A strong CV is essential to maximise your chances of being considered for the best possible job opportunities. If you consider how much time and trouble you would happily take preparing for and going to interviews, think carefully about what a difference spending just a couple of hours on your CV could make to the quality of the interviews you end up going for. It really is worth taking a little extra time to prepare a really good CV.
There is no shortage of advice on CV preparation. However, the advice is very variable in terms of quality and can even be contradictory. If, as a consequence, there is no definitive guide, there are at least some universal guidelines that we can share with you.
We should begin by explaining that search firms and recruitment consultancies rarely use the CV that you have prepared. Most will lift all the standard information from your CV and put it into their own format. That said, generally, they will use your description of your work experience, verbatim.
Your CV needs to be typed and emailable. If you keep a copy on your PC, this also makes it much easier to update and amend. If all you have is a hand-written CV, however good it looks, it will need to be typed. A consultancy may do this for you, but it will slow things down, at least a little, at the start, and, is unlikely to create the ideal opening impression.
Although a nicely spaced and thought through layout will help create the right first impression, do not use colours, logos, unusual typefaces or any other formatting which will need to be stripped out before the CV can be used. The key to good presentation is content.
Although sent by email, your CV should always be accompanied by a covering email / letter, which should briefly draw attention to the reasons (which should be easily found in your CV) as to why your application is worthy of consideration. If you bear in mind that recruitment consultants and recruiters get hundreds of CVs, you need to use your covering letter to make your CV stand out and go to the top of the pile.
You need to account for all the years since you left school, in reverse chronological order (starting with your most recent employment / study and working backwards). Do not leave gaps, which may cause irritation and suspicion in equal measure, and do check, along with both your spelling and grammar, that all is correct and logical. Mistakes picked up on your initial contact with an organisation will do nothing for your credibility.
Your personal details should be brief and include your address and telephone number, marital status and current salary. Details such as identity numbers, your place of birth, your robust good health, your children's names, your political or religious orientation, etc., are not required at this initial stage.
Your employment history should be summarised with a list of employers and dates and then supported by a more substantive description of your professional experience. This is probably the greatest challenge when writing a CV and, as consultants, the area that we would be most critical of.
Irrespective of how strong your academic and professional records might be, particularly if you work in a technological industry, where relevant experience is so important, by far your best opportunity to shine is by describing your work experiences as effectively as possible. Time spent on this is rarely wasted and working on this aspect of your CV can often be the difference in securing the interview that may have a profound effect on the rest of your life. Treat it like a business report: relevant, concise and full of interest. Presenting a rehash of a generic job description is a missed opportunity. If you were going to interview someone, what would you want to know?
Focus on your job title, record of any promotions (with dates), details of staff supervised, reporting and functional responsibilities, type of work completed, technologies, systems and areas covered, skills and technical knowledge acquired, significant achievements and exposures to operational management. It is unlikely that anyone is going to spend more than 2 or 3 minutes scanning your CV, so it is up to you to provide them with the reasons to meet you.
Your most recent employment (depending on length of service) should be given most exposure and this progressively reduced for previous employers. Also give your reasons, particularly if they are positive career development reasons, for leaving one employer and joining another. Moving for a higher salary or more convenient location are valid, but not compelling.
Your professional and academic record should be comprehensively covered, including the schools or colleges you attended. With regard to schoolwork, you can choose between declaring the number of passes you have for a certain type of qualification versus listing the specific grades you achieved. If your grades were poor, you may wish to avoid giving details. However, further education requires more detail and should be covered with the dates for college or university attended. List the course title, grade achieved and date of award. Indicate any study that was undertaken on a part-time or distance-learning basis.
List professional qualifications with dates of completion, indicating first time passes where appropriate. If you are part-qualified and still studying, indicate your progress to date and estimated date of completion. If you are part-qualified and have given up, leave it off. Don’t include in your CV anything which could raise doubts in a potential recruiter’s mind, unless there is no option.
By all means personalise a CV by including interests and achievements outside of work. Keep these brief and genuine. Too many interests, particularly those which may conflict with work, may give the wrong impression.
When responding to a job ad, it is legitimate to amend your work experience to suit the demands of an advertisement. However, if you do use different versions of your CV, keep a record of every version sent.
Unless specifically requested, do not include copies of certificates, letters of commendation, reports, your latest personality profile or photographs of yourself. Do not make statements referring to your honest and diligent nature - that should be taken for granted and serves more to raise the question.
At the CV stage, you should leave out details of referees, particularly concerning your current employer. If you have not provided details, then a reference cannot be taken up before you have accepted a position, thus avoiding a very rare but potentially embarrassing situation. References can easily be provided as and when they are necessary.
Finally, no matter what the temptation, do not lie on your CV or include anything that you cannot substantiate at interview. These days, especially for more senior positions, checks are becoming more common and if you have secured a position on a misrepresentation of a verifiable fact, you will not only be dismissed, but may also be prosecuted.