This article was published in the 17-July-2014 issue of Finweek Magazine
Even in today’s web-driven world, your CV is still the single most powerful tool 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 supercharge 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 and to the job you’re applying for.
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 (“I won the award for Team Player of the Year”) rather than passive (“The award for Team Player of the year was won by me”).
Tailor your CV for each job you’re applying for
Yes, this takes more work but it will improve your chances of getting the job, so it is time well-spent. Your experience, strengths, weaknesses, skills and talents should be directly relevant to the job for which you are applying. So leave out what is not relevant to that role. For example, if you’re applying for a Marketing Director job at an investment bank, you can emphasise your marketing experience and achievements in a similar role at another private bank. But you don’t need to mention your love of dogs. This would be more relevant if you were applying for a role as a vet. Although a customised CV sounds like an obvious must-do, I cannot tell you how many CVs I’ve been sent that are generic, one-size-fits-all and end up in the trash. Don’t let yours be one of them.
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 is a bad idea), you know what kinds of skills a specific position needs. Sadly, on top of their skills relevant to the job, many candidates feel the need to add very common generic 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 spec. 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.
2. Fluff: These are empty words or phrases that many of us add in, simply to fill out our CVs. Examples include vague adjectives like “experienced”, “great” and “leader”.
What to use instead: Choose hard and fast facts about yourself. Results with actual numbers make it a lot easier for an employer to assess how experienced or talented you really are.
Avoid the temptation to include every single thing you’ve ever 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 fluff, the applicant has used tiny font and even tinier margins to fit everything into a small number of pages. Your CV is also an opportunity to showcase 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 the fluff and generic skills discussed earlier, 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.
I remember hearing about a job interview with a stand-out secretary. When the interviewer asked her to summarise the job she would be doing in one or two sentences, she gave a fantastic answer that still sticks in my head: “My job is to make you shine.” This is true for everyone, not only for secretaries. There are egos in the workplace. When you apply for a job, think of the potential employer as your customer. So make them look good. How? If you achieve in your new job, it reflects well on them. By highlighting your relevant achievements and key strengths effectively, your CV will convince a potential employer that you’re a top performer who can get similar results working for them. To back this up in your interview, proactively look for ways to improve their business and come prepared with ideas that, if executed well, reflect well on them. They’ll be more likely to hire you.
Good luck in the job hunt!