You’ve found the ideal job vacancy. Now you need the ‘how to’ guide to write your professional CV. Most people are aware of the standard professional CV build: employment history, qualifications, contact details – but which key ingredients impress employers and win a place on their interview shortlist?
“Before you start to write your professional CV, write down your ten greatest achievements,” says Peter Appleby, Managing Director of Appleby Associates. “This should help you get in the right mindset, which is a marketing mindset. Your achievements demonstrate your proven abilities and what you have to offer. You’re a product being sold to a company, and the goal of your professional CV is to communicate what you can do for them. By considering your achievements first, you won’t fall into the trap of describing your skills without offering evidence to substantiate them.”
Many jobseekers know the basics of how to write a CV, but they don’t build a professional CV that’s a real killer. Linking key skills and abilities with real-life achievements when you write your CV, such as awards or work successes, is a sure-fire way to impress, according to the employers we spoke to. “It’s important that everything you say about yourself on your CV is supported by concrete evidence,” says Harry Freedman, Chief Executive of Career Energy. “So when you describe your key skills and abilities, make sure you back up these claims. Your professional CV is the only thing potential employers will know about you before they meet you in person, so it has to be convincing and sell you strongly.” And how not to write a CV? One of the things employers tell us they hate the most is CV jargon, which loosely means describing yourself as ‘a highly dedicated worker, with excellent attention to detail’ without giving any real life examples of how you’ve already demonstrated these abilities. Always make sure you back up your claims with hard evidence.
Tailor your professional CV to fit the employer. You should never send an ‘identikit’ version to multiple employers by email. Recruiters really object to being spammed by cut and paste CVs. Instead, find out as much as you can about what your recruiters want from your professional CV beforehand. Employers can be very subjective in their preferences, even if they don’t realise it. For example, Noel Marshall of recruitment agency Finance Professionals, categorically states that a personal summary including hobbies and interests gives recruiters a flavour of your personality. Whilst headhunter Andrew Baber of Planning for People believes unequivocally that personal summaries are ‘white noise’ which no-one ever reads.
Almost every employer we spoke to emphasised the need to keep a professional CV as short as possible: no more than two pages long, with plenty of white space and a good font size. A ‘stuffed’ looking CV was rated as very unappealing by employers and a warning sign that the potential employee can’t prioritise. Your goal is to communicate clearly and quickly that you’re right for the job, and this means keeping text to a minimum. “Your professional CV is a document that must be inviting to read,” says Freedman, “which means making it very easy on the eye. There should be lots of white space and you should only write what’s really necessary.” Most employment vacancies are oversubscribed, so you won’t be thanked for adding to a recruiter’s workload by sending pages and pages of CV material for them to wade through.
Essential items are clear, accurate contact details (including your email address) at the top of each page of your professional CV, details of previous employment and your qualifications. According to ‘Why You? CV Messages to Win Jobs’ author, John Lees, who carried out detailed surveys of employers, for each of your previous jobs you should write a brief overview of your position, and then a separate paragraph listing the key skills demonstrated during your employment.
Lees also notes that the majority of recruiters prefer employment histories starting with the most recent first and appearing before a candidate’s qualifications. According to Lees, only a third of employers were interested in GCSE and A Level grades, and professional CVs that begin with school qualifications, or other irrelevant qualifications, were cited as very unappealing.
Good presentation is very important. “You should use plain, white A4 paper and a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial,” says Appleby. “Absolutely no, shall we say, ‘artistic’ fonts.” Also proof read, double-check and triple-check for errors. Before you dismiss this as an obvious point you would be amazed how many ‘professional’ CVs employers receive with typos and spelling mistakes. According to a nationwide survey of recruitment professionals carried out by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, 47% said that out of all the professional CVs they received, over half (50%) contained grammatical errors, with the worst offenders in the 21-25 year-old age group. For a recruiter with a mountain of professional CVs to work through, even one little error is a welcome reason to file an application in the pile marked ‘dustbin’.
Stand out from the crowd. If your research indicates your recruiter may favour a creative approach, don’t be afraid to be different. With three hundred black and white two-page CVs to get through, a cleverly creative approach can brighten an employer’s day. Examples which have made it through the door include a standard, professional CV coupled with a doll of the potential employee marketed as a super-hero with their employable qualities written on the box. Whilst one creative applicant seeking work with an events company put together an ‘invitation’ to employ her, complete with party poppers and streamers.
Perhaps most importantly, get a second opinion. “It’s a good idea to get a professional to look over your CV once it’s finished,” says Nick Rous, a career coach for Learn Direct. “Career coaches at Learn Direct can check your CV for free and make sure it’s correctly structured and includes the right amount of detail. A professional CV is not about cutting corners, get advice and take the time to do it properly.”