What is a CV?
CV stands for the Latin words 'curriculum vitae' (literally: the course of [my] life) and, in a modern business sense, means a document providing a brief overview of your education, experience and career qualifications. From an employer's perspective, the CV is usually the first formal written contact received from prospective candidates, and is commonly used as a selection tool to help screen all responses in order to formulate the list of applicants who will be invited to attend a job interview.
Why is it important?
For jobseekers, preparing an engaging and persuasive CV is the essential first phase of every planned career development. The document must look appealing, and therefore should be neatly formatted and printed on best quality A4 paper – either cream or plain white. Do not include photocopies, and avoid any unnecessary decoration or design features. There should be no spelling or grammatical errors, nor should the document contain even the slightest evidence of corrections.
What is an effective CV?
Obviously, the CV which secures an important job interview is the best one for you, and the general principles outlined here are designed to support your efforts to assemble a strong, professional CV document. The key information should always appear first, and your CV must achieve its three major aims: to capture the attention of the reader, to make a positive impact, and to summarise your attributes, experience and qualifications with clarity and precision. Clearly, certain employment sectors will demand a particular format, but all effective CVs share many common elements.
The objectives of a good CV
When applying for any job, your primary aim is to show employers that you could be the person they are seeking. To achieve this, your CV must show:
- you possess the specified job skills;
- your experience matches the requirements;
- you can offer the blend of personal qualities described;
- you understand what the job entails.
Despite its importance, a CV must always remain very readable and accessible. Thus its three distinguishing features will be:
- Brevity: a short, concise account of, at most, two A4 pages.
- Clarity: a typewritten/printed document in wide-margin format, containing sub-headings and a logical sequence of information.
- Relevance: the document must clearly show you are suitable for the advertised post.
Prospective employers seek to appoint candidates who can improve profitability, increase turnover, deliver good sales figures, develop and extend market presence, and promote efficient working practices.
Likewise, prospective employers are looking to hire candidates who can reduce staff turnover, minimise risks, effect time-savings, solve problems, and drive down business costs and waste products.
And in addition, prospective employers wish to recruit candidates capable of delivering a competitive advantage, upgrading business marketability, invigorating the organisation, boosting staff performance, streamlining data flows and promoting a team-working ethos.
Match your tone to your target audience
What you say matters, but how you say it is equally important. Remember that words always create an impression beyond their literal intent – for example, affordable/cheap/shoddy/low-grade are rarely interchangeable, though their 'meanings' are similar. In practice, a personal description is relatively easy but detailing career achievements can be more problematic.
Once your CV is complete, read it through carefully to with these points in mind:
- Does the document have a clear layout?
- Is the key information prominent?
- Is the language appropriate and easily understood?
- Have you highlighted your relevant skills and achievements?
- Can readers access key points quickly – or is important information buried, or even missing?
- Have you removed weak and diluting qualifiers like fairly, hopefully and usually?
- Does the document look neat, appealing and professional?
CV's are, of course, a recruitment essential – but what should a good one look like?
The term CV (Latin: Curriculum Vitae) literally means an account of your life story – at least as regards your career experience and qualifications. But just as you would never attempt to burden anyone you meet with an exhaustive chronicle of your life history, so the convention is that your prospective employer will wish to see a brief but relevant overview of your attributes and work record. Generally speaking, this should primarily address your work experience during the last five years, unless there is a compelling reason for including something further back in your history which really deserves a special mention. So focus your effort on your recent employment success, and don't major on part-time work from two decades ago.
Essential CV information
Your CV must include:
- Your Personal Information – name, address, email and phone number.
- Your Personal Statement – whilst you could omit this, it is your chance to tell a prospective employer why you are particularly suitable for the post.
- Work Experience – for each post you must include: job title, employer/organisation, duration of employment and your job responsibilities.
- Voluntary Experience – details of any relevant experience formatted as for 'work experience' above.
- Education – your formal qualifications, plus details of training and professional development opportunities.
- Hobbies/Interests – be concise, give preference to active rather than passive pursuits, and try to tailor some of the details to match your job application.
Standing out from the crowd
The job market is competitive, and so depending on your previous position and employer along with a condensed précis of your job description is unlikely to produce a really impressive document. As an illustration, here is an extract which commonly appears in a CV:
"Worked for two years in a successful marketing team"
There's nothing wrong with such comment, especially if it has little bearing on your present job application. But if it is relevant, include some quantifiable information which allows a prospective employer to understand your achievements, and know what you are capable of. For example:
“Worked for two years in a successful marketing team with direct personal responsibility for 50% of all new product lines.”
That would upgrade your status and demonstrate your reliability and commitment. However, if you can show how you actually exceeded what was expected of you, then you can immediately grab the attention of those looking to make an appointment – with an example like this:
“Worked for two years in a successful marketing team with direct personal responsibility for 50% of all new product lines. Year 1: one regional award for achievement. Year 2: two regional awards for achievement, and one national industry-commendation for innovative marketing technologies.”
It may not be possible to detail every part of your work portfolio in this way, but always highlight anything relevant which demonstrates your professionalism, helps to raise your profile, and thereby makes you stand out from the crowd.
- Your CV should be kept to no more than two sheets of clean, crisp A4 paper, unless there is something you are certain is highly relevant and must be included. Adopt a logical sequence and format, putting your recent experience at the start and then moving back chronologically through your experience.
- Check, and have someone else also proof-read the document, for grammar and spelling errors. Use a plain professional typeface.
And finally, having taken so much trouble to produce an outstanding CV, just check again that your personal contact information is correct and prominent, so that a prospective employer will be able to get in touch easily.