Writing a CV often seems a pretty easy task to most (or, worse, a fairly unimportant one). The sad fact is that a lot of people are just god-awful at it.
Here’s how to write a really killer CV (tldr: simplicity is key)
A CV should be terse and concise; it’s not an essay about how good you are but the basics facts about your employability.
Avoid colours at all cost. The one exception to this is if you are applying for a design or advertising role. Then your CV (essentially an advert about you) is worth spicing up (I can’t advise beyond that; design is your forte )
Lists are fine. Nay, lists are encouraged. This relates to the first point about conciseness but also lists are much easier to scan compared to a paragraph that says the same thing.
Fun is allowed. But avoid being smug, self satisfied, idiotic or using too many jokes. If in doubt keep it serious or at most light hearted.
In terms of layout/design:
- 12pt font, black, one font maximum
- Tahoma or Verdana for computer copies, Tahoma or Times New Roman for print
- Keep bold to a minimum (headings and qualifications/jobs) for max impact
- Use italics even less (I usually say address, qualification schools and employers)
- Center your name and address/contact at the top.
- Everything else left align
What to include
A CV will have 4 sections:
- Personal details/intro
Keep this brief; obviously name and contact details are key. Your address should be as brief as needed – if you’re applying for a job in the same county (or state) then drop that bit.
An introduction is appropriate; it’s about the only part you can really sell yourself in sentences. Keep it down to about 4-5 of them and avoid being smug or over the top.
This is a fairly easy section; list headings of your degrees/education, dates and the school it comes from. There is no need to add the level or score you got; personally the fact you were there and took part is the most important part (we can test knowledge some other time).
One thing most people forget is to add some bullet points about what you did for each qualification. Just add the major points, not just in terms of classes but extracurricular activities, positions of responsibility, skills etc.
Don’t list ancient qualifications (keep it relevant)
Do list non-academic qualifications.
For example I always briefly mention that I attained the Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (reasonably prestigious and definitely a difficult achievement). The best way to decide whether to include or not: ask, was it hard to get?
A crucial part.
List only key or relevant employers (the number of CV’s I see listing “Mc Donalds” as an employer is, well, awful).
It doesn’t matter if the list is very short – pad it with extra bullet points for each employer rather than irrelevant jobs.
For those bullet points focus on a good mix of key skills, responsibility and things you learned. If you ever had decision making (especially in control of a budget) responsibility or were in charge of a team/group always mention it.
This should generally be your longest section.
This is often the worst part any CV, usually for one single reason, people have no idea which skills to sell.
Take one example I read recently; the writer had failed to add his skills in security research and instead had listed his programming languages. That makes little sense as the security stuff is a much rarer (and more marketable) skill. Unless it is completely irrelevant to the job add it.
As an example: I usually sell consultancy work based on my own security skills. It’s that little bit extra that sets me aside from other contract programmers.
Always list your rarest or hardest acquired skills first. This might take some thought so grab a piece of paper and a pen and actually brain storm for half an hour or more.
By all means list programming languages, but keep it brief.
This entire section should be bullet points. NO excuses.
Never, ever, ever, ever list reading or swimming. If you do I will personally come round with a pony and beat you mercilessly.
Never include them; always use the phrase:
References available on request
Conclusion / Final Thoughts
Writing a CV needn’t be difficult; the key is keeping it simple and really thinking it through. Don’t fall for the trap of believing a CV is unimportant either – it can make or break getting a foot through the door.
Make sure you take time to customise or tweak a CV for each job (or type of job)
- Stay concise
- Really consider what you are putting
Any other ideas? Feel free leave them in the comments.