For my very first TechStream/EarthStream blog I decided to take it back to basics and delve into the “etiquette” of CV writing and formatting.Recruiters and Hiring Managers look at between 50 and 300 CV’s for any given position and as much as your experience, your employers and your qualifications are important, your CV formatting and the content in your CV is just as influential.
If not, sometimes the deciding factor between whether you will be longlisted or not. In most cases the CV is your first point of contact with the person who can help you find employment, making it a valuable document.
To prepare myself for this article, I conducted some research amongst my fellow recruiters. I asked them a simple question: “What do you find most frustrating about some of the CV’s you receive from applicants?”, to which I received quite a quick response. After evaluating the pretty overwhelming feedback, it was clear that there are 4 areas that need to be discussed regarding CV writing and formatting:
- Relevant Content
So, let’s begin….
So many times, recruiters and professionals finding job specifications online say the same thing, “this is generic”. My main suggestion to clients is to sit together and draft up a specification that doesn’t read like a to do list. Nothing hurts more than reading those bullet points. Rather get a Team member (someone whom has performed that exact role), a Manager, the Director and HR in one room and talk about what the problem is that you as a business/ team are looking to solve.
Right, now that we understand that – let’s start writing a nice story about the role this person will fulfil, essentially being the person to solve this problem. Ok, fine, some bigger firms have non-negotiable requirements like Education and Certifications on certain Software, let’s add that, but surely most individuals can be trained or upskilled. My best advice when drafting a job brief is to rather omit the soft skills and add the reasons why someone should join your team. Sell it! We have a canteen with Free lunch for all employees, we have an extra leave benefit, child care on site, full medical/insurance plans. I will openly say this for everyone around the globe, these are more attractive to read than “needs 3-5 years in similar role”. Please someone just hold a gun to my head.
Your CV is going to go with you everywhere for the rest of your life. You are going to edit it, re-edit it and add information to it every few years/months, so it is important to ensure that there is CONTINUITY in its format. But what do I mean by continuity?.
First and foremost, Reverse Chronological Order, Reverse Chronological Order, Reverse Chronological Order, Reverse Chronological Order!! Possibly one of the most important things is to make sure that your most recent experience or most recent education is listed first. No Hiring Manager wants to scroll to the bottom of your CV to see what you are currently doing.
Keep the same CV formatting throughout the CV – this includes font, font size, colour, bullet points, headings, or anything else in the top box in Word. Far too often we are able to see when new experience has been added to a to a CV, because the headings are completely different, or a completely different font has been used. This gives the impression that the individual could not be bothered, and their CV was an afterthought. Therefore, be mindful of how you have listed previous work experience or education and ensure that you stick to the same layout and headings.
3) RELEVANT CONTENT :
There is the easy content that must be included in your CV:
- Full Name
- Contact Details (recruiters are great investigators, but it would be nice if we had a phone number to work with at least)
- Education, which includes university qualifications and RELEVANT courses (if you aren’t applying to become a knight, don’t tell me about an Archery course you completed 10 years ago) and if you have no intention of completing a qualification you started, do not include it either.
- Skills and Professional Competencies – this is more specific to the work you do, and can include anything from Computer Skills to Legal knowledge (contracts, documents, etc). Once again, this needs to be relevant to your work.
- Accomplishments also need to be pertinent to your job/career. Boasting about being Captain of your U9 Rugby Team is only relevant if you’re trying out for the U10 Rugby Team.
Now comes the tougher part, the part that you need to take some time to actually plan what you are going to communicate and how you are going to do so.
This is also often the part which most individuals get wrong. Listing your professional work experience is one thing, but being able to convey the work you do and the responsibilities you hold is entirely different, and copying the job spec you were provided for your role does not count – we will see right through this.
There needs to be a balance when explaining and detailing your responsibilities, duties and/or projects. Too little information is bad and too much information could be to your detriment. So, follow the theme of simplicity and ensure your listed duties are simple, clear and easy to understand, but at the same time cover enough of your scope of work, so there is no uncertainty as to what you do. Small and tangible details to substantiate your work are key here.
If you Project Managed a building site, what was the value of this site; if you managed a team, how many individuals did you supervise; if you work in Procurement, what is the size of the inventory you manage; etc. Working in the Engineering space myself, as well as sitting in an office of Tech Recruiters, I know how important it is for those who work in the project environment to list their projects and provide information relating to their specific work on these projects (e.g. specific apps made, methodology used, tech stack, size of project, involvement, value of project, etc).
On the other hand, it is not necessary to elaborate on work experience from 15 years ago, or work done as a student/intern if this does not relate to your current work. At the end of the day you need to make a call on what you think is important for someone else to know about you. Every single piece of detail you include in your CV needs to be there in order to assist you in getting shortlisted.
4) PROFESSIONALISM :
Recruiters and Hiring Managers understand that you are not a professional CV writer and 90% of the CV’s we receive have not been created by professionals. However, there still needs to be a level of professionalism in your CV and this can be achieved with a few small things:
- Always use Spell Check, and then double check it yourself (you will be surprised at the number of simple spelling mistakes people make)
- CAPITAL LETTERS are unnecessary. When I open a CV entirely in Caps I feel like the CV is shouting at me. It is unpleasant.
- Do not refer to yourself in the 1st person (I did.., We completed.., Our Company.., etc.), it comes across way more professional when you write in the 3rd person (Michael is an.., He was able to accomplish.., The company.., etc.)
- Always save your CV as a Word document and PDF. Never scan your CV.
- Ensure that your contact information can be found somewhere on the document.
Most importantly, if you maintain simplicity and continuity in the CV while ensuring that all content is relevant, your CV will already have a level of professionalism.
In closing, I would like to wish you good luck! Take the time now to go through your CV. I know it can be tedious, but show your CV some love and care. It will all be worth it when you get that job you really wanted!