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How To Write A Winning CV

by Peter Meherne, Recruitment Director, Plain Words

Harness the selling power of words & design in your CV

If you're looking for either permanent or contract work, the main weapon in your job seeking armoury is your CV. It's your first point of contact with potential employers and is the deciding factor as to whether you get an interview or not.

Your CV is an advert to sell your professional services

When it boils down to it, your CV is an advert to sell your professional services. And like all advertising, there are certain things that work and certain things that don't.

So let's look at the basic rules of thumb that make up a winning CV.

Brevity – keep your CV short and to the point

Employers are busy people. They don't have time to read through CVs. It's a chore. So make it easy for them and keep your CV short and to the point.

Two or three pages are plenty. Leave your potential employer wanting more. Intrigue them. That way, they're more likely to call you in for an interview.

Target It! – tailor your CV for each job you apply for

Tailor your CV for each job you apply for. Read the job specification and demonstrate how your skills and experience fit the bill. This will usually be a question of emphasising the aspects of your career that match the job you are after.

Research the firm you're applying to

It can be advantageous to add a brief opening paragraph to your CV to attract the employer's attention. It's a good way of introducing yourself. The secret, though, is to personalise it: research the firm you're applying to, find some element about them that you can make a favourable comment on.

Skills First – start your CV with your skills

Kick off with a bullet point list of your skills. Tell the prospective employer what you can do up front and, so long as it matches their needs, they're more likely to read on. You should also list the software you are skilled with here.

Career History – highlight relevant jobs

We now come to the meat of the CV – your career history. Begin with your present employment and work your way back. To keep the CV short, it's best to highlight only the jobs and projects you were involved in that are most relevant to the post you're currently applying for.

And rather than give a long chronology of work experience, try and group the jobs and projects you've been involved in according to types – technical user manuals, online help, proposals, websites, training and so on. That way, the employer can scan and latch on to the elements he or she is interested in.

For each project or job, make clear what your involvement was (e.g. writing, editing, research, designing, proof reading). And don't forget to include the software you used on each project or job, accompanied by your level of proficiency in each one.

If you built a website using Dreamweaver, tell them whether you know the product inside out, or whether you're a Jack (or Jill) of HTML editors, but master of none... (The latter, by the way, wouldn't necessarily go against you; all depends on the post you're applying for).

Be Direct – don't use bland catch phrases

When you're listing your professional skills and career highlights, don't use bland catch phrases or vague clichés. They are a yawn factor; they bore the reader. And, besides, they will be on most other people's CVs and won't mark you out as unique.

Get wise – be direct and tell your prospective employer how it really is.

For example, instead of saying you have “good communications skills”, give a real life example, by saying something like: “When I was setting up new computer networks for Noname Borough Council, I developed an ability to communicate effectively with people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds.”

It's short, sweet, and brings life to what you've written about yourself.

Education – list your education history in reverse chronological order

List your education history in reverse chronological order. Unless you're a recent graduate, you don't need to go overboard on this. Most employers are more interested in your work experience and what you can do now, rather than what degrees you've got.

Presentation – make sure your CV is well organised

However well written your CV is, if the presentation is poor, you'll lose your reader within 30 seconds and won't get an interview.

To keep your prospective employer interested and reading to the last page, you need to make sure your CV is well organised. You need to lay it out in a consistent and logical manner.

Plan the running order of your CV

Plan the running order and use lots of headings and white space (space between paragraphs).

You also need to keep your sentences and paragraphs short – as there is nothing more off putting and tiring on the eyes (and brain) than a wall of text.

The typeface is important

The Typeface (or font) you use is also important. Don't get carried away with fancy fonts.

Keep it simple.

A good rule of thumb is to use Verdana 10pt for body text and Arial (size of your choice) for headings. Yes, a lot of people use Times Roman. But these days, your CV is mostly sent via e-mail attachment and could well be read on a monitor screen (rather than be printed out and read).

Times Roman looks great on paper, but ragged on a monitor. Whereas Verdana and Arial look more professional on a monitor – and they look okay on paper too. So use Verdana and Arial and you're covered both ways.

Highlight using ‘bold’ or ‘italics’

You can also highlight keywords and phrases in bold. It adds liveliness – but it's optional and down to your own personal taste. Italics are fine too, but don't look good when read on a monitor screen.

Spelling & Grammar – check, check and check again

What can I say? Check, check and check again. And don't just rely on your computer spell-checker. Make use of on-line dictionaries, grammar primers, and thesauruses.

Employer's Shoes

Finally, put yourself in your prospective employer's shoes. They're busy, invariably overworked, and really don't want to read another CV…

…so does your CV stand out? Is it easy to read and well-designed? Does the layout look lively? Does it invite you to read it?

If not, it's back to the drawing board…

See the“Power Words” article for words that can be used to sell yourself in your CV

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