you on the basis of age, sex, nationality, race or disability except in a few specific cases (e.g. female carers for vulnerable female patients). This means that the following do not belong on a CV:

  • Age (or Date of Birth)
  • Gender
  • Marital Status
  • Nationality
  • Photograph

Note however that this does not necessarily apply worldwide and in other countries you may be obliged to divulge extra information. Even within western countries, exceptions apply – a photograph is practically mandatory for those looking for work in the acting trade for instance.

Limits and Lengths

When writing your CV, convention dictates that it should be no longer than two pages of A4 in size.

As you progress through your career you will doubtless reach the stage where your accumulated work and study experience exceeds the amount of space you have available. At this stage it is essential to start to prune your CV, keeping only the most recent and most relevant parts of your background in your summary. Remove the jobs you had that have the least significance to your current position as well as any superfluous qualifications that, while nice to have, have no bearing on the role you are applying for.

While you may be tempted to just make a longer CV note that most employers simply will not bother to read a longer resume and may throw it away. Remember that for every position as many as twenty people, on average will apply. It doesn’t hurt of course to have a longer CV available for an employer who specifically requests it, but for general applications it should not be any longer that the mentioned two pages.

Style, Form and Contents.

The make-up of your CV should be clear, concise and business-like. It should always be word-processed – hand written CV’s cannot be cleanly reproduced or e-mailed with ease and are rarely accepted.

The text of the CV should be written between 10-12 points of a commonly available business font. Arial, Calibri, Times New Roman and Verdana are examples of fonts readable by both machines that are considered acceptable for business use.  Resist the temptation to use smaller fonts in order to cram more information on to your CV – you’ll only make it harder to read and it will be counted against you.

Layout is important. Clearly space out the information such as the beginning of different sections and take advantage of formatting to help increase the legibility of your document. Your goal is to ensure that the potential recipient is not put off by an unreadable mess.

One thing you may wish to consider is including a personal statement. This is a short paragraph sized summary about yourself which is generally put towards the beginning of your CV. It should highlight in brief the qualifications, traits and experiences that make you suitable for the position. However try to avoid using clichés like “Hard Working” and “Trust worthy” as everyone uses them so much that they have effectively become meaningless.

The Finished Product

Depending on how you intend to distribute your CV you may want to use one of several methods. For digital distribution, it is best to use either the Microsoft Office .doc file format or the Adobe Acrobat .pdf format as these types strike a good balance between keeping your formatting in place while being readable on the vast majority of potential employer’s machines.

However, if you intend to distribute physical copies of your CV then take care to use decent quality paper when doing so. Staple rather than clip the pages of your CV together and deliver it in a folder or A4 size envelope to ensure minimal damage to your document.

One More Thing – The Cover Letter

Increasingly it has become the done thing to include a cover letter with any CV you sent out. Unlike your resume which is, admittedly harder to make compelling due to the necessary brevity in its format, your cover letter is an opportunity to reach out directly to the employer.

Remember that the cover letter is a business letter and should be written in a formal manner using business appropriate language. Your goal is to effectively sell yourself to the potential employer and the way to do this is to offer yourself as the potential solution to a problem that your employer has. In cases where you apply for an advertised job, you already know what “problem” is on the table but if not you must still pitch yourself, your skills and your experience as something your intended employer would find useful.

However brevity remains key. Remember that the receiver will almost certainly have many cover letters to look for and that you do not have the luxury of space. Three small paragraphs should in general suffice to introduce you and your talents and explain why you are contacting the organisation in question.

If providing a physical CV then attaching the cover letter to the rest of the document is the way to go. If e-mailing however, it is always worth adding the cover letter as a separate attachment or even to include it as the first page in the CV document. This way the entire package can be printed off and distributed around the employers’ offices as they see fit.

Finally remember to be polite – first impressions matter as much in your cover letter as they do when meeting face to face.