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Introduction to CV Writing


If you are like most people you will almost certainly have paid no attention to your CV since the last time you applied for a job. And like most people,when you do update your CV you will probably be tempted just to add an extra paragraph at the top, detailing the job you have just left, and to not touch the rest of the CV at all.

That is how things used to be done. But if that is all you do, it will put you at a great disadvantage today.

A modern CV is a work in progress. It needs to be kept up to date. Not just by adding your most recent job, but by continually refining the image of yourself that you want your CV to project. Not only because, by adding material when it is fresh in your mind, you will almost certainly be able to present it in a better way. But because opportunity can come along at any moment. The first thing that anyone who floats an opportunity past you will ask for is a copy of your CV. As you will see as we delve more deeply into the whole topic of CVs, you don’t want to have to send them a half baked, hastily written draft. And finally because, recession or not, redundancy is a fact of life these days. Even when times are good you can suddenly find yourself out of a job. And all the more so in the current climate.

Your CV is a Marketing Document

Your CV is likely to be the first piece of information that an employer or recruiter will see about you. Since they are likely to receive dozens, if not hundreds of CVs every day, particularly during a recession, your CV needs to stand out. It has to be good.

The ability to express your experience on paper is essential for every job search campaign.  A curriculum vitae is not just a historical account of your work history.  It is a selling document.  What you write on paper may be a deciding factor in gaining you an interview, but it will never get you a job.  You will do that yourself through developing contacts and effectively presenting yourself in interviews.

What your CV does however is:

  • To identify and summarise your abilities and experience and relate them to the actual needs of the job for which you are applying.
  • To present your major accomplishments and achievements in such a way that is relevant to your next career move.
  • To provide concrete information about you, especially what you consider important about yourself and what you would like others to know.
  • To provide a positive “reminder” of you.

The purpose of the CV is to stimulate interest in you; it is a door opener.  It is written to meet the needs of the reader and not to meet your needs and is designed to create a response from the reader such as:  “We need to talk with this person.”

A CV must be truthful.  A recent survey revealed that 64% of applicants are willing to invent information for their job search, but most employers are careful to check backgrounds these days.  Therefore any statement that could be construed as an embellishments or an untruth will cost you.

There are different styles of CV. It is important to choose a style that is relevant to your career history and the job you are applying for. There is no one way to write your CV and you should ensure that yours reflects not only your background but also your individuality.  You can choose different formats for your CV depending on your career objective.  Here is an overview of the main formats.

Responsibilities CVs are usually written in job description style, emphasizing title and responsibilities.  These CV indicate nothing about achievement, competence and worth.  In other words, they tell the reader what you were supposed to do, not what you actually achieved  It is far better to communicate your skills and your achievements to catch the eye of the reader and suggest that their investment in you will be worthwhile.

Chronological CVs start with a summary of your experience and your key skills.  This is followed by your work history, beginning with, and placing most emphasis on your most recent jobs. All achievements are placed beneath the jobs during which they were completed.

Expertise CVs start with your achievements, followed by your work experience. The achievements need to be relevant to the job for which you are applying.  This gives a clear indication of how your total experience across the years relates to the role.  It is especially useful in a recession, when you may be applying into a completely different field of work and your work history may not immediately highlight what you have to offer.

Skills CVs are useful when you are applying for jobs which require knowledge of specific technologies, crafts or software packages. They contain lists of all the technologies that you have worked on or are qualified in.

Industry Specific CVs Some industries, for example Media or Law use very specific formats that describe the programmes or cases that you have worked on.

You will find examples of the main CV formats on the next few pages.

Making Your CV Readable

These are the key points to keep in mind as you write your CV:

  • Keep it short. It should be two pages at most in length. People are busy, they don’t have time to read things. There is nothing that you need to communicate in a CV which would necessitate it going beyond two pages. The most successful people tend to have one page CVs; it is quite clear from the small amount of information they need to communicate what they are capable of.
  • It should be easy on the eye. This means making it visually pleasing with quite a bit of “white space” to make it easy to read.
  • Avoid unusual fonts, tables, photos and graphics. Most CVs are circulated electronically these days, and not everyone has the same defaults on their word processing package. Your CV might look completely different on somebody else’s computer. There is nothing worse when trying to read a CV than to be presented with a document in which the information is higgledy piggledy because of over use of fancy word processing techniques.
  • Sentences should be concise and to the point. Use action words and active rather than passive verbs – i.e. things you actually did rather than were done around you.  Avoid using pronouns (I, we..) by using bullet points and not full sentences. Don’t write about yourself in the third person.
  • Try to be clear about your contributions especially when you are describing what you did as a team member. Verbs such as assisted and co-ordinated can dilute the impact of your efforts.