The Curriculum Vitae

The Curriculum Vitae or Résumé (in Latin meaning “course of life”) is an advertisement for the individual, whose objective is to show what you have to offer in a compact and easily-digestible form.

The principal purpose of a CV is to secure a job interview but it can also provide a useful structure for the said interview.

A well-produced CV (curriculum vitae) is your primary marketing tool as well as an essential tool for job-hunting.

A good CV has impact, and is both factual and brief. It must paint an attractive and accurate portrait of your abilities, achievements and interests.

The CV Problem

Major employers receive dozens of CVs every day by post, fax and e-mail. Being largely unsolicited, most of these are not ‘filtered’ to match any specific vacancy.

To read every one ‘from cover to cover’ would be physically impossible so it is crucial for the employer to grasp the essence of what you have to offer within a few seconds. If interest is aroused during the critical ‘first pass’, they are likely to read further.

Visible Reams of Support

The readability of the CV is very much related to length so it needs to be short but not obsessively so.

A 15-page CV defeats the reader at the outset and is likely to be discarded. The fashionable one-page ‘consultancy’ CVs tend to hide more than they reveal making it difficult to ‘get a handle’ on what the candidate is all about.

Remember – The principal object is to present your experience effectively – Not to get it all on one page. There is nothing wrong with a three or four page CV provided that page one generates enough interest to encourage further reading. The crucial point is to include all of the essential details on the first page.

CVs with a certain style

Obviously, CVs should be neat and presentable but there is a balance to be struck between design and content.

Possession of the latest spiffy desktop publishing package does not actually make you ‘artistic’ and most employers prefer candidates who are ‘businesslike’ rather than ‘cool’. With anything involving design, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and there is no ‘ideal’ layout for a CV. Indeed, a reasonable degree of individuality can make the document more interesting.

As a good starting point, the document ‘templates’ available in MS-Word and other word processing software provide smart and professional-looking resume formats without excessive ‘frills’.

In any case, complex artwork is often unreadable once it’s been through a fax machine or photocopier.

First impressions count and a CV can say quite a lot about your personality. Make sure that yours doesn’t say “attitude problem”. Like it or not, most employers are quite fussy and have an ideal ‘profile’ in mind which thy use as their basis for filtering candidates ‘on paper’.

Your CV should include any information which has a bearing on the decision to progress your application further.

Summary Justice

Prominently displayed on the first page of your CV should be a few paragraphs summarizing the ‘essence’ of what you have to offer and what you are seeking.

This statement is probably the most important item in the CV and needs to be written as ‘tightly’ as possible. This is not the place for a detailed list of all software used or roles performed so just emphasizes your main current skills and recent experience.

A useful technique is to write your ‘first draft’ and then eliminate as many words as possible without reducing information content. Aim for a maximum 10 seconds reading time which is about 50 words.

Education

Apart from recent school and university leavers whose academic qualifications are their main selling point, general education is ‘background’ information which can be summarized towards the end of the CV along with ‘hobbies’ and ‘interests’.

However, relevant professional education should be mentioned prominently on the first page.

For those working primarily in technical roles, the main skills should also be mentioned in the summary with the rest listed towards the end of the CV or within individual job descriptions. It is particularly important to give a clear indication as to the ‘level’ of technical expertise so that time is not wasted on ‘fruitless’ interviews.

Employment Summary

Having read about your background in summary, most employers will still want to assess the ‘depth’ of your experience by considering the evidence of where and when it was gained.

It has now become fairly traditional to summarize jobs in reverse chronological order giving employer name, job title, start/finish dates and a brief description of duties. The employer is primarily interested in the last 5 years or so and anything prior to that can be dealt with briefly, either job-by-job or summarized into a couple of paragraphs.

Avoid confusion by expressing start and finish dates to the nearest month. 1998-1999 could be either one day or two years which may give the impression of trying to ‘cover up’ a short job.

Other information

There are several less-important items which might be included in your resume such as hobbies, references and details of general education.

If you are an accomplished athlete or have an interesting hobby, for example, this might just give you an ‘edge’ with an employer on the basis of a common interest.

Similarly, if you went to a very well-known school or college, this might ‘ring a bell’ with some employers although we should just stick to listing our main educational qualifications. It is all a matter of balancing the value of the information against the space taken-up.

Final Polish

CV spelling mistakes stick out like the proverbial ‘sore thumb’. Furthermore, typing errors with valid spelling will not be spotted by your WP spell-checker. Because the author of any document tends to see ‘what they expect to see’, it is always beneficial to have the CV proof-read independently.

Finally, always keep your CV up-to-date so that you can respond instantly to job opportunities.

Opportunity may knock but it doesn’t hang around.

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