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Top tips for writing a CV or résumé
(In American English, a summary of your work history is typically known as a résumé; however, in British English, the word CV (the abbreviation of curriculum vitae) is preferred. For the purposes of this article, we will use the word CV to refer to both.)
First impressions are crucial. When you meet people, you weigh them up within seconds. Are they organized, dynamic, trustworthy? Employers reading your CV effectively ‘meet’ you for the first time. They ask themselves the same questions about you and make their decision within seconds.
That is why making the right first impression with your CV is crucial.
1 Make your CV easy to read
Research shows that one thing recruiters expect in a CV is ease of reading. By making yours easy to read, you are demonstrating a valuable transferable skill from the outset: the ability to present information in a coherent, appealing manner. Ways of making your CV easy to read include:
- a brief summary of where you are now and where you want to go
- short sentences and paragraphs
- clear headings for the standard parts of the CV
- good use of bullet points
- appropriate typefaces
2 Use language employers want to hear
The key points you write about your experience and skills must match those required for the job as advertised. Mirror key terms used in the ad, but avoid repeating word for word what the ad says. Find the right ‘tone of voice’. Your language does not need to be overly formal—but do not be too informal either. And avoid unnecessary jargon.
3 Presentation is everything
Think of your CV as an advertising brochure: it is advertising you. It should be as visually attractive as you can make it. At the very least, it has to be neat and tidy. Using lots of different typefaces will make it look cluttered and untidy. Choosing the right type size is also important.
And never print your CV double-sided.
4 Be concise yet informative
The standard length for a CV is two pages (on separate sheets). If you write more than that, for most jobs it is unlikely to be read. However, if you have more than 10 years of work experience, your CV may be longer. Your challenge is to condense your experience, career history, skills, and talents in the most effective way.
Every word you use has to count, has to have a purpose. In a CV, short is good. Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.
5 Edit your CV with a fine-tooth comb
Employers automatically reject a CV containing spelling mistakes or typos. This is fact, not just a myth invented by teachers and lecturers. That means you must make sure your CV is absolutely typo-free and has correct grammar.
And do not rely on spellcheckers. They accept things like ‘there responsibilities include’ instead of ‘their responsibilities’.
6 Dynamic verbs make a good impression
Your CV should make it clear what you have achieved to date. That will give employers a clue about what you will be able to achieve. Active, dynamic verbs put the emphasis on your achievements.
For example, ‘I devised and implemented a new system’ makes your active role very clear. Writing ‘I was responsible for a new system’ would be ambiguous: did you invent it, or did you merely manage it?
7 Know what to include, what to exclude
There is no set pattern for CVs, but they all must include certain things, such as personal details and skills and qualifications.
- You are not obliged to include your interests, though people usually do.
- However, if you can present them in a way that highlights skills relevant to the job, including them is beneficial.
- It is not necessary to state your nationality.
- You do not have to give the names of referees at this stage, unless the ad specifically requests them.
- Depending on the level of job applied for, if you have already had a couple of jobs or so, you do not have to elaborate on your performance at university or college.
8 Decide what type of CV suits you
There are three main types:
- Chronological, which lists your career history in reverse chronological order, with your current job described first.
- Functional, which concentrates on your experience and transferable skills.
- A one-page summary, which condenses your career history and dynamically summarizes your key strengths.
Back to Top writing tips.
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