What are the important elements of your CV? – Blueprint for an interview winning CV
An element is a characteristic of a CV that doesn’t necessarily require a dedicated section. I’ve listed some of the critical elements of a standout CV below, and you can be sure if you follow this checklist that you will be on your way to compiling a CV that will get attention and significantly improve your chances of winning an interview.
- Reverse chronology – Ensure you put your most recent job first and work your way back.
- Focus on your first third – The first third of the CV is the top third of the first page of your CV and is – by default – the first thing that comes into view when a recruiter opens your file. That’s why it is so important to place your most persuasive and relevant content here.
- Two pages – This can the bain of your life when putting together a CV but it will make a huge difference to your chances of getting an interview and generally help you to stand out.
- Universal font – Remember to use a universal font such as Times New Roman or Verdana. Your CV might be forwarded to a number of people for review, and a universal font means it can be read on almost every computer. Use font sizes of between 10pt and 12pt so the content is visible and user friendly.
- Bullet points and other characters – Bullet points create impact by highlighting summarised text and give your sentences real oomph and resonance. Using bullets forces you to be direct and succinct. Bullets put the reader at ease, because they see neat sentences as opposed to paragraphs of continuous prose that potentially become boring. Try using bullets to write a skills-based CV, and then summarise your ‘main’ jobs under the Career History section. Use of characters such as %, £ and numerals emphasises key facts and figures on your CV and can highlight what you have achieved. characters can draw the reader’s attention and divert their gaze to an important area or sentence on your CV
- Internet ready – I mentioned earlier on that the internet is central to many employers’ and recruiters’ recruitment activity so it’s up to you to ensure that your CV is internet ready. Failure to do so will certainly inhibit your job search because it might prove difficult to find your CV on job board and recruitment databases.
- Job title and company name with dates – Dates are an important piece of the recruitment jigsaw that help the employer to paint a complete picture of your career, so try to be as accurate as possible by using months and years, for example “Nov 2004 – Sept 2007”. Add a brief explanatory sentence similar to the format below:
ABC Ltd. Senior Consultant July 1996 – Sept 1999
Recruitment consultancy specialising in Research and Information jobs for financial and legal services
It’s the ideal format to use, because it uses the most keywords/buzzwords (which form recruiters’ and employers’ search strings) and gives the recruiter a snapshot of the type of company you worked for, how long you were there, and your sector experience.
- Present tense – Do you want to give the reader the impression that you are a proactive and positive applicant from the moment they start to read your CV? Writing sentences – especially those in the Career History section – in the present tense is the key to giving personality and vigour to your CV. You should use the present tense throughout, even when referring to jobs that you held in the past. Make sure that you are consistent in your use of the present tense throughout the Career History.
Speaking from the point of view of a recruitment consultant, I can tell you that reading applications is a really interesting part of the job and can be quite amusing at times, particularly when you read an application that seems to bear no relation to the job. One hundred CVs later and that amusement can turn to tedium if all the CVs read the same. Boredom soon sets in if there are no standout candidates. If I read a CV written in the present tense, it seems to project more positivity, and many professional CV writers – myself included – use this technique to make an impact, so try it for yourself. Here’s an example:
“Engaging with leading universities and running on-campus recruitment campaigns …”
- Keywords and buzzwords are words or phrases that employers use on job descriptions/person specifications, company websites, job adverts, etc. Keywords/buzzwords are hard skills (the technical skills and requirements of the job), soft skills (personal traits and abilities, such as ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘resourceful’, ‘self-starter’), and role-specific tasks. They can also be words that help to set and communicate the tone of the advert and describe the corporate culture. If you can make the tone of your CV reflect or mimic that of the advert, then you are on to a winner, because the employer will immediately empathise and hopefully see that you are a potential fit. It’s important to analyse all information at your disposal so that you can get a feel for your prospective employer. If the organisation tone doesn’t suit your career goals then you might want to move on to the next application.
Have a look at the advert below, and see if you can pick out some keywords/buzzwords:
I picked out a couple of tasks and skills: ‘marketing effectiveness analysis’, ‘analytical and econometric’, ‘create data sets’, ‘expert’. If you read the third paragraph of the advert, you will get a real feeling of the tone and corporate culture. The impression I get is that they’re very proud of their customer-first approach and reputation as an ‘open’ and ‘honest’ business. They also highlight the fact they’re always ‘thinking ahead’ and ‘aiming higher’ and ’sharpening’ their ‘competitive edge’. By now I’m sure you’re getting a sense of the sort of person they want and the environment in which they’d potentially be working.
You don’t necessarily have to use all of the keywords; instead, you might want to emphasise the traits – within your CV – that match yours.
10. Spelling and grammar is a crucial element of any CV, because the slightest mistake can immediately rule you out of the short list, regardless of how good your skills, achievements and career history are. Make sure that you do not make any spelling mistakes in your CV. If you’re not confident about checking spelling and grammar, invest in a reputable proofreading service. It might seem like an unnecessary expense, but in the long run it could help provide a stepping stone to your next job. I have spoken to many employers who refuse even to consider job applicants whose CVs have spelling mistakes. In fact, they will completely disregard an applicant if they spot any discrepancies, no matter how good the job-seeker’s work track record is. This might seem like an extreme measure, but you have to remember that the CV is a reflection of you and your attitude, and the general opinion of someone who fails to check for mistakes on their CV is that they lack pride, are lazy, or have poor attention to detail. Recruitment consultants might be slightly more lenient but none the less will frown upon those who don’t pay close attention to detail when writing their CV. Either way, don’t let any of the aforementioned traits be attributed to you.
11. Sentences that highlight Skills and Achievements and/or the Results of your duties and actions
Highlighting appropriate skills and achievements is arguably the most important element of a CV, and I recommend making a real effort to get it absolutely right, because it could be the difference between winning multiple job interviews and sending out multiple applications and not getting a favourable response
12. Sections and Layout – content is crucial but it could count against you if you don’t arrange the CV in the format that suits your circumstances. In a later blog post I will talk through a check list of some of the most important sections of a skills-based CV and look out for the CV sample too. You’ll see that it is very similar to the chronological CV. Be sure that you choose the right style so that you can prioritise skills and achievements applicable to the role you are applying for.