For the past few weeks I have been working at a recruitment agency.
A world away from my previous job, I have gone from managing a busy design studio to assisting in the management of people's careers.
The most important part of my role and the biggest part of my day is spent reviewing, editing and formatting candidates CV’s. Everyday they come rolling in from a variety of sectors and each needs to be carefully vetted. If deemed relevant in experience, I proceed to preen and primp, creating pimped up versions of their former selves, ready for the Consultants to put forward to our discerning clients.
For every job that is advertised, there are multiple applicants, and whilst the Consultant's job is to decide if they're good enough to put forward, my job is to ensure the right candidates are presented in the very best possible light, and that the wrong candidates are politely turned away.
For those who don’t quite make the cut, it can be for a variety of reasons; often the applicant simply has no prior experience in the field they have applied for, or are lacking in the core skills considered necessary for a particular role. However there are many cases where the applicant clearly has many relevant skills, but hasn't highlighted them on their CV, and this is their downfall.
Sending rejection emails is never easy, and in many cases I have found myself providing tips and suggestions to help them improve their chances in the job market. This is despite being unable to represent them through our agency.
One such case particularly springs to mind: a recent graduate was looking for full-time work, had 10 years experience as a high level officer on several ships, but was looking to change career. He was hoping to move onshore into an administrative based role. Clearly a very capable man, but although his CV looked smart, there were some big features missing. He hadn't provided any detail about his work history, the responsibilities he managed or skills he had developed.
After a brief chat, I used the information he gave me to write examples of the skills he had and how he could structure them on his CV to have a big impact…...
Leadership and People Management
In charge of managing teams in maintenance and operations routines
Health & Safety Creation and perfection of safety training routines as per ISM guidelines. Maintenance of firefighting / lifesaving appliances and management of hazardous substances
Creating and updating appropriate records with relevant legislation.
Following this I made a few suggestions about his personal statement and then recommended he uploaded his CV online once he had updated it, so that it would be available to other recruitment agencies who might have suitable opportunities for him.
Needless to say, he was genuinely grateful for the input. Having previously received point blank rejections or been met with stony silence, in taking the time to make some positive suggestions, I had “literally made his day”.
Inspired by his response, I wanted to write this article to help others in their job hunt.
So what is a CV?
The Curriculum Vitae (which means ‘Course of life’) is a fascinating document; a necessity for most,. It is essentially, an ever evolving mini autobiography. A two page personal history that summarises our working lives, highlights our achievements and ultimately endeavours to communicate our intrinsic value to society.
As a self-marketing tool, it must paint you in the best possible light, clearly demonstrating your skills in writing, use of language and mastery of word processing.
It is for this reason that the ‘not-so humble’ CV can cause even the most experienced of professionals, to break into a cold sweat; it can literally launch or stanch your career. A great one will highlight your abilities and transferable skills whereas, a badly written one, can and will close doors So it is imperative you get it right, and that you keep it up to date and relevant once you have created it.
So how does one go about creating a CV?
Firstly, you need a solid structure, with clear headings to differentiate between the different sections. There are plenty of templates online that you can use for inspiration, but be sure to create your own, as this will keep the document unique to you.
Now, at different stages of your career, you will require different sections to your CV and the more senior professional may drop some altogether, but generally the main sections you need are as follows:
Section 1: Name & Contact details
Top of the page, front and centered, (or right/left aligned depending on your preference for layout) but make sure it’s up there, the first thing they see, nice and big with your name in bold.
Address, phone numbers (landline/mobile) and email address...after all you do want them to contact you.
Here you should also include evidence of your online presence, your website (if you're a designer/web developer) and your Linkedin URL.
Most employers now will check out potential candidates online and so having a professional profile they can view on Linkedin is a great asset. Be sure to upload a photo of yourself looking super fly, but remember we're talking business smart, so best leave those saturday night selfies for Facebook. And as for Facebook, be sure to check and update your privacy settings, and really consider what image you're projecting online, as it can influence potential employers.
Section 2: Profile
A brief synopsis of who you are and what you’re looking for. You’re trying to create a ‘best-picture’ of who you are as an employee and where your strengths lie. Use descriptive words that summarise your values and attributes (think about your previous job roles, skills and experience) and ensure you provide evidence that supports them. This section should ideally be written in third person context and should be no more than 4 or 5 sentences in length.
You: Who you are in terms of occupational background and experience.
Where: Your sector knowledge and experience of different kinds of organisations.
What: What do you have to offer in terms of know-how and skills? What have you done and achieved? What in your mix of skills and experience makes you unusual or attractive?
Next: What kind of role, organisation, culture and challenges would provide the right next step for you?
Section 3: Skills (time to really sell yourself)
A list of skills on a CV is like the icing on a cake; it’s these key skills that employers are looking for, so list them using bullet points so yours stand out.
There are two types of skills sets that you can utilise;
Hard Skills - technical skills that you need in order to be able to do a specific job.
E.g: Data Analysis / Accounting / Copy Editing / Graphic Design
These are skills you have been taught, or have learnt through on the job training
Soft Skills - often referred to as ‘social skills’ or ‘people skills’ and are linked to the qualities that make up a person's emotional intelligence. These are very important in relationship building.
E.g: Communication / Leadership / Time Management / Adaptability
These are skills that cannot necessarily be taught as such, but are often learnt and developed through our interactions with others, in a working within specific environments and under different conditions.
You want to be able to include a combination of both types to illustrate your social and your technical capabilities. You may have all the qualifications in the world, but if you can't work well with others, you're going to have a tough time finding employment. With people spending 8 hours a day on average at work, HR really have to consider which candidates are going to fit well within existing teams.
Section 4: Career History
Each job you’ve had should be listed in the same manner; your job title, name of the company and its location (town/city), dates of employment (from/to) and the nature of the business (Financial/Retail/Manufacturing/Engineering) as it gives the employers an idea of the industry you have worked in. Beneath this you should provide a summary of your responsibilities in the job, listing the proven technical and social skills you regularly demonstrate and include any of your achievements, e.g beat the annual sales target by 15%, awarded employee of the month etc.
Section 5: Education
This should clearly list the formal institutions (university, college, school) you attended, courses studied, qualifications gained and the dates. Beneath this you can also list additional qualifications and training you have done, such a first aid and fire safety. Part-time or evening courses like reflexology, sign language or silversmithing can be an interesting way of showing your other interests on a CV, but should really be listed in a hobbies section, unless they’re relevant to the jobs you’re applying for.
Some people like to list education at the beginning of their CV, others at the end. General rule of thumb, if you're a school leaver or graduate without any work experience, education goes at the top. If you have professional career history, then education comes after this.
Section 6: Hobbies and Interests
Though entirely optional, we all have lives and interests outside of work and this is a good way of giving employers more rounded view of who you are.
Be sure to list any activities and hobbies you partake in that could also correlate well with the job you're applying for. If you fancy a career as a Kitchen Designer, then mentioning your passion for illustration, your evening course in interior design and even an interest in architecture could be a good move. But remember to be honest! Don't put things down if they're not true. Some employers may ask icebreaker questions at your interview and hobbies are often where they start.
Injecting a bit of your own style can do wonders, it keeps it fresh for those reading it and is a good opportunity for you to show off your top-notch word processing skills, but remember, less is more. Were going for chic people!
Keep it clean, easy to read and professional looking.
Ensure sections are evenly spaced out and that you stick to one font type.
You can use bold and italic to add definition, but use them strategically.
A splash of colour is a nice way of adding your own touch, but don't overdo it, as some companies only print in black and white, so you need to make sure that your CV can still be read when it’s printed in grayscale.
General ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts
Do not include a photo (unless you're applying for an acting job)
Do not include your date of birth
Do not include previous salary information
Do state if you own a full clean driving licence
Do include details of any additional on the job training
Do check and re-check for spelling mistakes, and if you can, get a friend to proofread it
Different employers and recruitment agencies use different word processing software, so when possible provide both a PDF and word version of your CV to make their job easier.
As a side note, I would say, take advantage of on any additional training if the opportunity arises, it shows dedication to your personal development and gives you further transferable skills.
And that's it! Hopefully that will have helped in some part. Before this present job, my own CV though good, still needed some work. Now I feel I have much stronger resume that really highlights what I'm good at, after all, if you don't sing your own praises, who's gonna do it for you?