Preparing Your CV

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Preparing Your CV (Curriculum Vitae)

Most of us are not that great when it comes to blowing our own trumpet, but the one time in life when we need to big it up is when we write a CV...

Your Curriculum Vitae is your sales brochure, a summary of all the best bits about you. It has one job, and that's to get you an interview at a place where you want to work. Think of a trailer at the movies - we see highlights to tempt us to watch the whole film. Your CV is the trailer to tempt the reader to want to meet you and get the whole picture.

So... Where Do You Start?

You're on the right track already, getting industry knowledge and professional qualifications. Employers are looking for people who add value, and anyone who's made the effort to invest in themselves has more to offer than the rest. What you've got to be sure of is that a 30 second glance at your 'sales brochure' hits the spot and not the bin!

The good news is that anyone can knock together a good CV by following some simple guidelines - but not everybody does. To stack the odds in your favour check out the following hints and tips:

Basically speaking, your CV is a short story about you - which needs to include your achievements, skills, job and life history. Start with your contact details, and make it very easy for an interviewer to get hold of you. List your name, address, email and phone number. If your email address has a snappy little name like looneywacko@eatme.com then get yourself another, more professional sounding one, and remember to check it daily (email accounts are free with hotmail, googlemail & gmx). If possible, give a mobile and landline number, and if your voicemail message was designed to have a laugh with your mates then change it. Your age and nationality can be included here, but they're not essential.

Everything you want to say has to fit into two A4 pages maximum. For some, two pages are a stretch, but if you're tempted to squeeze loads in by using a small font and no white space, your CV will hit the bin faster than most - it's just too much like hard work to read. TXT/SMS 'speak' and abbreviations don't work either, so just keep trimming off all the fat till you get to the meat. Make it interesting, easy to read and to the point - remember its purpose is to get you the interview, and that's where you'll get into the detail (see Typical Interview Questions).

Next comes your 'Personal Statement' - just a few sentences on your specific skills and goals - and don't forget to link how they'll meet the employer's needs. Try to think of a way to say it that won't sound like everybody else's.

If you're looking for a career change, list your qualifications next. Start with the professional ones you've just gained, which will be most relevant to your new career. Even if you're still only part-way through your course, you must include it as it shows the reader you're committed to training. List what you've already mastered, and when you plan to be qualified.

Then work backwards, ending up with any exams you did at school, and include the dates. Follow this with any skills you've picked up over the years, but keep them relevant. Your mum might be proud of your 25 metres backstroke, but as you're not applying to be a swimming instructor, give that one a miss.

If you're looking for career progression in the same industry, you can either list your education and skills after your personal statement, or you might prefer to list your work experience first.

Date your work history backwards, starting from the present. Employers want to know how you made a contribution in your previous jobs, so talk about your achievements, not just responsibilities. Even if your past jobs were completely different, mention any benefits that they'll also find useful. If this is going to be your first 'proper' job, then it might be good to include any part-time and voluntary work you've done. If you're scratching your head to think of any, expand the section on skills that you've developed outside of work.

So - you've covered who you are, how to get hold of you, your personal statement, education, skills and work experience. Finally, a brief list of your interests and hobbies helps to add a bit more character, and gives you something more personal to chat about at an interview. Don't get carried away though - one 'Red Letter Day' on the track doesn't warrant 'Racing Driver' as your main hobby! Make a short list of things that you can talk about with confidence, to help paint a picture of the real you.

Employers will ask for references if they're interested in taking you on, so the phrase 'References are available on request' should be written at the end of your CV. Spend a bit of time getting the right referees - if this is your first full time job, choose a tutor who'll big-up your strong points, and maybe a leader of a group you are/were involved with, or an employer of a temporary job you've had. Don't just hope referees will sing your praises; contact them first and talk it through. Although it's unlikely anyone would say bad things, if they respond to an employers question with 'no comment' it doesn't take the brains of an archbishop to work out what they're trying to say.

In A Nutshell:

  • Keep the layout simple and easy to read.
  • Focus on what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
  • Highlight plus points on the first page so they'll want to meet you.
  • Check for spelling mistakes and typos (don't trust the spell checker - it's probably set on 'American English', not UK English.
  • Don't use fancy typefaces that are hard to read - stick to 'Arial' or 'Times New Roman'.
  • Unless you've got really great handwriting, always type your CV.
  • Check it's got a 'feel good' aura about it - this is not the place for any negative.
  • Read through it to be sure you can talk with confidence about anything on it.

And finally... this is not a work of fiction (see What Not To Do). Sure, you're majoring on the healthier side of you to date, but always tell the truth, the whole truth and ...!

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