How to make the best of your CV in 8 steps

How to make the best of your CV in 8 steps

authors: Sarah Emmerson & Denisa Madalina Birau

Updating your CV: nowadays either you’ve been there, or someone close to you has (or both).

With all the changes which have come along this year, and more being announced every week, looking for a job has become full time work for many of us. And with the increase in competition and relative decrease in available work, it’s never been more vital that your CV looks and feels the very best that it can.

We are not talking about having the perfect CV, because there is no such thing! The most important thing is that your CV best represents you and does justice to the skills and experience you have developed during your studies and/or your career (depending on what stage you’re currently at!). So don’t pressure yourself by focusing on “perfect”, but make sure that whenever you’re putting forward a CV, you’ve done everything you can to give yourself the best chance for success.

“So what can I do to give myself the best chance for success?”. Let’s get right into it!

  1. Nail the basics
  2. Choose your words carefully
  3. Put your latest job first
  4. It’s a CV, not a JD
  5. Be honest
  6. Keep it relevant, keep it short
  7. Paid employment is not the be-all!
  8. Don’t forget about your online presence

1. NAIL THE BASICS

Make sure that your CV starts with:

  • Your name (you would be amazed how many people forget this)
  • Your contact information: email address and phone number as a minimum (seriously, you would be amazed how many people forget this!). Home address is less important, however, we would recommend including a city and/or the first part of postcode where you feel comfortable doing so.
  • A short profile of yourself, highlighting your most recent occupation, key skills, motivation for seeking a new role and the type of role you are seeking. We would recommend tweaking this dependent on the role you are applying for, to ensure it is always highly relevant.

Bullet points are always a winner! Keep in mind that your CV will most likely be skim read (if it reaches a human), so avoiding blocks of text and keeping statements short and to-the-point will help your experience stand out.

Wherever possible, adjust your CV to match the specific role that you are applying for. Whether that’s highlighting a particular job, focussing on specific skills or including more information about a hobby, it’s always worth taking the time to optimise your content for your audience.

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2. CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY

In this day and age, your CV will just as likely be scoured by a bot as read by a human. So it is more important than ever to think about the keywords and phrases you are using to describe your background, to make sure that if a search is automated, it will find you.

This means keeping things simple and paying attention to the vocabulary used in the job advert, as more likely than not it will contain many of the keywords that you can be using too.

And to really highlight your job responsibilities, make sure that you begin every bullet point with a different verb. This will not only help to keep you focused on the actions you took, but it will clearly show your capabilities across multiple skills.

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3. PUT YOUR LATEST JOB FIRST

This may seem like another basic one, but many professionals fall into this trap. Even if your most recent experience is not your most relevant for the roles you are applying for, still put it first.

If you have experience further back in your CV which is more relevant, you can highlight this by shortening some sections and lengthening the parts you most want to be read. This will make sure the CV is most user-friendly and most likely to be picked up in a search.

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4. IT’S A CV, NOT A JD

JD’s are a great way to provide clarity and structure to a job, but that doesn’t mean your CV needs to read like one! Avoid “job jargon” and focus on the best parts of what you actually did.

Keep in mind that your initial audience may not be from the department you are applying for or have technical knowledge of the role, so an in-depth description of a complicated task you did or software you used might be better saved for the interview itself.

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5. BE HONEST

If you can’t back up a skill you put in your CV, it’s best to take it out. Be sure that anything you have included, you can back up with a concrete example if you are asked about it in an interview.

Don’t be tempted to embellish your experience too much, stick to the facts and that way you won’t get caught out at any point in the job hunting or interview process.

And in a similar vein, make sure that the dates on your CV are accurate. When your potential employer is checking references, they’ll find out if they are not! If there is a gap in your CV for whatever reason, don’t try to hide it by smudging dates. Instead, make the best of it by focusing on the life experience and soft skills that you developed in that time.

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6. KEEP IT RELEVANT, KEEP IT SHORT

We recommend keeping your CV to two pages wherever possible. If you are finding your CV is running to 3 pages or more, be very honest with yourself as to whether all that detail is really necessary. Better to include a smaller amount of highly relevant information and get yourself noticed.

If you worked three different jobs when you were in uni and they have nothing to do with the job you are applying for, don’t give a 6-bullet-point description of all your responsibilities! Just include the job title and dates, especially if those jobs will add an extra page to your CV.

Always keep in mind your audience: if your application is likely to be one of 20, 50 or 100, it is unlikely that whoever is filtering will have the time to read through a lengthy CV.
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7. PAID EMPLOYMENT IS NOT THE BE-ALL!

Unpaid internships, work you did for family or friends, personal projects you are working on… all of this is valuable experience in developing your skills. And it’s a great way of standing out from the crowd by demonstrating your passion and personal interests outside of your employment.

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8. DON’T FORGET ABOUT YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE

Information is everywhere, and it is more readily available than ever before. When job hunting, your LinkedIn presence is key – if your LinkedIn profile doesn’t match your CV it can be a red flag for recruiters, so beware! On the flip side, if your LinkedIn profile looks smart and shows a different side to you than your CV, it can be a real plus.

However, LinkedIn is not the only place a potential employer might look. Be aware that if your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter (or whatever other social networks you use) is not private, then any of these can be accessed by someone making a decision as to whether they will interview or hire you.
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