What makes a good CV?

 

If you are going for a new job, a quick Google search will dish up countless articles telling you how to design and present a killer CV. Choosing a look and feel, and deciding what to keep in and what to leave out, can make the CV creation process seem pretty daunting. But showcasing your suitability for a job effectively comes down to one basic rule of thumb: keep it simple.

Simple, effective CVs are almost always:

Easy to read

To get a foot in the interview door, time-pressed employers faced with a mountain of job applications want to be able to see quickly and easily what you’ve done and what you can do for them. So instead of obsessing over the design, focus on a clear and well-structured layout that tells them just that. One good technique is to create a short summary (try doing it in less than 70 words!) at the top of the first page outlining exactly how you fit the role and what makes you stand out. This lets them know upfront that it’s worth the effort to read on.

And just because you have to fit your work life story on two pages, don’t be tempted to use an übersmall (i.e. completely illegible!) font to pack in more words. It’s about what you say, not how much, as the next point explains…

Only as long as absolutely necessary

You’ve got a lot to say and recruiting managers are busy people (did we mention that already?). So you need to focus on the essentials.  Employers are usually most interested in your last two jobs, so include a quick line at most on earlier jobs unless they are particularly relevant.

Every point you make about your two most recent jobs (e.g. projects or campaigns you worked on) should only ever reflect the skills, experience or responsibilities required to do the role for which you are now applying. Match these directly to the competencies asked for.

Finally, do you really need to list hobbies, education history or qualifications you have gained that aren’t pertinent to the job? Unless they outline relevant personal qualities, probably not. For the sake of a balanced structure to your CV, these can be reduced to a short summary paragraph or two rather than a detailed listing.

Job-specific

Do you need a different CV for every job application? Almost certainly. Every job will have a list of core competencies and it’s very unlikely they will be exactly the same for any two roles. When outlining your previous job skills and experiences, always refer (verbatim) to the exact requirements that they list. This will show them you are completely focused on what they are asking for.

Backed by evidence

Show, don’t tell. Anyone can describe him or herself as “an enthusiastic team-player with a proven track record of results,” but you will get much further by providing concrete, measurable examples (best of all, solid figures) of how you helped your former employers meet the same challenges currently facing your would-be recruiter.

Error-free

Nothing says lack of professional pride like unnecessary spelling mistakes and bad grammar. And if you are pasting the contents of the same CV into multiple applications, other telling errors can creep in. We weren’t all brilliant at English in school, but we all have friends and acquaintances who can check our work.  Lack of care and attention isn’t just about the words. Another common mistake jobseekers make is sending their CV in the wrong format. Remember, employers don’t look very kindly on applicants who can’t follow instructions.

By focusing on what really matters to employers, the challenge of whittling your entire working life history down to one or two sides of A4 can suddenly feel a lot more manageable. And it won’t hurt your job prospects one bit either.  

Visit our Getting That Job section for more advice on CVs, application forms and how to prepare for interviews.