Top do's and don'ts in CV writing

  • March 02, 2017
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Top do's and don'ts in CV writing

Having spent much of the last twenty years in a decision making capacity as a trigger puller for new hires, across a number of industries, I thought I would script a quick blog on the subject, in the hope that it might prove beneficial for those updating an existing CV or possibly even writing a CV for the first time.The blog is not designed to be a definitive piece on the subject, as the blog is too short to cover all aspects of CV writing. As a consumer of on average 30 to 50 CV’s / week, what I will do is cover what I regard to be the most obvious do’s and don’ts.Before I start, I’d like to make one obvious point.- At first screening, most CV’s will not be reviewed for more than 45 seconds. Post this preliminary review, either the CV will be placed in to a pile for consideration or it will go straight in the bin. Remember this – the content and presentation of your CV, needs to trigger a positive thought process in the mind of the reviewer, within the first twenty seconds.

FIVE BASIC DO’S

1. Dates must include months

Failure to do so invites suspicion. Always drive for transparency. Make sure that your work history and your educational achievements are listed out in reverse chronological order and make sure that the dates include months. I had an example the other day of someone we were interviewing for an internal accountancy position. One of the roles the candidate listed said 2014 to 2015. On questioning it became apparent that they had held the position listed, for the last two months of 2014 and the first month only of 2015, before picking up another position at the end of 2015 (a 10-month gap that the candidate had tried to brush over in the script of the CV). On further cross-examination, it became evident that there were two other examples of major gaps in their CV, that they were trying to brush over. Result? Trust was breaking down between myself and the candidate and the candidate was not hired. Be transparent about the gaps in your CV, but ensure that you have a very good reason why the gaps are there (took a six-month sabbatical and traveled the world / did some pro bono work for a charity / went volunteering in Sudan).

2. Use PDF only

Ensure that you send out your CV in PDF format only.Two reasons a) it cannot be altered andb) formatting issues that you may have in Word, will not be an issue in PDF.PDF documents generally look more professional.

3. Personal information

Ignore what every western politically correct professional tells you about not including your age on the CV. If you don’t include it, the reviewer is going to make the best endeavors guesstimate, by working backward from the dates of your education or your first job. Why make the reviewer work it out? Just be transparent about it. Age is always of interest, even though many other factors may be of much greater importance. Personal details should include name; address; age; personal mobile number; personal e-mail address and LinkedIn address if relevant.

4. Summary

If you have been at the coalface of your career for a few decades and your employment history is long, then feel free to include a general summary (I’d suggest just under your personal details). Perhaps you were in insurance for five years and then had a stint marketing financial products, before becoming a loan officer at a commercial bank. You might want to say in the summary that you spent the last 20 years in financial services embracing a number of different disciplines, that has equipped you with a broad understanding of the financial services industry as a whole. You might want to add, how this experience has enhanced your personal toolbox - discipline, focus, drive, attention to detail, communication skills etc. These are transferable skills and should definitely be included, especially if you are now looking to change the industry.

5. Interesting hobbies

Do mention any unusual hobbies you engage in or “left the field” things you are planning for the future. Maybe you skydive at the weekends or you are training for an ultra-marathon. Say so! It shows you have character and chutzpa and are grabbing life with both hands. Such people are great to have in the workplace. They normally inject life, enthusiasm, and passion into the working environment, which normally rubs off on others.

THREE BASIC DON’TS

1. Never lie or embellish

A skilled Executive search consultant or similarly seasoned HR representative will expose these inconsistencies the vast majority of the time and this should be regarded as a risk that is definitely not worth taking. Any such discovery will lead to an immediate exit from the hiring process and quite rightly so. The very essence of who you are is immediately called into question……who wants to employ someone who is incapable of telling the truth?

2. Never make your CV too long

A general guideline is that more than two pages of A4 are too much. Sometimes I receive CV’s that run from 6 to 8 pages. Cut the verbiage out, no reviewer has got the time to fight their way through a short novel, when trying to get to grips with a brief understanding of the essence of who you are. Don’t make the mistake of shrinking the font size to cram everything in either. Chose a sensible font size that is easily readable. Ensures that the text has plenty of "room to breathe" in the document. Focus on what really matters to your target audience. Sit yourself down in their seat and ask yourself what are they looking for and what is going to make them sit up and take notice of you. Be succinct and to the point – absolutely no waffle.

3. Your industry abbreviations & acronyms

Never use abbreviations or acronyms that are specific to your industry and are not well known more widely. Why inconvenience the reader? Always put it in full first and if you are going to mention it again, then ensure that you put the acronym in brackets in the first instance and use the acronym thereafter.Final point – remember, the CV is designed to get your foot in the door for the first meeting and doesn’t have to include every detail (notwithstanding the basic rules above). Once in the door, the rest is down to your ability to communicate your experience, your attributes and your suitability for the role.At VCS, we help all our candidates with CV writing and with good interview techniques. Feel free to get in touch.
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