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Careers blog
06 March 2019

Is it time to spring clean that CV?

Nick Cole, director of local government at Veredus – Capita’s executive search and selection business – offers his top 10 tips for the perfect CV.

This is traditionally a busy time for job seekers, so I have decided to turn my attention to practical matters; the Curriculum Vitae, resumé, profile, CV.

Like many head hunters and HR professionals in the sector, I suspect that we see several hundred a year. So, what makes a good, bad or indifferent CV and how should it be presented in order to get you to the first stage interview?

1. Tailor it

While it is acceptable to have a generic CV as a starter for ten, or marketing tool to circulate to recruiters, you should never, ever, ever send a general CV for a role to which you are formally applying.

Capita's Nick Cole

If in doubt, copy and paste the role requirements and accountabilities from the job description and draft your experience against each specific criterion (by the way, you should do the same for the person specification in your supporting statement or covering letter). Generic CVs stand out a mile and make no attempt to show why you are a match for the role.

2. Don’t fib or embellish

It is illegal, unethical, unprofessional and easily checked. If there are specific reasons for leaving a role, or gaps where you have taken a break for perfectly valid reasons such as caring responsibilities, just say so. People look out for gaps and you do not want to be in an interview telling them for the first time what you were doing during those ‘missing’ months. Be careful with claims you make about your educational background, dates, actual qualifications, institution and year of award; attending a short course does not a qualification necessarily make. Make sure that the job title you use on your CV is as it appears elsewhere – ie, your organisation’s structure on the website, social media, etc.

3. Keep it short and sweet

Probably the most common question is how long should a CV be? The Americans favour a single page ‘shop-window’ summary of current role, experience and education as a trigger for a conversation. In the UK we prefer more content to give the reader reassurance that you have the experience required and often the CV becomes a template for first stage interview questions. Two to three pages is the best length, but sometimes four for a chief executive application.

4. What should I put in it?

Your mobile phone number first and foremost please. It never ceases to amaze me that it is not front and centre of the CV header and hidden somewhere at the very end. We need to quickly find it and call you to give you the good news that you are through!

In terms of general format and length?:

  • Page one – a profile or statement of who you are, what you do, your key skills and what experience you bring to the role. The rest, details of current role, responsibilities, achievements, metrics (staff, budget etc) and reporting line.
  • Page two – as per current role, but less and less as you move back through your career.
  • Final section – education, qualifications, referee contact details, current salary.

5. Should I show some personality?

If it means a photo then no, thank you. Marital status and names of your children – no, not appropriate. And interests? Sometimes it’s good to give a sense of what makes a person tick outside of work but err on the side of caution and keep it professional. If you do choose to include an interest, make sure that it is a genuine interest. I have questioned candidates about the interests on their CV before and it is clear that they neither have any memory of putting it in, or any knowledge of the subject matter.

6. Spell check

And don’t rely on Microsoft for this. Get someone else to read it; more than once. I have seen candidates be rejected for spelling mistakes on their CV.

7. The ‘yes, so what?’ problem

There are plenty of CV writing techniques that you can research such as SPIN or STAR, but the premise of both is that if someone were reading a statement in your CV for the first time they wouldn’t have to question what it actually means; the ‘yes, so what’ question? Instead of saying that you are director of customer services at ABC Council and assuming the reader knows what this role entails, tell us your specific responsibilities, outputs and achievements. Just stating who you are is not enough, you must spell out how your experience matches the specification.

8. Use key action words

Sprinkle these liberally throughout – eg, achieved, built, collaborated, demonstrated, executed, formulated, generated, implemented, launched, modernised, negotiated, organised, performed, re-designed, shaped, traded, vision, won.

9. No jargon

We all use company or industry jargon, but the reader of your CV may well not understand it. Letter abbreviations for departments or organisations should be spelt out. Question the terminology you are using, particularly if it’s of a complex or technical nature.

10. Review and re-write

You can see the time that’s been invested in a good CV. It should be an all-weekend job ahead of the 12 noon Monday submission deadline. Did I just say that out loud? Get it in early please!

First published by the The MJ.

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