THE best starting point for writing a curriculum vitae is to think of yourself as a product. Your goal is to convince the buyer—whether that is an employer or a college admissions officer—that you are the best product for the position they have available. If you can grasp this concept early on, it will fundamentally change how you write your CV and give you the best chance of success.
Think of your CV as a brochure, highlighting the reasons why the recruiter should part with one hour and interview you. It’s critical to get it right first time.
If you are a recent graduate, a 2-3 page CV is fine. It needs to be brief enough to read through quickly, but not so brief you cannot sell yourself in it. People believe human resources staff read a CV for ten seconds and then decide whether to interview the candidate or not. This is not true. They look at a CV for ten seconds and then decide whether or not to continue reading. If they do, they read for another 20 seconds, before deciding again whether to press on, until there is either enough interest to justify an interview or to toss you into the “no” pile.
Mirroring the employer’s needs
When an organisation advertises a vacant role, it is saying to the market: “We have a problem: we don't have someone who can fill this position.” Therefore it is important that both your CV and cover letter prove that you are the solution to its quandary.
This is where "mirroring" the advertisement or job description is key. In most job descriptions there is a section highlighting the specific skills and abilities the employer is seeking. Read through this information and highlight the most important aspects, then mirror these in your CV and cover letter, highlighting how your skills, achievements, qualifications and experiences can meet these requirements.
Highlighting your achievements
When most people write a CV, they usually just list their experience, education, responsibilities and the like. However, the second key to an effective CV is showing how you excelled in these areas. As a graduate, there are many ways to do this. For example:
Have you gained any high level grades?
Were you awarded any responsibility (class rep. or committee member, for example)
Did you receive any awards or scholarships?
As well as this, if you have had any practical work experience, highlight this to show your ability to work in teams, relate professionally to customers and demonstrate your work ethic.
Any voluntary experience can be of value early on in your career too. Many large accounting and banking firms take a positive view of community or voluntary work as this suggests a person of character, not just brains.
If you have solid career experience, you may also want to look at achievements such as meeting/exceeding sales targets, systems and processes you developed, as well as special projects you may have been involved in.
Key areas of your CV
Contact DetailsAlways make these the first thing an employer sees. If they want to contact you, it’s easy and they won’t have to hunt through the CV, finding them buried at the end in a tiny font. It sounds obvious, but make sure they are correct. I know of a chef who circulated a stunning CV around all the top restaurants. Sadly all his contact details were wrong, so he got no call backs.
ObjectiveFor a specific role, a tailored objective section is pivotal. Ensure you mirror what the firm is seeking, as well as highlight the job title. For example:
Seeking the role of graduate lawyer, where strong qualifications, combined with a passion for commercial and banking law can be used.
This will immediately draw the eye of the reader, and start to show you as the solution to his problem.
Personal SummaryThis is where the majority of the mirroring takes place. Assess and highlight the keywords from the job description, making sure they are included in the personal summary. You need to be careful not to plagiarise the employer’s content. However, you want them to be assured you have what they are seeking.
Generally this section is around 6-8 bullet points, concentrating on the specifics of the role, team orientation, software knowledge and personal traits such as being proactive and having a high attention to detail.
QualificationsOnce you have solid career experience, this section tends to go after the career history section (see below). However, if you are a recent graduate, this is your main achievement, so it should come first.
Generally you will highlight each qualification, with the university and year attained. After this, add a section entitled "Major Achievements". Here you will want to highlight the key aspects mentioned earlier, showing why you are a strong candidate for the role.
Career HistoryAlmost any work experience is relevant when you are starting your career. Recruiters at the early stages are looking for reasons not to interview you, so a candidate with some part-time customer services experience may have that extra edge when applying for a banking role. Of course, if you have a solid career background you should look to capitalise on your professional knowledge and experience, ensuring it is in line with the role you are seeking.
After each position have another "Major Achievements" section, highlighting any commendations you may have received, any further responsibilities you may have been awarded or any targets you may have achieved or exceeded. Again, these small positive examples all build up during the evaluation of your CV, keeping the recruiter interested enough to keep reading.
IT KnowledgeUnless you are an IT graduate, this section should be a brief account of the main software packages you know how to use. Again this is important, as if a specific program is not listed it will be assumed you do not have any experience using it.
Interests It is important to be seen as a rounded person, not just an accounting or legal machine who is only interested in work 24/7. Therefore briefly list 4-8 of your interests, remembering that these may become important when the company starts to talk about its culture later on in the recruitment process.
In this section, you can also talk about any voluntary or community support activities you may be involved with.
EducationAgain, for your first position, the education section is important and should highlight your main secondary school, as well as any achievements you may have had, such as academic awards or being a prefect or committee member. However, after your second or third position this section becomes less important and, later in your career, should drop off altogether.
Becoming a person of influence online
As job hunting becomes more digital, it is vital you lay down a positive cyber profile to ensure your future career success. Developing a good looking and easy to read LinkedIn profile is important, as many recruiters browse these to scout for talent.
Also be proactive in your industry and start writing a regular blog or podcast relating to a professional topic you find interesting. After a period of time, you will start to develop a solid presence online which will increase your influence overall. Imagine a recruiter with two candidates: one with good grades and the other with good grades and 32 informative and insightful blog posts on market economics. Which one would you choose to employ?
Use Twitter as a professional tool too, providing knowledgeable content that dovetails with your blogs or podcasts.