How to Put Together the Perfect CV

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Your CV is usually the first part of your application your potential employer will see and so it’s vital you get it just right. You need the right lay-out, beautiful presentation, specially tailored information, and faultless spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

That might be easier said than done, but there’s no way around it. In today’s fiercely competitive job market you need to stand out from the crowd (for the right reasons!) if you want to secure that all-important interview.

To help you out with this difficult process, here’s a brief guide on how to put together the perfect CV:

 

1. The Basic Structure

As a general rule, your CV should have the following sections, in this order:

  • Personal Contact Information
  • Personal Statement
  • Education and Qualifications
  • Work History
  • Relevant Skills
  • Interests and Hobbies

Your personal contact information should include a postal address, professional email address (ilovegiraffes@gmail.com is not appropriate), and mobile number. The personal statement should be just a couple of sentences long, giving the employer a taste of your overall application. For example:

I am a recent graduate from the University of Manchester with considerable TEFL experience in both the UK and abroad. I have worked at a large number of summer camps, teaching students of a wide variety of ages and nationalities, in addition to providing private one-one tuition for multiple tuition agencies.

Your education and work history should be presented using bullet points or similar, and laid out chronologically, starting with your most recent qualifications or experience and working backwards. Make sure you make it clear when you were working with each employer (e.g. September 2012 – July 2014) and be prepared to explain any large employment gaps.

When listing your relevant skills, make sure to give concrete examples which show you have the skill in question. These need not always come from your work-life; for instance, if you were ever the captain of a local sports team, this suggests you have strong leadership and communication skills.

There is considerable debate over whether you need to include references on your CV and, if not, whether you need to put ‘references available on request’ at the end. The growing consensus seems to be that employers know they can ask you for references, and so ‘references available on request’ is a waste of space.

Putting references straight onto your CV has its advantages, but if you’re sending multiple CVs out to different employers then you will want to remain in control of how often your references are contacted – they’re less likely to offer a glowing reference if they’ve been contacted five times that day! – and so giving out references on request might be the better option.

 

2. Presentation

Your CV might be full of evidence proving without doubt that you are the perfect candidate, but if it looks messy and disorganised, it may not even be read.

It’s good practice to head your personal statement with your own full name in a big font size and possibly in bold. There’s no need to put ‘CV’ or ‘Curriculum Vitae’ as a title; the employer knows what it is and you want them to remember your name!

Use small caps and underlining to highlight your headings, and leave some space between the sections of your CV so that’s it not all crammed together.

The standard advice is that your CV ought not to be longer than two sides of A4. This isn’t a hard and fast rule – academic CVs tend to be longer – but on the whole employers are likely to be put off by applications with too much detail.

 

3. Tailor Your CV

It can be tempting to send off the same CV for every job application, especially after you have spent so long putting it together, but this seriously reduces your chances of success. Each CV needs to be specially tailored to the job in question.

Go carefully through the requirements listed on the job advert and make it explicit on your CV that you have the very experience and skills that they ask for. You can then cut out anything irrelevant. If you’re applying to work for a newspaper, you don’t necessarily need to tell them you’re a qualified lifeguard.

 

4. Avoid Overusing ‘I’

There is much controversy over the use of ‘I’ in CVs. On the one hand, you want to take ownership of your skills and experience, and on the other you don’t want to bore your potential employer with endless ‘I did this… I did that…’. Some people also think that overusing ‘I’ gives the impression you’re a little egotistical.

The best compromise is to use ‘I’ occasionally – in the personal statement, for instance, and perhaps when listing hobbies and interests – but for the most part avoid referencing yourself.

Instead, write your bullet points in sentence fragments e.g. ‘Successfully led a team of six to complete project X ahead of schedule’ or ‘Proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook’.

 

5. Proof-Read

Dull, but an absolute must! With so many candidates, employers can afford to be unforgiving when it comes to spelling and grammar. After all, if you make mistakes on your CV, a massively important document, you clearly can’t be trusted to avoid making similar mistakes at work.

Even if the job you’re applying for doesn’t require you to write reports, employers are still interested in having employees with good written communication skills. Proof-reading is therefore key. But don’t just read and re-read your CV over and over again; leave it overnight so that you can look at it with fresh eyes, read it aloud, and get a friend or family member to proof-read it for you.

For more advice on how to right a perfect CV from industry experts, check out this article in the Guardian.

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Russel Yee

Former Headhunter


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