The Do’s and Don’ts of CV writing

Writing a CV is daunting at any time in life, but by far the first CV is most challenging. You have been busy as a student with some part-time jobs to gain, not just pocket money, but also a realistic experience of the work environment. Your course may have some work experience attached to it and of course, participating in the extracurricular activities widens all those soft skills needed within the work environment. Indeed the skills that you have gained while studying, ‘graduate skills’ are sort after by most employers for it identifies that you are able to function at a certain level.

I remember the first time I had to accomplish the big task of writing my CV. I had no experience of writing CVs for the first couple of jobs I had got by word of mouth. While I had embarked on a professional career with its skills, requirements and career structure outlined, it still was a big task. This made me think about what was needed to write a CV that shows you off in the best light and entice the employer to shortlist you for that interview.

The first step to CV writing is gathering information. This information will relate to identifying:

1. The CV Essentials

Today there are varied format examples available on the Internet which makes it both easy and difficult to pick one. Easy, as you do not have to make the CV format from scratch, but difficult also as you have little idea as to what would be the best or current format. Indeed, I have seen the formats change many times over the decades and it seems to spring from the changing work environments and workforce. Also, there are often hundreds of applications and the way in which initial sorting out is done has also evolved. It helps to talk to some job agencies to get an idea of format expected in the industry. If the agency is any good they will help you with constructing a creative and captivating CV.

The inclusions that are vital in today’s CV are –

  • Contact Details – name, postal and email address, telephone are a must. If you have a website or LinkedIn address, they can be included too.
  • Key Skills that you possess.
  • The Professional Qualifications – this includes the certificates, diplomas, and degree that you have gained.
  • A Career History is next with details of your work experience.
  • Interests or hobbies can be added to show that you are a well-rounded individual.
  • References.

2. The generic / graduate skills.

As a new graduate, I was aware of the skills that were necessary and a part of the professional course. But I was unable to identify what were the skills that were transferable and inherent within an academic course. For these, you need to turn to your course documents and institution website. Most educational institutions have a section, as part of their institution values and course document, the core generic/graduate skills or competencies that will be learned by the student along with the subject knowledge. These will form an integral part of the skills that you need to highlight in the CV and are transferable to various career pathways.

You also need to be aware of the skills needed for the job that you are applying for. Most often the job advertisement will give you the requisites so you can identify the ones you possess.

3. Your career interests as well as the jobs that are open to entry-level job seekers in that field.

Often the first time job seekers have difficulty in identifying what they wish to do. Even after accomplishing a professional course, there are still numerous choices of which ladder one wants to climb. There may be a range of jobs that you feel attracted to. It is all right to have this diffuse thinking as you can gather diverse experience.

It would help to discuss the various options with the careers advisors in the college, with your family and friends and indeed, if you can, with some people who have worked in jobs that you are now interested in. This will give you a greater understanding of the job requirements and help you narrow the roles that you would be happy working in and find challenging.

The Second Step to CV writing once you have gathered the information, identified the format and chosen the positions you wish to apply for, you need to get down to writing it.

  • Contact details: Put these in the header it will be in every page of your CV. Since most applications are online these days, it is necessary to have each page identifiable when printed out, especially if they are not pinned together securely.
  • The CV begins with a personal statement which highlights your abilities and work experience. It should be about 5 to 6 sentences at the most. Since it is your first CV, you can write a sentence about what you are aspiring to.
  • Key skills are next in the CV. I tend to have them in sections where Communication and Personal Skills are in every CV. These are the skills that you will populate from the generic / graduate skills. Then there are specific job-related skills, for example, hospitality skills, technical skills, care skills, customer service skills, administrative skills and so on. The job application will identify the skill requisite. You can also search online for the skill set relating to various jobs. I tend to write in phrases rather than sentences, as all you require to have there are the relevant keywords. Most employers and job agencies undertake word search of the CV and shortlist, for the first sorting, those that will show the most matches.
  • Career history: this informs the reader of the job title, company, dates when you worked there, responsibilities within the job and finally the key achievements in that role. You need to review your experience and pick out the things you were successful in and accomplishments that were beyond the role. This is where you will add adjectives to show the achievements. For example: ‘gained experience in…..’; ‘commended for …..’; ‘successfully achieved the key performance indicator…….’ and so on. This is not simply a reiteration of statements from the job description as you are expected to carry those out anyway.

Here you will include not only the part-time jobs that you have undertaken but also work experience that was part of the coursework, for example, working in a hospital ward, spending time in a school as part of teacher training programme, work as waiting  staff in a hospitality course and so on.

As part of the student life, you may have joined student services or other student bodies. These also can be included within the career history.
Any volunteering or community service that you have undertaken can also be added into the career history section.

Occasionally, I have seen students with many short experiences which can lengthen the CV without actually giving more credence. In that case, you can put together similar work experience together. For example, if you have worked as a cashier for a few months at a couple of different stores then you can identify all the companies and the dates worked at under the job title with a common section of responsibilities and key achievement. This stops the CV from being repetitive.

  • Next, put interests/hobbies. I know many people disagree and state that this is personal information and not related to the work. However, giving a few of these interests help to show you as a well-rounded person who is adjusted and has available the support and skills to cope with stresses and indeed develops and strengthens some of the key skills from these interests.
  • Finally, the referees have to be provided. Some job advertisements identify the number of referees that require, but usually, you provide 2 referees. One has to be from the educational institution, for example, head of the department or personal tutor and the other can be a supervisor or line manager from your workplace. For most professional roles the first CV has an academic referee as they can give an accurate feedback of your skills and abilities. If you do not have a work manager referee, you can get more than one academic referees.

The Last Step is to review the writing.

  • You need to make sure that the language used is appropriate and the sentences are well constructed. There are no typographical or grammatical errors. You can fine-tune the skills and achievements sections to match the requirements of the position you are applying for. Sometimes it is sleeping on it and look at it with fresh eyes the next day.
  • Besides ensuring that the grammar is correct, you need to also make sure that the writing is accurately aligned. I am reasonably familiar with using Word but I do not go for fancy formats as looks are not what is important. Just simple sections and columns will do. Indeed, someone recently told me the CV looks boring! Can you not jazz it up? Yes, I can jazz it up but if what is written in it is not picked up on keyword search, it does not matter how pretty it looks.
  • It is important, to be honest in your CV. Yes! People do embellish at times to make themselves more attractive to the employer but things can go drastically wrong if you are unable to follow through on them at interviews. 

Dos of CV Writing:

  • Read about job requirements carefully.
  • Brainstorm all the skills and achievements you have got that show you in the best possible light.
  • Talk to a careers advisor, parents, family, and friends.
  • Find a format that is current and you are comfortable with.
  • Use appropriate adjectives to showcase your skills and achievements.
  • Do get advice on the draft content.
  • Have it proofread to ensure it is accurate.
  • Keep your CV 1 – 2 pages long.
  • Do give links to any relevant online portfolios and projects that you have completed.
  • Check on your social networking sites and remove anything that would go against you, as part of vetting CVs / potential employees, many employers carry out a search online.

Don’ts of CV Writing:

  • Avoid mistakes of any kind on the CV.
  • Do not put your photograph or personal details like age and marital status on the CV.
  • Do not tell lies on the CV as you can get caught out should they ask you questions about that event or ability in the interview. This does not mean that you have to be very modest and downplay your attributes.
  • Do not write long sentences in the responsibilities section. Yes, your job description can have long sentences as they explain the details of the role, but you can just the main information. For example, ‘manage day to day running of the shop’ that is enough. There is an inherent understanding of what ‘day to day running’ means.
  • Do not write a lengthy CV.
  • Do not have any unsavory information/photos of you on social networking sites or your own websites.

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