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PREPARE YOUR CV
The basics of CV writing
If you are a beginner or could simply use a refresher, this is the place to start. With unprecedented levels of competition for every vacancy that comes onto the jobs market, it has never been more important to make sure your CV is as good as it possibly can be. This means that you must give careful attention to all elements of the document: its overall presentation and layout, grammar, spelling, and most importantly, content. Because even if the content is top quality, many employers won't even read it if any of the other elements is imperfect.
To help you in this challenging market, we've distilled our experience from viewing thousands of CVs every day into these guidelines.
Presentation and layout
Your CV must look clean and well laid out, with an abundance of white space to enhance readability. It should two pages long unless your industry has its own standards; for instance, if you are expected to include your publications or details of many projects.
Use a simple font like Arial, 10-12pt, and keep formatting like italics and underlining to a minimum. Bullets are extremely useful in CVs as they allow you to highlight key points succintly and keep the document looking tidy. Start each one with an action verb if you can ('created', 'managed', 'increased', 'improved' etc), rather than 'I'.
Spelling and punctuation must be perfect, so after you proofread and spell-check it, give it to a friend to check it over for readability and any errors you may have missed. Hiring organisations are inundated with so many applications that many have implemented extremely strict criteria: if your CV looks cluttered or if one full stop is out of place, it may be removed from consideration.
Basic CV structure
Name, address and contact details
Make sure to use the phone number and email address that you use most often. You don’t want to disappoint an employer by failing to respond to their invitation to an interview in a timely fashion.
Your nationality and working visa details
This is only relevant if you are on a working visa, so employers know in advance how long you will be living in Denmark.
This is optional, but it’s a good opportunity to highlight in a sentence or two what you hope to achieve in your next position and what you feel you can offer to an employer. In marketing terms, this is the place for your ‘USP’, or unique sales proposition.
The reader of your CV may not have more than a few seconds to spend scanning applications, so including a skills section can capture their attention by making it immediately clear what you can offer. Highlight a brief bulleted list of the skills and experience that you possess that are relevant to the role, such as software packages you have worked on. Wherever possible, use the same adjectives as those used in the advertisement.
For instance, if the ad specifies someone who has ‘effective administrative abilities and excellent interpersonal skills’, these should be addressed under your skills section in the same order, although not verbatim, as this will be too obvious.
This is your work history and includes paid work and any relevant volunteer or work experience placements. Work backwards from your most recent job and don’t leave any gaps; these could could lead potential employers to suspect the worst. If you took a year out, carried out an interim assignment or travelled for six months, say so. It could be useful to treat it in the same way as a job, indicating what your accomplished and learned in this time.
If you are a graduate, you may not have a great deal of work experience, although many graduates undertake day release or a year out in the industry. In this case, highlight the relevant skills that you gained in your course or on work experience. Again, list each position in reverse order, so that the most recent appears first.
Education and training
Use your common sense here. If you have an advanced degree, few people are going to be concerned about your GCSEs. Make sure to also include any training courses that you have done that are relevant to the job that you are applying for.
These are optional, but should you choose to include a section on hobbies and interests, keep it very brief. Avoid saying anything that could be contentious (e.g. political or religious affiliations), and wherever possible, use the space to show how you can fit in with the company's organisational culture. For instance, if they have a company football team, it might be useful to indicate that you enjoy playing football.
Actual references are rarely included on CVs. It is usually fine to simply say 'References are available on request'.
How to make your CV stand out
We know what employers look for when they scan CVs and have assembled a few points to help yours find its way to the 'interview' pile.
The purpose of your CV is not to get you a job, but to be enticing enough for an employer to take you through to next step in the selection process. Here are a few tips to make your CV stand out:
- A personal statement directly beneath your contact details gives employers a snapshot of your key skills and work ambitions and should catch their attention if it marries up with what they are looking for.
- When writing your skills section, try to use adjectives that are similar to those used in the job advertisement. If they require someone with ‘effective leadership and administrative abilities that possesses excellent interpersonal skills’, state that you have these. Don't copy the text verbatim, however, as this will be apparent, and obviously be truthful at all times on your CV.
- Remember that employers are interested in the outcome or impact of your actions, not just a list of the tasks themselves.
- When listing achievements, keep in mind that what really convinces employers is data. If you can illustrate your achievements with facts and figures, then make sure to do. Consider the differing impacts of the following two statements: Consistently exceeded sales targets in last year - Exceeded sales targets in last four quarters by x%, x%, x and x%, resulting in overall annual increase in turnover of £x
- Even if you struggle to recall or quantify your work achievements, it's worth spending some time thinking about it as it's important. Did you have a positive effect on productivity, efficiency, the speed of a process or response, customer complaints, waste, accidents, reporting, absences or any other aspect of an organisation’s functioning? Then include it.
- Above all, remember that you are trying to sell yourself. Using phrases like ‘was involved in’ and ‘assisted’ implies that you were more of a bystander than an instigator. Use strong action verbs and take credit where credit is due.
Remember that you must also tailor your CV as employers will expect and appreciate this. Take the time to get it just right and your CV is bound to stand out from the crowd
The importance of tailoring your CV
Doing your research is the key to creating a CV that shows employers you really want to work for them.
With the increased competition in the jobs market, it is more important than ever to tailor your CV to each role you apply for. In our experience, any other serious applicant will have do this, so if you don’t put in the effort you might not make it past the first hurdle.
Here are some tips to make it clear to employers that you have really done your homework:
• Don’t just scan the job description; really think about what the words mean in terms of day-to-day activity and how you can make your CV show that you can handle these tasks and responsibilities.
• Search online for profiles or adverts of jobs similar to the one for which you are applying to help add to your understand of what's required in the position. Then demonstrate this where you can in your CV.
• When writing your skills section, use adjectives similar to those used in the job advertisement. If they require someone with ‘effective leadership and administrative abilities that possesses excellent interpersonal skills’, you should state that you have these in roughly the same order – although not verbatim as this is too obvious.
• If the opportunity easily presents itself, it may help to pepper your CV with some technical terminology – but not too much – so that the employer knows that you understand the industry. However don't compromise the overall need for plain language in your CV. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
• Make sure to research the organisation itself to find out about its reputation and how it presents its culture. Are they a 'work hard and play hard' company? Include any information about yourself that shows you will fit in with them. This may fit within your ‘Interests’ section if you choose to include one: charity work or sports, for instance.
• If you aren’t applying for a specific job but you know what type of roles you are interested in, read through job adverts and make the most of online resources that are specifically designed to help you understand different jobs, such as Prospects. This will help you to understand what skills and responsibilities are typical for these jobs. You can then tailor your CV to include these if you have them, or try to gain the skills that you don’t have so you can include them in future applications.
Remember that the goal of the CV isn’t to get you a job; it’s to get you an interview. Make it concise, interesting and enticing. Read our tips on making your CV stand out to employers.