At Trak Search, Cherilyn is the first contact point for any CV coming into the office. She mentioned in a recent Monday coffee meeting that she’d seen some “really interesting CVs” coming through. What had started as a throwaway comment generated quite a bit of discussion on what makes a “great CV”.
If you Google “CV template” you’ll find 1000’s of articles on the subject and 100’s of resume templates. It is usually easier to identify the pitfalls and things to avoid, rather than advising on how to compile the perfect CV.
This is such a key document and so people (rightly) want to ensure their CV allows them to put their best foot forward. But many often forget that the KEY purpose of a CV is to introduce you to a recruiter or prospective employer. It is not to tell your life story in a 3-part series.
Sounds simple I know. But anyone who has embarked on a job search process understands the dilemma as they wrestle with the amount of information to display. Your ‘resume space’ is valuable real estate, so use the space wisely!
This might seem obvious, but make sure you have your name and contact details in a prominent position within the document. Ideally this will include a mobile number and an email address. Anyone wanting to get in contact with you should not have to instigate a door-to-door search to find out how. Cherilyn surprised us when she spoke of how regularly she needs to email people to obtain their telephone number.
The mobile phone number is best supported by a voicemail service (rather than a 10-sec message sent as a text) with an appropriate greeting. Avoid motivational or joke greetings or a 15 second clip of your favourite song – yes, we do get these.
Consider the impact an unprofessional email address can have on first impressions. If your personal address uses funny, suggestive or rude nicknames or is not appropriate for job applications, I recommend creating a new email account with your name, even if purely for applications. Two examples came immediately to Craig: one applicant had ‘codenamehitman’ and the other was ‘lovegod’. Unfortunately for the two applicants, we don’t handle the type of roles that might suit them best.
We’d also strongly suggest you never use your work email address for job applications, even if applying for a role with your current employer.
You need to include all the basic information that a reviewer would need to get a sense of your experience, skills and abilities. This means a clear summary of your employment history, in reverse chronological order, (most recent role shown first) with employment dates, employer names and job titles. Given the importance of continual learning, show your academic qualifications (with the institution and year of completion) and professional development in recent years.
We’d suggest you explain any breaks in your employment history to paint a full picture of your experience. Don’t leave the reviewer guessing about date discrepancies. Cherilyn estimated that 1 in 5 resumes had a problem with dates. This is an amazing number of resumes not proof read by the owner.
Your CV is the first opportunity to showcase your professionalism. Poor spelling, grammar and/or formatting will make you stand out for the wrong reasons. Allow yourself time to thoroughly review your document before sending and give consideration to the way the document reads, not just the content. Use short paragraphs, bullet points and appropriate font sizes to make the document friendly for the reader.
You should always check by printing a hard-copy to review and then also have it read by another person.
Many people think a long CV is more impressive and feel pressure to bulk up their information over many pages. In fact, the best way to present yourself is with a tailored and concise snapshot of your relevant experience. If your resume is longer than 2-3 pages (4 at most!) then you are likely telling your life story rather than introducing yourself.
While we suggest your full career history should be listed, only minimal information is required when the experience is not of benefit for the role you’re applying for, or too long ago to be relevant.
This also means you will most likely have a number of different resumes, each targeting a specific type of role.
I’ll always remember a very senior person with a long career history devoting 2 pages (of a 14 page resume!) to ‘career highlights’. Listed at the very top was ‘milk monitor’ at primary school, some 50 years earlier.
Two key things are considered by the reviewer when making an assessment on the suitability of a candidate for any role. First, does this person’s resume indicate they could have the relevant experience, skills and abilities required for this role? Secondly, is this role the right fit for this candidate? Does it align with what they’ve done in their career-to-date?
This can be tricky if you are seeking a change in career direction, but you should tailor the CV with appropriate detail to explain your interest in applying for this role. When the role is not the expected or obvious next step for you, you cannot leave the reviewer wondering why you have applied.
Ensure your CV is authentic and true to your experience and style. It can be easy to fall in to the trap of writing down what you think the reviewer will want to read, or just repeating words from the selection criteria.
Don’t get carried away with using buzz words or clichés to summarise your experience.
It is critical that all information in your CV is true and able to be supported with examples in interview, reference checking and on the job. It is incredibly damaging to your reputation and credibility when something you have stated on your resume is found to be an exaggeration or out-and-out lie.
Remember, this process is about an employer finding the right candidate for their role, but it is also about you finding your right next step. You can never be sure what an employer will value most in a prospective candidate, so your best chance of securing the job that is best for you is to be genuine.
What not to include
This final bulleted list of what else to avoid is a personal one – you’ll find many, many people who will give the contrary advice. Avoid:
- A skills-based resume format – omitting your career history in favour of a skills based CV leaves too many unanswered questions.
- Photos – never, ever include a photo of yourself.
- A long list of hobbies
- Any mention of references. This is a ‘hot topic’ as many people look immediately for this information. Whatever you decide, don’t waste precious CV space by saying ‘references available on request’.
- Career objective
- More than one font – unless you have graphic design skills
- A list of skills – many would argue this is the most common waste of resume space
We all agreed that a good CV should accurately & concisely introduce an applicant. Yet for such an important document we are regularly amazed at how little effort seems to be taken to get this right.
It pays to spend the time to make your best possible first impression – not only to the recruiter but also the employer if/when they view your documentation.
Do you really want to introduce yourself to a potential new employer by simply shooting off that long-used 6-page document that you’ve just amended to include your most recent position?
Read our related article “Does your resume fall into one of these traps?”