Your CV is your entrance ticket to job interviews – so writing a good CV is a critical step in the job application process. It is your first chance to make a good impression to the hiring manager or recruiter, and many of them take only a few seconds to scan each CV before they decide “yes” or “no”.
Your CV should communicate precisely, quickly and professionally that you possess the required experience and skills for a specific job. It should make recruiters look at the CV and want to invite you, because they think you have the capabilities to do the job.
This sounds pretty straight forward, but how do you design and write a compelling CV? Read on to find out more.
Before you even write your name on top of your CV, you should do research on the job you want to apply for. It is perfectly fine to have a generic CV template, with all information included, but you must make sure to adjust it to every job you apply to.
So how do you do that? First, make sure to read the advert in detail. Then, research the company you want to apply to, and use that information to determine which skills are required. You can also search for other people in similar positions and see what they say about their tasks (LinkedIn can be a good source for that).
Also, try to think from the employer’s perspective:
• What experiences do they want?
• Which skills do they need?
• What will be expected from me in this role?
Tailor your CV
Any CV you send out should be competency and result based. Once you have compiled a list of requirements for a certain job, you can adjust your CV accordingly. Take out anything that is irrelevant for the specific job. Then respond to the job description and highlight the skills and experiences that are relevant. Don’t just name them, give also concrete examples. Where have you demonstrated that you are able to lead a team? Where and how did you develop your analytical skills? And so on.
Some things on the list of job requirements are probably easy to display for you, whereas others you may not have any or only little experience.
Don’t panic – no one expects you to have all the skills. Be creative: often you’ll recognize that you do have a lot of transferable skills from in and outside your work experience. This can be educational projects, volunteering, sports or others.
The time employers spend on a CV is very limited. Therefore, a short personal statement can help you to grasp their attention. Use this section to shortly (2-3 sentences) explain why your qualifications and skills match the job. Recruiters can use this to see whether you are the type of person that would fit in the organisation. Be confident, but do not exaggerate too much.
Don’t use buzzwords! If you describe yourself as “motivated team player with organizational talent” this could describe anyone from a waiter to a CEO. Be specific and mention keywords that are relevant for the job.
Not only a person scanning your CV will look for keywords. If you upload your CV to a job site or through the recruitment system of a large company, the recruiters will have search engines to choose CVs from the database or even fully automated systems that select candidates for them.
If you are applying as a technician in a microbiology company, you can for example mention PCR (polymerase chain reaction), microbial science, immunoprecipitation and chromatography.
If you want to work as a sales manager, you can for example use sales executive, customer retention and direct marketing.
You should also use these keywords when you are describing your work experience and/or education if applicable.
List your employment history in a clear format, starting with the most recent one. It is a good idea to use bullet points for these lists. Keep them short and use active, strong verbs.
Summarise your role, your employer, the duration of the employment and job title. Below, list your key responsibilities with specific examples, and your key achievements. Be precise if you can, “increased x by y% in z months” is easier to grasp than “significant increase”.
Choose carefully: Put emphasis on those skills and responsibilities that are relevant for the position you are applying for. Only mention side jobs if really relevant.
Be prepared to answer questions about these employments in a potential interview.
You have a gap in your CV longer than a few months? No need to worry, as long as you are clear on how you spent the time. Be honest, because it is likely that people will ask you about this.
What did you achieve during that time? Did you plan and manage travel plans, worked as a volunteer, or developed soft skills?
List your education in reverse order and provide dates, institutions and qualifications.
You have been working for a while already? Keep it short, listing only the most relevant qualifications with the duration and the title of the degree.
Start with education instead of work experience if you only have a few years of work experience. Distinguish between bachelor and/or master programmes.
When you apply for a specific function, it is can be worthwhile to provide more information about the most relevant study programme including listing most relevant courses and thesis subject. Do not add all grades but attach a transcript with grades if specifically asked for by the employer. Generally it is sufficient to give the graduation grade for a master’s and/or bachelor’s degree. Place ‘not completed’ between parentheses if you did not complete a specific course. If relevant for the vacancy, specific courses, internships, publications and specialisations can be mentioned.
You have little or no work experience? Besides the basic information, elaborate on your focus during your education, include (transferable) skills you obtained. Also list your final grades (and include a scale of marks if you are applying in a different country). You can also list relative numbers if you have them, e.g. “among top 5% of the year” or similar.
Additional activities may give a better idea of who you are as a person. Be critical and only name relevant activities or activities that define you as a person and keep it brief. In the margin you can also specify the duration and how many hours a week you committed to an extracurricular activity. This can be especially relevant if you don’t have much work experience.
Interests and additional skills
These are all activities, which cannot be categorised under education, work experience or extracurricular activities and include amongst others language and computer skills, driving licence and hobbies. Also here you should be specific and only mention the relevant interests contributing to better insight of your personality and relevant for the function.
Should you include hobbies in your CV? There is no black-and-white answer to that. It depends on whether they add any value to your application – what job are you applying for, and are your interests relevant for that?
If you feel that e.g. leading a sports team or organising the local chess club will impact your application positively – include it. On the other hand, an interest in watching TV and going to concerts probably won’t add any value to your application.
A good CV is clear, concise and simple. How do you achieve that?
• Use standard fonts, such as Arial, Times New Roman or similar;
• Keep it short and to the point: Limit your CV to two pages (A4);
• Use bullet points: they make it easier for your reader to follow;
• Use headings for each section;
• Leave plenty of white space around and between text and categories, as it makes the layout easier for the eye.
You can have a look at this example for a first idea, but remember that each CV will be different!
If you apply abroad, ensure that you know what the required format is. In some countries, for example the Netherlands, a headshot is common practice, whereas it is uncommon in others such as Belgium.
You don’t want to have a single spelling mistake in your CV. If a recruiter finds one, it will make you look sloppy and not very trustworthy. It is always a good idea to ask someone else to go through your CV before sending it out.
Also double-check that you send the right CV to the right company. If you are sending out a lot of applications, this is an easy mistake to make.
If you give your CV file a specific name, e.g. CV_FirstnameLastname_position, it will also be easier to find back for the recruiter.
Good luck with your CV!
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