The basics of CV (Resume)

It’s time to rewrite your CV. What may feel like the world’s most tedious task – puffing yourself up and bragging about your accomplishments on paper – doesn’t have to be so painful. Just remember one thing: your CV needs to stand out. Employers, especially those who have posted openings on large websites, may receive hundreds of CVs for a single position. You must express your qualifications for the desired job in a concise, clear and aesthetically appealing manner. Here are a few ways to get your CV to the top of the stack.

1. Organise your life
It’s all about function versus chronology. In functional CVs (resumes), you group your skills into categories and then briefly list your past job titles at the bottom. This format is usually reserved for career changers who want to de-emphasise huge gaps of unemployment or a lack of direct experience. Recent graduates and others on a consistent career path usually opt for the chronological format. These CVs list your jobs (and duties for each) in reverse chronological order. If you’re a typical graduate, we suggest the chronological format. Most employers expect to see that format and it best highlights your education and relevant work experience.

2. Categorise your achievements
When organising a chronological CV, you should outline sections of your experience, education, and skills to communicate what you have accomplished. HR representatives and employers (a.k.a. impatient executives who couldn’t care less about your passionate interest in yodelling) may take less than a minute to scan your CV, so showcase and organise items into several concise and relevant segments. If you’ve just graduated from university and have not yet been employed, place your Education section first, directly below the letterhead. In addition to the basics – university name, degree and graduation date – you can include relevant coursework that applies to a desired position, academic honours or awards. If you skated through university with anything over a 2.2 feel free to put it on your CV. Other categories might include Relevant work experience, Volunteer experience, Computer skills, Publications, Activities and honours, Language skills and so on.

3. Make it look good
Along with effective organisation, appearance can make or break your CV. When creating a sexy CV, keep these points in mind:

· Fonts. Whether you email, fax, or post your CV to prospective employers, you should try to keep your font plain and easy to read. And select a reasonable size – anywhere between 9 and 12 points should be acceptable. We suggest using a sans serif font like Arial or Verdana, not Times New Roman. These will come out much more clearly in faxes.

· Formatting. Just because you have Microsoft Word and all of its formatting capabilities, your CV doesn’t have to look like a Costa Brava holiday brochure. Myriad fonts, colours, and graphic embellishments don’t really help, so use minimal and purposeful formatting. Simple bullets will best separate your duties and skills; use bolding and italics sparingly. Formatting should highlight your accomplishments, not draw attention away from them. Less, in this case, is definitely more.

· Paper. Even if you don’t snail-mail your CV to employers, you should have hard copies on hand to bring to interviews. These copies should be on tasteful CV-quality paper. White, off-white, cream, and grey are the easiest to read. Just like your socks, your cover letters, mailing envelopes and CVs should all match.

4. Content
Now that you know how to organise your CV and what it should look like, you need to know what to put in it.

· Action words. When describing your prior job experience and duties, use active language. Instead of starting your sentence with a noun, start with an active, descriptive, impressive verb. For example: “Customer Service Representative. Assisted customers with product selection, trained and supervised 15 new employees, organised special promotional events.”

· Numbers. That’s right, we said numbers. Always include numbers, percentages, and amounts in your job descriptions to back up your achievements. How many people did you supervise? How much money did you raise? How many wild bears did you feed during your stint at the zoo? How much did sales increase under your direction? This approach immediately highlights the kind of impact you’ve made.

· Length. Keep it to one page. No one wants to scan through two or more pages of your long-winded accomplishments and experience. If it doesn’t all fit – which it won’t, unless you’re a graduate with 15 years of professional experience – cut it down to the most relevant and impressive items. You should tailor your resume to match the job description, so be sure to cut and paste accordingly.

Now your CV should dance its way across the employer’s desk, leaving the rest behind like a stack of graceless wallflowers. And if your skills match what an employer is looking for, you’ll be snatched up for an interview. From there, it’s up to you: show them you’re as good as that pretty piece of paper says you are.


Interests and hobbies

Keeping their private lives a secret may be a full-time job for some footballers and MPs but, if you want to get your dream job, then make what you do in your private life as public as possible.

Detailing your interests and extra-curricular activities is always a bit embarrassing, like writing an ad for the lonely hearts page of the local paper.

But your CV will probably be read by people who will have no other insight into your personality, skills or potential than what is laid out before them.

Conventional careers advice has been to list only those activities which are directly related to the job. But many employers are now scanning CVs for more offbeat interests as evidence of creativity, personality and enthusiasm.

An intriguing list of free-time pursuits can also make up for lack of work-related experience, gaps in your knowledge, or even missing qualifications.

The interests part is crucial to achieving what your CV really sets out to achieve – getting an interview. Don’t bet on it swinging you the job but it will get you on the shortlist.

Some employers value extra-curricular activities higher than others, but many companies, particularly those in client-facing industries, are seeking as diverse a group of graduates as possible. After all, the V in CV stands for ‘vitae’ – Latin for life – and the interests part of your application is the ideal opportunity for you to prove you have a life.

A wide range of interests always looks good because the employer will want to see that you can fit into different environments with ease.

In professions like accountancy, consulting and law, the importance of client relationships means employers are eager to find candidates with a wide range of outside interests.

A broad spectrum of interests suggests to an employer that you are able to get on with other people from different backgrounds and of varying levels of seniority.

The interests section can make it easy for the recruiter to understand you, your values and what motivates you. Why make an unsubstantiated claim like “I work well in teams” if you can demonstrate it by telling the employer you play hockey for a local club?

Many job advertisements now specify a range of desired traits, so match these to your leisure interests. Offer variety and avoid lists. Specific detail is what makes it interesting to the reader, so give examples and emphasise any significant achievements related to your interests.

If you are, for example, applying for a management trainee position, your interests should point out your interpersonal and leadership skills. Writing down “Captain of football team” is not as good as “While captain of my university football team I organised practices and led the team to a national final.”

There are a few no-nos. Steer clear of extreme sports as these suggest you are a compulsive liar. Mentioning your pets will make you sound nice but wet. List polo as your favourite pastime and employers may think you’ll buy the company if the fancy takes you. And of course, anything to do with railways – trainspotting, steam rallies, ticket collecting – is career suicide.

Should you lie? Of course not but there are ways of making the most of even a pathetic ragbag of interests. For example, a passion for, say, 19th century French literature sounds much more positive than an interest in “reading”.



Tucked away at the end of most application forms, it can be easy to overlook the importance of referees. Compared to exam results, details of work experience and the interview process, the words of an academic tutor or someone you spent only a week working for may not seem to carry much clout. And yet employers rarely fail to contact referees – and to rely on the information they provide.It’s important to give some thought to choosing your referees; if you only saw your personal tutor once a term, they are probably not the best person to pick. Instead choose a seminar leader or lecturer that you got on well with, and whose subject you enjoyed. But speak to them before you nominate them to ensure that they are happy to be a referee and that they feel they know you well enough to write an accurate reference.

Employers are looking to find out as much about you as possible. Academic references supply different sorts of information – attitude, discipline, how you get on with other people. Academic references can be extremely useful particularly if you didn’t get the results you expected. If you got a third and were on course for a 2:1, academic referees can confirm the reasons – if there were personal problems or a specific explanation. Employers will take this kind of information into consideration – which means that a bad result doesn’t necessarily damage your chances of a good job.

Resist the temptation to put a personal friend or relation as a referee. Most application forms specify that the referees must be professional or academic but it can be difficult to resist putting the name of a friend who you know will sing your praises. “I was going for a job that I desperately wanted – it was perfect, a journalism traineeship,” says Anna, a media studies graduate. “I had a friend who was a features editor on a local newspaper and I got them to write a reference for me.”

The plan backfired when Anna’s prospective employers contacted her friend asking for details of work experience. “It was only a character reference – but the newspaper contacted my friend and asked for loads more details. He was mortified and told them that he’d never actually worked with me. It effectively killed off any chance I had of getting the job.”

Assume that your references will be followed up, so don’t try to fake it. And don’t feel anxious about what referees will say about your potential – most employers are only interested in the facts, rather than subjective opinions about how you will do a job in the future. Employers tend to rely on interviews, tests and role-plays to give an idea of how a candidate will perform in the future. References are information on how you have been in the past.

The best references are always those with the most factual information; if you have an academic referee make sure they have your CV so they can draw attention to other aspects of your experience besides your degree.

It’s simple; the more positive information employers have about you, the more likely they are to say yes.

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