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You might be doing a great job in your current workplace, but what’s to say you couldn’t be doing even better and earning more in that dream job you saw advertised. But without a great CV getting that job is likely to remain a pipe dream.

A common complaint amongst recruiters is that most CVs are hard to read, badly formatted and even worse, miss the point.

So how do you rise above the rest and get that better job? Easy, read our simple guide and look at your own CV to see where you can make improvements.

What is a CV?

This may sound like a stupid thing to ask, but it is vitally important because, as we said above, many recruiters say that applicants' CVs are missing the point.

A CV is a marketing tool. It sells you the same way that a promotional brochure sells a business. However most people seem to think that it is a list of everything they've ever done at school and throughout their entire work history. A recruiter isn't just interested in what tasks you have performed, they are interested in what benefits you have bought to your employer. The simple thought running through their head will be "why should I hire this person?"

Always ensure you quantify your results so that you can show not just what you've done, but the effects.

How many CVs should I have?

Never have just one CV. The reason for this is because all jobs are different. Look closely at the job advert (or even better, the person specification) and ask yourself 'what would be their perfect applicant?' Then look at yourself and make a note of how you can demonstrate those qualities (but don't lie, as you're sure to be caught out sooner or later).

As a contractor applying for positions frequently, you may find it useful to have some 'barebones' CVs that you can quickly and easily be tailored. For example, if you usually work within finance departments, you could have a CV that shows off your skills with preparing budgets, and a CV that shows off how good you are at drawing up profit and loss accounts. When a position is advertised that is crying out for one of those skills, you just need to tweak your CV and it's done.

How often should I update my CV?

Put simply, the more often the better. You are likely to forget some of the times you had to use a particular skill, and will spend a lot of time trying to remember a situation where you demonstrated using it. When you achieve something, such as meeting a target, make a note of it for future reference.

The more frequently you update your CV, the less time you will need to sit down for several hours and produce a fresh CV whilst desperately trying to think of times you demonstrated relevant skills.

This is particularly important if you are a contractor - you will be looking for new positions more often than most, and don't want to be spending hours writing CVs.

What should my CV look like?

Firstly, avoid fancy fonts and ornate borders. The text should speak for itself and a pretty CV alone will not get you a job. That said, don't think that presentation isn't important - make sure it has printed correctly and doesn't look like a poor photocopy, which gives the impression that you are sending out the same CV en masse and have poor presentation skills.

Avoid lengthy paragraphs - the recruiter is likely to have a lot of applications to sift through and in their first sift are likely to give each CV less than 30 seconds before putting it in either the 'reject' pile or the 'read again' pile. Punchy bullet points are much better than wordy paragraphs.

Print it on plain white paper and ensure that it is no more than two sides of A4 paper in length. In the modern age of word processing there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for spelling mistakes. But remember, before you hit the 'spell check' button and smile because your document came back with no errors, consider this:  It is likely that your document is configured for American English spelling. Therefore, be wary of writing 'organizational skills' instead of 'organisational skills'. And don't forget that in some programs they will autocorrect some commonly "misspelled" words, so even if you type 'organised' it will change it to 'organized'. The lesson? Always read it several times to ensure that it's correct.  Also don't forget that a spell checker just makes sure that a word is spelt correctly, it won't check that it makes sense within the context of the sentence.

What format should it follow?

You do have several choices in choosing a layout. They can be broadly put into the following categories:

The most common, this lists your employment history in reverse chronological order, and is very useful if you are applying for a position in the same field as most of your work history as it will show your employer name and your job title. Promotions are easy to highlight in this type of format.

Recruiters find this style of CV easy to read however, remember to ensure that it does not just become a list.

This format is useful if you have had a varied career or are looking to make a career change. It highlights the main achievements and skills you've developed and used, even if you didn't need to demonstrate them in your most current role. You may find your employment history relegated somewhat, meaning that promotions and prestigious employers aren't as easy to recognise.

Sometimes, especially for positions within the media industry, it may be preferable to produce a very original and unique looking CV to highlight your creativity. However, there aren't many times when you need to produce such a CV, so be careful.

What should my CV include?

Your CV is personal to you, and you decide the content and the structure. The main sections that you may want to include are:

Personal details
Include your name, address, and telephone number. Importantly, ensure that it is the correct number. It's not unheard of for someone to send out lots of CVs and never get a reply, then realise that they got a digit wrong of their telephone number.

You don't have to include your date of birth, but many people do. Some people also include a photograph of themselves, but the only people that really need to do this are models and actors.

Personal statement
Not everyone includes a personal statement, but if you do, ensure that it is short and specific to the position that you are applying for (for example, how many years experience you have in a relevant skill and in which sector).

Main achievements/skills
Some people put this below their education and work experience sections, but remember that you are trying to sell yourself to someone that has little time to read your CV in-depth. Read the job description and person specification to work out what they are looking for in an employee, detail your relevant achievements and skills on your CV here.

Education and qualifications
List in reverse chronological order including the institution you studied at and the grades you achieved. The general practice is not to include failures.

Work experience
Again, list in reverse chronological order and ensure that you don't just tell them what you did, highlight how it would be relevant to this role.

Remember to be careful using acronyms and jargon: ensure that the reader is likely to understand them, even if they are standard industry terms.

This is a section where you will get conflicting advice about whether to include it or not. If you do, remember a simple bit of advice. Everyone socialises and everyone watches TV however, the fact is mentioning both of those could make you appear like someone who simply enjoys getting drunk (and maybe turning up to work with a hangover) or a non-active person that just slouches in front of the TV.

Pick hobbies that will impress (team activities, interests that show you are looking to better yourself etc…also include an unusual interest if you have one, this will help the employer remember you from a pile of CVs) and are if possible relevant to the position applied for. However again don't lie - you will come unstuck if you are asked questions about a hobby you know nothing about.  Additionally If you genuinely like reading books expand on it, and tell them what genres or authors you like reading, don't just put 'I like to read'.

This is another section where you will get conflicting advice about whether to include it or not. Some write names, addresses and contact numbers for referees, other people only write "references available on request", whilst some don't put anything at all, safe in the knowledge that if they are offered the job they will be asked to provide some.

If you do provide references ensure that the people listed have given their permission to provide a reference on your behalf.

Positive language

Always use positive language to sell your skills and achievements. You didn't just do your job, you demonstrated the ability to excel at a certain task. The key is to aim to add a good mix of positive words into your CV.

Common CV sins (avoid these and you'll instantly be doing better than the majority of applicants):

  • Providing a huge list of everything you've ever done, no matter how relevant to the role you're applying for.
  • Always sending a generic, untailored CV to every job you ever apply for.
  • Sending an out of date CV.
  • Submitting a CV that is all show and no content.
  • Typos.
  • Listing boring, generic or even negative interests.
  • Including a photograph when the recruiter won't be interested in what you look like -they should be more interested in what you can do for them.
  • Not including positive language.

Further reading

4 reasons to use an online CV database

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