October 25th marked the birthday of artist Pablo Picasso. As well as lending his name to a popular family car, Picasso is most well-known for his cubist paintings including less-than-accurate depictions of people and places. While putting body parts in the wrong places may have made him a great artist, if he took the same approach to his CV he wouldn’t have got very far. Yet we see a lot of job seekers try and apply Picasso’s approach to their applications. So here’s the proper order to write your CV:
Name and contact details.
It might sound obvious, but often this doesn’t come at the top of the page. You don’t need to title your CV with Curriculum Vitae (especially if you can’t spell it correctly!) – jump straight in with your name, phone number, e-mail, and at least some of your address. We don’t need to know exactly where you live, but be a little more than specific than just Greater Manchester: it’s a big place, after all!
A good profile will sum up your work experience and suitability for a specific job in 2 or 3 lines. A bad one will include a list of generic clichéd qualities about yourself. Be honest, and try to back up any claims about your past performance if you can (instead of saying “good salesperson” say “consistently met or surpassed monthly targets.” You can also take the opportunity to include a couple of keywords to get your CV noticed by recruiters too – describe yourself with the job title you’re applying for if you can.
2b. Key skills
If you’re applying for a role in a different industry to somewhere you’ve worked before or you have a more varied work history, a couple of bullet points outlining the things you’re good at can be a great idea to help showcase these key skills. Check the job advert for what to include, and always back up your claims with evidence as much as you can.
At the very most, you should be half-way down your first page by now. If you’re any further through your CV, either adjust your formatting to fit more on, or try and cut down what you’ve written so far.
Previous experience is the single most important thing an employer will be looking for on your CV, so make sure it’s on the front page. Start with your current or most recent position and work backwards. Your most current job will be the one that’s most relevant so you’ll need to go into the most detail about what you do, and your achievements. For previous positions, you can skimp on the detail. If you have any periods of short-term temporary work, you can simply put, for example, “Various temporary reception roles –March to June 2013” – there’s no need to list every company, especially if you were only there for a week or two. You also don’t need to explain why you left a position – that can be addressed in interview.
How far back should you go? Well, 10 years is usually the most anyone expects (assuming you’ve worked for a few companies in that time). You can summarise the roles you did before then in a couple of lines – you may have worked in more senior positions since then, which are more important, or technology and skills used in these older roles will likely be obsolete. But if you’ve worked your way up in an industry, a note to say you’ve started out on the factory floor can really help.
And what counts as a work experience? Anything you think will demonstrate applying the skills you’re expected to have for a job – this can include doing volunteering and charity work, work experience or internships or even helping out in the family business.
Many CVs mistakenly put their education first on the CV, ahead of their work experience. And if your grades in school were less than exceptional, you may well be selling yourself short. You don’t need to go into too much detail about the GCSE or O-levels you did if you’ve got more than a couple of years work experience under your belt. For recent school leavers, be sure to highlight your best grades; employers will usually want to see your Maths and English GCSEs too.
The only exception to the work-then-education format to a CV is for a recent university graduate, where you’ll want to go into much more detail about the things you covered in your degree (and their relevance to the job you’re applying for) as you’re unlikely to have much work experience in your field. List the relevant modules you’ve studied and any significant projects you’ve worked on – extra-curricular ones included.
The final part of your CV should include all the extra tidbits of information that aren’t of crucial importance, but can still help to support your application. Driving licences, any foreign languages you might speak (but don’t claim fluency if you can’t back it up when the interviewer decides to ask all their questions in German!), and any extra awards or achievements from outside of your job.
You don’t need to include your hobbies – some employers like them to help break the ice in an interview, but others will use them to pre-judge your personality or background. Things like reading and going to the gym won’t help to differentiate yourself, but being a keen member of your local medieval battle re-enactment society might make you stand out a little too much.
The exception is if a job advert mentions a certain interest being beneficial: in which case, include it to tick the box and try and back it up with some further information.
A CV should contain all the relevant information to prove you can do the job, but when recruiters or hiring managers can have well over a hundred to sort through you need to make sure the information they’re looking for is in the right place. So don’t jumble everything up and stick to this order to make sure