Despite what you may have heard, your CV is still one of the most important tools to get you the initial interview. CV writing is something most people do not pay attention to – I remember getting detention in matric because I did not see the value in doing something that Microsoft Word has a wizard for! I mean, if we all just plug in our information in a similar looking CV then we will all be assessed the same way right?
Every single person reads a CV in a different way, I have clients who gloss over them: Where you worked, how long you were there for, your title and why you left. He doesn’t care about what you did in those roles or even any achievements you have. On the flip side, I have a client who goes through every line with a fine-tooth comb, pointing out any slight errors up to and including apostrophes being used in the wrong way.
So how do you write a CV that caters to both extremes?
Here are some hints:
1. Cover Letters
In most cases, especially when you are starting out your career there is really not a lot of value in cover letters. Unless you have lived a life that rivals Sir Ranulph Fiennes or Richard Branson, not many people are going to give much attention to the content of your cover letter.
I would go as far as to suggest leaving out your cover letter entirely, but if you really feel strongly about including it in your profile, then the shorter the better.
2. Basic Information
This is an area of your CV not open to much interpretation or creativity. Name, ID Number, Area of Residence, Contact Details, Nationality. Boom. That Simple
Employers are placing more and more importance on the evidence of leadership ability, going as far back as your schooling. Some may say that including your primary school prefectship or captaincy is going a bit far, but I say what’s the harm? It will only increase the length of your CV by 2 or 3 lines.
High School and Tertiary leadership are obviously non-negotiable. Every employer wants to hire future leaders. This is not to say that if you were not a leader in school that you will be at a disadvantage, because leadership is a skill that can be learned and demonstrated in a number of ways.
High School and Tertiary leadership are obviously non-negotiable. Every employer wants to hire future leaders.
4. Skills Matrices
If you are in a technical profession, or have developed a broad range of skills, a matrix is the best way for a potential employer to see where your strengths lie at a glance. Be mindful of the length of you matrix, if it’s longer than the rest of your CV you might have a problem.
Try to include only relevant information in your matrix. If you last worked with balance sheets when you were 15, or programmed in Java in varsity, then this information is useless to a prospective employer, and depending on the mind-set of the person reading your CV, could even count against you.
5. Previous Experience
If you worked as a waiter straight out of school and now manage a manufacturing plant, your next boss does not want to read pages of text about how you were responsible for setting up and closing the shop, cashing up etc. It’s not relevant!
Be sure to only include detailed breakdowns of your duties for those positions that hold relevance to the job you want; tell a development manager about your systems development experience, tell a financial manager about how you reduced the debtors book, not vice versa.
That being said, make sure you’ve put down a full employment history, you don’t want potential employers to be left scratching their heads as to what you did for the two years after you finished university, you never know what they may infer.
6. Reasons For Leaving
This may be the most important part of your profile for some employers. Please, do yourself a favour and don’t write “Better Career Opportunities” or “Growth” as your reason for leaving. If you weren’t growing or this position wasn’t better then why did you accept it in the first place?
Try and elaborate, but not too much – as an example: “Growth- I felt that there were new technologies that I wanted exposure to and this position gave me a chance to work on them”
“Better Opportunities- I had access to more complex sales and a greater focus on a specific industry”
Doesn’t that already sound better?
Remember at the beginning of the article when I spoke about the CV wizard in MS Word? This is how you make your CV stand out in a pile: your achievements.
This is how you make your CV stand out in a pile: your achievements.
Up to now, most of the information in your CV is quite standard, but if you have a list of achievements that are clear and show the value of you as a candidate, then be prepared for the interview requests that will follow.
Now it has to be said that teaching yourself to paint when you are an accountant is not something your boss is likely to care about, so is it really an achievement? Just because you are proud of yourself doesn’t mean that your future boss is going to place as much emphasis on your artistic skills as you do.
Keep your achievements relevant to the working environment: show how you saved or made money, reduced costs, reduced downtime, increased productivity, etc.
8. Backing it up and keep it flexible
Your CV is a tool to get you the job, your interviewing ability and the match between how you present yourself on paper and how you show up at their door is key. Be sure to familiarise yourself with your CV and keep your comments and answers congruent to what your future boss has read the day before.
Also, your CV is not an immutable document, it is wise to tweak it slightly to appeal to the nuances of each position you are applying for. This may sound like a lot of work, but can you really put a price on the perfect career move?
So in conclusion: keep it short, keep it simple, keep it relevant and keep it fluid, let your CV work for you!