Whoever sees your CV, is very likely looking at a pile of tens, if not hundreds of CVs. However unique or outstanding your work history is;
The point of a CV is to create an opportunity for moving forward in your career.
Background is background, useful but only if it’s presented in the context of where you are going. And yes, I still re-write my own CV regularly, as my business clients always want to understand how my background and skills will benefit them.
Another important point: If you really want to be considered for a job, you might need to tailor your CV every time you apply. Why? Because CVs are forwarded over email or stored on internal servers, and the person who eventually makes the decision about the 1st interview may never get to see your cover email, however brilliant it was.
Your CV should answer these questions:
1. What are you passionate about?
2. What’s the contribution you want to make to the world/new employer/your job/other people?
3. What are you like as an employee: what are your most unique skills and competences?
4. How is your work history useful for you/new employer going forward?
5. Why should anyone hire you over someone else with similar background?
Structuring your CV
Did you just mentally answer the above questions? Good. Now you have the most important ingredients for re-writing your CV! This structure give you a great foundation for creating an impactful CV:
Two pages only
Seriously. It all has to fit into 2 pages. That’s all you’ve got. Yes even if you have 20-30 years of work history or academic accomplishments. It will be well worth it, for your chances of getting through to an interview, and for the person reading through hundreds of CVs to find you!
1. First things first
Start sharp & clear!
- A lovely headshot photo. Some recruiters are against photos as it may create bias, but the point of a good CV is to create bias: make them want to meet you!
- Your first & last name, in that order. If you want to be brave, consider a personal tag line next to the photo to really stand out (one I have used is ‘Nordic energy for hire’). Beware of naff.
- Your contact details; most critically a phone number and a private email address. If you are applying from abroad, add your current home city and country.
- Citizenship and residency status, or whether you have or need a work visa; I recommend this for transparency as it will come out during the process anyway.
2. Professional profile
This section needs to start answering the 5 questions I posed above. There are many ways to approach writing your profile; these are my two recommended options, or use both.
option 1: Snapshot profile
- 4-5 bullet points summarising you, your experience and your key skills. Laser-sharp! The job of this section is to make the potential employer go “wow, this person is exactly who we need”.
option 2: Full profile
- In 2-3 short paragraphs, tell about your expertise, experience, key accomplishments, how clients or colleagues see you, how do you contribute…
- Include additional responsibilities you may have had (e.g. member of management team, mentor) and any professional memberships or associations that are most relevant.
If you are short of relevant work experience in terms of years, consider including at least one important activity outside your core competences, like volunteering, major hobbies and lifestyle aspects and how they contribute to your success. For example, “I keep my knowledge up to date by…”
3. Selected highlights / Recent highlights
This is an optional section and most useful when you have a long work history. If you use it, please tailor it for each potential employer so it stays as relevant as possible. It’s a great teaser for them to ask you more in an interview.
- Highlight key projects, business cases or other accomplishments from your recent career or your recent studies which are most relevant to the job you are applying for.
- Keep it tight: 2-3 sentences per case.
4. Work history
Even though it’s the past, it shouldn’t stay stagnant. It will always benefit you to check this section through every time you otherwise change something on your CV, to make sure every detail supports each other.
- List your role or title (whichever is more descriptive), the organisation you worked for, and timing. MM/YYYY – MM/YYYY is sufficient.
- For each role, describe what you accomplished for the business and what your key responsibilities were. If you find it difficult to cut these down in length, pick the best bits and use them in the suggested Highlights section.
If you have more than 15 years of work history, consider summing up the early years into a ‘bundle’ in the style of “1986-1992 several sales assistant and admin positions across industries”. The most recent 10 years are the most critical, rest is history.
For clarity, especially if you have accumulated a lot of education, consider dividing into sub-sections of ‘Academic‘, ‘Professional Training‘ and ‘Other Training‘.
- List your qualifications, where you acquire them (university, training institute etc.) and when you started and when you graduated or finished your training. YYYY-YYYY is sufficient.
- For each listing, mention any specialist subjects or special accomplishments.
Revealing some of your personal interests will help give the impression of someone with a life-work balance that goes beyond working your butt off and going home to crash and sleep. Your future employer will appreciate that you take care of this balance in your life.
- Be true to who you are. If you love to read, cook, and watch films, make sure those things are in there. Paragliding not necessary ;)
- Listing your personal values is another way to give insight into who you are, what makes you tick and where you might align with the new workplace’s culture and values. For example, my personal values are integrity, loyalty, self-expression and love.
Don’t make things up. It’s not worth it. Ever.
Never fake it. The world isn’t so big anymore, scammers and liers will get caught.
Always have integrity. It’s perfectly fine to modify the angle of how you present your work history depending on the role you’re going after.
More help available right here!
I have worked with a lot of people who are planning or thinking about changing careers: some of them want to start a business and need to convince investors, some are miserable in their current job but don’t know what else to do, and some are fresh out of university and overwhelmed by the job market. Some are searching for themselves and trying out different types of jobs.
I can help you pull out, analyse and challenge your skills, accomplishments, contributions and your interests, and you get to create a CV that will take you toward that all-critical 1st interview.
Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org