The job search process can be time-consuming and exhausting; however, having everything you need to secure an employment interview successfully is one way to ensure that you are purposeful and well-prepared. Because a CV (or curriculum vitae) is an employer's initial impression of your professional and academic credentials, you should structure it to highlight your accomplishments and experience concisely and strategically. If you're wondering how to write a CV for the first time or need to update your CV for a new job search, our two-part guide on how to write a CV can help you distinguish yourself from the crowd. Part two of our guide will be available next week.
What is a Curriculum Vitae?
A curriculum vitae, CV in its abbreviated form, is a Latin word for “course of life”, a descriptive document that highlights your professional background and academic achievements (qualifications, awards, certifications, licenses). A CV would typically emphasise your work experience, achievements, awards, scholarships, and grants you’ve obtained by merit or individualised circumstances, as well as any volunteering and internships you’ve participated in. Depending on your professional and academic history, coursework, research projects and noting any publications of your work are also excellent pieces of information to include.
A CV usually is two to three pages long; however, the length is mostly determined by a job applicant's seniority, such as mid-level or senior-level. Because it is widely assumed that seniority equals greater accomplishments, it would be more suitable for a senior applicant to have a longer CV. This is because a CV necessitates a comprehensive overview of your professional accomplishments up to the present.
Is a Resume and Curriculum Vitae the same thing?
A resume and a CV often are confused as the same thing and used interchangeably; however, they are different. A resume (originally derived from the French word résumé meaning “summary” or “abstract”) is a formal document that provides an overview of your professional history and skills relevant to a position you are applying for. Based on this definition, it is understandable why people use both terms interchangeably and given that both documents highlight work history, education, and a list of competencies and skills. However, there are three main resume formats: chronological, functional, and combined, while a CV only has one format: chronological.
Now that you have a refresher or a basic idea of a CV, let's look at how to revamp it.
The CV format
Although your CV's appearance should be tailored to mirror the job specifications of the position you are interested in, there are imperative sections to be included in your CV to ensure that you write and present an effective CV to potential employers.
To start, most CVs consist of the following sections:
- Contact information
- Academic background or history
- Professional experience
- Qualifications and skills
- Awards and honours
- Professional associations
- Grants and scholarships (bursaries)
- Licenses and certifications
- Volunteer work or internships (seasonal, temporary, unpaid)
- Personal information (optional)
- Hobbies and interests (optional)
- References (debatable whether to include three references with your CV)
How to write a CV
1️⃣ Basic rules:
- Your CV needs to be tailored to the position you are applying for.
- Use keywords from the job specifications in your CV. For example, if you are applying towards an entry-level Software Engineering role you should include keywords such as Java, Python and Web programming.
- Always proofread your writing. While grammar and spelling errors won't stop employers from interviewing you, they may give the impression that you are not detail-oriented or don't proofread your work.
- Only include 10 years of your previous professional experience. There are exceptions to this rule: you may add a role you held 12 years ago if it directly relates to the current position of interest. But the general rule of thumb is the last 10 years.
- Choose a professional-looking layout and stick to it. Use spacing to help with readability, and be consistent with the font style and size you use for the entire document. You can use a bigger font size and bolding for your headers for organisation purposes.
- Always list your skills in bullet point format: make it easier for your reader or recruiter to skim-read and gather an overview of who you are as a prospective candidate.
- Provide recruiters with a concise and clear summary of your qualifications and any personal information.
- Don’t get carried away with colour. Adding colour to your CV isn’t necessary. Still, if you would like to show a little personality, you can add colour to your headers. If you are adding colour, be consistent.
2️⃣ Personal Information:
- Include your personal email address as recruiters may contact you with updates about your application. Please don’t use your professional working email address. An appropriate personal email address includes your name and surname, and no funny nicknames.
- Include your mobile phone number, one you are reachable on during business hours. If you don't wish to be contacted by phone, still include it and add a disclaimer that email is your preferred method. We would advise you to be open to being contacted via phone because some recruitment processes require a telephone screening call.
- While not obligatory, details that highlight your personality may be a perfect accompaniment. Briefly list any hobbies and interests you have; these do not have to be directly related to the job description.
- Adding any other personal details should not be obligatory to include, such as religious affiliation or marital status. Remember - the aim of your CV is to provide your hiring team with enough information about your suitability for the position. It is recommended to add a link to your LinkedIn profile.
- Linking your LinkedIn profile: always keep it up to date and match your CV; dates, experience, credentials, certifications, language abilities, etc. If you've performed more creative roles, include any social handles, websites, or portfolios that illustrate your expertise.
3️⃣ Professional profile section:
Including a profile is an essential part of a CV as this provides an introductory summary of who you are as a candidate regarding your experience, qualifications, skills and future professional aspirations. Therefore, this section can largely determine if a recruiter finishes reading your CV and should include details that unlock their interest in you as a candidate.
Here’s an outline of what to include in your personal profile/statement:
- This section should not be longer than 4-7 sentences and approximately 200 words.
- Avoid using first-person pronouns like “I”, I’m” and “me”, instead use third-person pronouns like “he, she, they, and them”. The alternative is to use no pronouns at all.
- Don’t mix the grammatical person: If you plan on using any grammatical pronouns, stick to one. Don't worry if you have difficulty writing this section. Part Two delves into more detail and gives examples to guide your writing.
- Describe to your reader who you are: your previous work experience and the kind of role(s) you’re interested in.
- Include evidence to support your fundamental skills and competencies linked to the position you are applying for, where appropriate.
- Don’t include your hobbies or interests in this section; it needs to be as concise as possible.
- You must market your abilities and demonstrate how they distinguish you from other applicants in the pipeline.
- Illustrate your motivations and aspirations to give your reader a good idea of your ambitions (you can use this to show how this position helps you achieve them).
4️⃣ Skills, Skills, Skills:
- You should emphasise your abilities; these are the primary means of distinguishing yourself from a pool of possible applicants.
- Avoid using generic skills that don’t add value to your CV. Although proficiency in MS Word may be important, it may not be an overarching or marketable skill for your position. So, always include position-specific skills at the beginning of your list of skills.
- Always check the job specifications for how things are worded for optimisation purposes. Most agencies use recruiter software that involves artificial intelligence or algorithms such as application tracking systems (ATS) which are keyword sensitive. Therefore, to increase the probability of your CV reaching a hiring team (human), mirror the keywords used in the job description or that are common to the position in your CV.
- Never list skills that you do not have! The worst thing you could do as an applicant is list abilities you don't know about, can't do or have nothing to do with your professional experience.
5️⃣ Work History
Your recruiter cannot assess your suitability for any position of interest without a work history section. Looking at your job history is one technique to construct a candidate shortlist by eliminating unsuitable or, in some situations, overqualified applicants. Keep in mind that the two or three pages of your CV include all parts, therefore it's vital to be as brief and relevant as possible when outlining your responsibilities and professional successes.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when writing this section:
- Try to include about 5-6 positions in your employment history.
- List these positions in reverse chronological order, with your most recent or current position being listed first.
- List all your main duties for each role in bullet point form, with each point restricted to one sentence.
- Avoid the use of passive language or voice. You need to be the grammatical subject of the sentence, in other words, you need to use action words that highlight your active participation in carrying out the role listed.
- Examples of active words: liaise, oversee, monitor, develop, generate, construct, communicate, foster, negotiate, teach, train, instruct, support, perform, manage, calculate, address, solve, research, assess, action, produce, administer, etc.
- An excellent example of how to phrase a responsibility as a marketing assistant:
- “Conduct market validation research through the administration of in-person, telephone, and digital surveys”.
- Include at least two points of achievement under each job description: Although listing your responsibilities is great, describing measurable achievements gives recruiters a tangible grasp of how your role played an integral function in a company.
- A great example of how to write out a measurable achievement:
- “Developed a social media content strategy and increased followers by 5000”. This carries more weight than “Managed a company’s social media pages”.
Stay tuned for Part Two of “How to write a CV: Top Tips for 2023”.
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