Career Center - Resume Center

CV Dos and Don'ts

It takes at least two days to write a superb new application, addressing the issues and organising the information so that you sell yourself. The biggest error most people make is throwing away a great chance by rushing a mediocre CV out at the last minute. Regard your CV and application letter as work in progress and give it a polish every couple of months. You never know when you will be asked for it.

As a professional CV writer I have known people return to the same agencies that had previously refused them, this time with a great application that gets them noticed. The difference between managing your career and just letting it happen can be more than the cost of your home over the course of a lifetime. You need to take this task seriously right from the start.

You do not need to be headlining the trivial details of your life like your address and what primary school you went to. You do not need to tell someone that the document is a CV.

For each occupation and each level of each occupation and for changes of career and country there are key things you need to be saying that recruiters want to hear. If you already know enough then spend some time listing these key things before you ever start writing your application. If you need more information, then start collecting it, start finding out what buzzwords, concepts and competencies that will carry conviction.

If you follow a boring format or copy out your job definition it will be dull as ditchwater to recruiters who have to read lots of applications every day. You need to reach these people where they get interested. The story of your career needs to build up expectations that you are worth meeting. You need to tell them the context in which your achievements have taken place and let them know what value you offer for the future. Enter the page content here.

Do not pepper your CV with titles like PROFILE, CAREER OBJECTIVE and SKILLS unless you want to appear like someone who has slavishly followed a template. You can have an introduction to your CV but there's no need to label it. All you really need is a few sensible headings such as PROFESSIONAL, CAREER and PERSONAL - under which you can group your skills/qualifications, narrative of achievements and necessary details.

Bulleted paragraphs are a great way to save space and add impact but they need to be congruent. They need to relate to the one before and the one after in an intelligent way. Lists of superlative claims with no substantiating evidence cannot be understood in context and cut no ice with anyone.

The medium is in the message. If they have reached the third paragraph of your letter and glanced at your CV, you have already shown them that you can communicate. There is no need to tell them you are a GOOD COMMUNICATOR, a SELF-STARTER or a GREAT TEAM PLAYER in so many words. It needs to be implicit in your account of yourself, not stuffed under their nose as a grandiose claim. People who do that look naive; people who get good jobs come across as mature enough to know how to say things that matter about the real issues involved.

People cannot help but be impressed by talented design and clever typesetting. Your choice of fonts and styles, however, is somewhat limited by the restrictions of email and online CV Builders. You need to find out what these restrictions are by studying the word processing program you are using and asking yourself: how can I be sure that my fonts and format arrive on the reader's computer the same way they left here? If you want to make a subtle and sophisticated impression you need to start finding out about the technicalities by actually reading the help files and manuals you have so far taken for granted.

Your letter needs to sing, summarise, promise, capture the spirit of what's best about you. Safe, boring, over-length, repetitive letters that regurgitate your CV or try to match every single minor point in the job definition will have one damaging effect on the reader - they will think you are not very bright.

Professional writers throw away more stuff than they publish; put it all down and then reduce it until you fit two pages. If necessary group your entire EARLY CAREER under a separate heading and just give each job a line or two. Place the focus on the last 5-10 years and the highest levels of activity and achievement. Cut the minor roles and competencies which are already implied by the big stuff you do. Write your brief and powerful introduction last; when you know what you need to say to summarise your offering, and don't bother giving it a heading anyone can see what it is.