In today’s Internet-driven recruitment world, your CV is the single most powerful document you have in your job search arsenal. If you get it right, it can open doors to new careers and opportunities. Get it wrong and you won’t even make it to the interview stage. Here are some useful tips to help you strengthen your CV.
The Executive Summary
Try this experiment: Print out your CV but don’t staple it. Fold it as though you were putting it into an envelope. Then unfold just the top flap of page 1. Does it grab your attention?
The first third of your CV is the most critical part of the entire document, so make it count. You need a concise, well written profile section that gives a high-level outline of your strengths, weaknesses and unique skills and talents. These should be relevant to your career goals.
How can you improve your CV writing and make it easier to read? One way is to write it like a PowerPoint deck, rather than writing it for Word or another word processing programme. Instead of long paragraphs, use short, concise bullets (each maximum 2 lines long) per section. Start each bullet with strong, specific action verbs that outline what you’ve done. To make your CV more powerful, use active form (“We won the award for Team of the Year”) rather than passive (“The award for Team of the Year was won by us”).
Overused Words to Avoid
Words are tremendously powerful, so choose the ones in your CV wisely. If you use the wrong words (or too many extras), employers are more likely to gloss over your CV or throw it away. Here are three types of overworked CV words to avoid:
1. Generic skills: Unless you’re blindly applying to jobs (which isn’t good practice), you know what kinds of skills a specific position needs. Sadly, besides their skills relevant to the job, many candidates feel the need to add very common extra skills simply to look impressive. Examples include “Microsoft Word”, “communication skills”, and “leadership”.
What to use instead: Rather than adding extra skills that may look good, highlight your skills that closely match the ones the employer is looking for. You can pick this up from their job listing. Also, focus on your strongest skills that your competitors may not have. You should be selling your unique differentiators that make you stand out from the other applicants.
Your strengths, weaknesses, skills and talents should be relevant to the job for which you are applying. So leave out the ones that aren’t relevant to that role. For example, if you’re applying for a job as an Actuary, you can emphasise your mathematical and analytical strengths, but you don’t need to mention your event management skills. These would be more relevant to an Event Manager role.
2. Fluff: These are words or phrases that you add in simply to fill out your CV. Examples include vague adjectives like “experienced”, “great” and “leader”.
What to use instead: Choose hard and fast facts about yourself. Numbers and quantifiable terms enable an employer to assess how experienced or great you really are.
Avoid the temptation to include every single thing you’ve done. Give the reader enough information to understand your skills and talents, but don’t bury your most important successes in unnecessary detail. Less is more. Nothing is worse than a CV, where instead of editing out the fluffy stuff, the applicant has used tiny font to fit everything into a small number of pages. Your CV is also an opportunity to show your communication skills, so don’t waste this.
3. Repeats: Read through your CV (and cover letter) to check for repeated terms. Avoid using the exact same word more than once.
What to use instead: If you’ve already checked for fluff and generic skills, you probably won’t find too many repeated words. However, if a few still remain, re-work the sentence.
To help your CV rise to the top of the pile, think of it as a statement of your personal brand. It has to make you stand out from other applicants for the same job, even if they have very similar backgrounds.
There are egos in the workplace. When you apply for a job, think of the potential employer as your customer. So make them shine. How? If you achieve in your new job, it reflects well on them. By highlighting your achievements and key strengths effectively, your CV will persuade a potential employer that you’re a top performer who can get similar results in a new job. To support this in your interview, proactively look for ways to improve their business and have ideas that, if executed well, reflect well on your employer. They’ll be more likely to employ you.
Good luck in the job hunt!