Careers: Writing That Perfect CV

I might not have a graduate job yet (I am dreading starting to apply come September) but having received two offers for a year’s placement I think I’m well enough qualified to give some kind of career advice. I’ll be doing a few posts, generally following the order in which most application processes go…so first up is CV tips!
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Make it Priority

Keep your CV updated at all times, even if you’re not actively looking for roles. You never know when the perfect opportunity will come up, and when it does you don’t want to waste time making big changes on your CV. Every time you get a new job, learn a new skill, gain a qualification, work on a big project – update your CV to reflect this.

Adapt

My previous point should not suggest that your CV should be the same for every role you apply to – you will need to subtly tailor it. Look at the job description, check out the requirements and make sure your CV shows you can tick each box.

Length

I was always told two pages is ideal, and that’s probably true for a graduate with no/little relevant work experience. However if you have relevant information to the role don’t leave it out for sake of length – but if you go over to another page, make sure you fill it at least over halfway. A half-filled page looks a little half-hearted, like you haven’t much to say – no matter how much you’ve written preceding it.
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Structure

I’d include name (you’d never believe how many forget this!), contact details, personal statement, education, experience, key skills, interests, references.

Contents

The personal statement is a few sentences introducing yourself – it’s often the only thing a recruiter will read so make it snappy and memorable. State what type of role you are looking for – and remember to personalise it to the specific role for each application.

Education and experience should both be in the order of most recent first. I’d bold out any particularly relevant qualification – for instance in my case any actuarial exams passed. Add more detail where experiences are relevant to the job being applied for, key skills developed and main responsibilities.

Key skills includes bits like personal skills such as teamwork, and technical ability such as software knowledge – but always back up with short examples. Bold out key works again.

Include a short ‘interests’ section to show off some of your personality, but keep it limited to three lines. And obviously sensor it – best not to mention your love of the pub, but I include bits about my blog, love of reading, and learning to knit,

References can be included or not – if I have a bit of spare space they are included in full, if not I’ll say they are available on request.
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Design

Try and get all your key content written down before you work too much on design. I’d recommend going for a table format that’s easy to edit as you go. Keep size of type consistent throughout, plenty of white space, and a simple font.

What Employers Look For

I’ve been doing some work on recruitment recently, so I can say a bit about what employers look for when they read your CV. They will scan it over first, checking for whether you are eligible for the role in terms of qualifications. They’ll check for professionalism in terms of layout, structure and design, and any spelling mistakes. Personalisation to the role gets ‘bonus points’ and please, please, please spell the company name right – we screen out five CVs recently due to this being misspelt.

Make sure you are demonstrating you are the right person for the job in terms of skills, qualifications, experience. It’s often your only chance to show yourself off before the interview stage, so do it well!

What are your top tips for CV writing?

REBLOGGED: Diary of an (Actuarial) Undergrad – Trials and Tribulations of a Good CV

I was recently asked to do a couple of guest posts for my university’s careers service blog, which can be found here. I must say, the support I have already received from the University of Kent in terms of careers has been outstanding. I reccomend a look on their website even if you aren’t a student, as there is some amazing advice. Definitely check out their blog too, and here’s my original post.

 

I’ve just finished my first year in Actuarial Science (which is, to put it very simply, a mixture of mathematics, applied statistics, economics and finance) and will be beginning a yearlong placement in the summer of 2014 as part of my degree. As of yet applications are only just starting to open, so I’ve been concentrating on getting my CV up to scratch.

 

The simple fact is you will be asked to produce a CV for potential employers at some point in your life.

I’ve held two part-time jobs whilst studying, and both of these were obtained by handing my CV to a prospective manager, so I know firsthand how crucial these ‘little bits of paper’ are. I also know that having to quickly produce one to hand over is probably one of the most stressful things in existence. So even if you ignore everything else I write in this post, at least do one thing; prepare your CV now, when you have a spare minute, and then update it as and when needed.

 

So, the perfect CV. What’s in it? What definitely shouldn’t be in it? How long should it be? What font should I use?

There’s a list of endless questions you could ask, and I’m not going to pretend I have all of the answers. But I have been told my CV is strong, and I’ve also had some fabulous advice from Nikki Ellis (the industrial placement adviser in the Schools of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science) so I hope I can guide you to the right direction.

The general consensus is that a CV for industrial placements (and indeed graduate roles) should be 2 pages in length. That should be a full 2 pages. Not 1.5 with hugeeee writing. And not squished-up-with-tiny-margins-and-tiny-font 2 pages. You shouldn’t be altering the layout of your paper and the size of your font to compensate for too short/long CVs. On that note, go for a standard font (something like Calibri or Arial) – none of the fancy swirly stuff! Keep the size between 10 and 12, any smaller and it will be difficult to read, any larger and you run the risk of it looking a little child-like.

The layout used is a bit more personal. I went for a tabular style CV, with section headings down the left. I also made important details (sub-headings such as educational results and job titles) stand out by putting them in a bold type face. One of the best pieces of advice I have been given is to  break up large chunks of text, either through bullet points or some other means. A hunk of text will be off-putting, you want something easy to scan, something that will easily highlight how wonderful you are.

Content is a bit easier for me to advise on. I’ve been told that the order of the section in a CV should be as follows; contact details and profile; education; experience; skills; interests; and references. This is the order in which I will discuss the sections, just to make it a little easier for both me and you…

  • You want to start with your name and contact details. Make sure you include a phone number, email address and postal address.
  • Then go with a short paragraph (or maybe two even shorter ones) called a profile. This should briefly introduce yourself, summarise your experience and education, and state your current career goals. This section should be brief and to the point, and no more than a few sentences. Now is not the time to waffle (actually, at no point should a CV contain waffle!).
  • Then comes the education section. This should be in reverse chronological order, i.e. the most recent first. A good piece of advice, particularly if you find yourself short of space, is that the most recent qualifications should be talked about more, and the ones you took years ago the least. Hence I have just two lines devoted to my GCSE’s on my CV; the institution I sat them at, and the grades received. I haven’t mentioned specific subjects (although it is a good idea to clarify that they do include Mathematics and English), but I did mention the subjects I studied at A-level and devoted a little more space to these qualifications.
  • University modules and grades are often far more important. If your degree is directly relevant to the roles you are applying for, I’ve been told to detail the modules you have taken. I was also advised that, if ALL of your module grades are of a high standard, to include them in your CV. However, I really wouldn’t advise doing this if one is significantly lower than the others, or if they should any kind of inconsistencies in your academics. Best to use your own judgment to make that call!
  • Again in reverse chronological order comes your work experience. This can be anything from volunteering roles to employment. My personal advice would be to head each section with the place of work and the timescale, then briefly evaluate which skills you have gained from the role.
  • Following this section should be where you detail your key skills. My opinion is that bullet points are best for this, but at the same time make sure you write in full coherent sentences. Steer clear of clichés, and make sure you don’t repeat yourself. I know when I first got my CV reviewed by Nikki Ellis she counted a ridiculous 21 “I am”s in mine! Keep things clear, to the point, and relevant to the kind of roles you are applying for.
  • Next is the interests section. I’ll admit my CV actually lacks this, as I was short on space and it the thing that should be compromised on as opposed to nixing part of your education or employment history. This section is more important to some companies than others (do your research when applying!) and remember that any hobby or interest you list will give an impression about you as a person so think carefully about any potential implications.
  • Finally references. Here you have a choice; include full contact details of your chosen referees (make sure they are happy to provide references prior to submitting your CV if you chose to do this!) or state that you have references available on request. At university I’ve been told I need to include on academic referee (check with your department who the appropriate person is) and one employment referee; I have stated these two referees, and also mentioned that I am able to provide further employment references on request (as I have held done more than one job in the past).

 

And so that’s it, my not-so-brief guide as to what a CV should look like and include. I hope it helps at least one of you to create an excellent CV and hopefully gain a job! I’ll hopefully be back in a few weeks with a post on application processes, and those lovely online logical and numerical reasoning tests that a lot of companies implement into applications. Until then, have fun updating your CV…