Putting Your Best Foot Forward – The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a CV

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Putting Your Best Foot Forward – The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a CV

Everyone who I work with knows I am particularly fussy when it comes to CV appearance.

Every time I see a CV with more than one font in it, or with random bold words throughout the body of text – it drives me crazy. Not only that, but as someone looking to provide my clients with only the best possible candidates, it makes me wonder what kind of candidate I’m really dealing with.

Your CV doesn’t need to be a work of Shakespeare, but it does need to provide your potential next employer with an idea of the standard of work you’d be likely to produce if you were to get the job. First impressions are everything, and your real first impression isn’t that first handshake at the face-to-face interview – it’s your CV.

It’s important to stress at this point that I am not, nor do I pretend to be, some sort of leading authority on CV writing. What I consider poor form in a CV may be exactly what another employer or recruiter loves to see, and vice-versa. However, the fact is that I have been lucky (or unlucky) enough in my 9 year long career to see thousands of CV’s, and as such I felt it would be appropriate to share my thoughts on what I view to be the major do’s and don’ts. Some of these (I hope) should be fairly obvious, and again, these are just my own opinions, but I strongly believe that a strong majority of current job seekers will be able to go through this list and find at least one element that applies to them.

DO:

Keep the tense consistent. Shifting from first to third person and then back again is confusing, awkward and gives the person reading your CV a headache. First person is fine, and third person is fine (I personally prefer first, but it’s up to you), but make sure you pick one and throughout your CV ensure you stick to that one.

Give more focus to longer and more relevant stints of employment. This will ensure that only the most important content is apparent for the employers, making it as easy as possible for them to see how you might fit into their organisation. That job you had way back at the start of your career doesn’t need a full page of content devoted to it (in fact, I’d avoid mentioning things like that at all if it’s taking up space that could be better used elsewhere). If something on your CV doesn’t help your potential next employer find out why you’d be a valuable addition to their company, then you need to ask whether it’s necessary.

Use reverse chronological order. You want to show employers and recruiters what kind of candidate you are now, not what kind of candidate you used to be. Most people I’ve ever dealt with start reading a CV at the top and work their way down, so put your current or most recent role at the top, complete with a brief summary of all those new skills you’ve picked up since you started.

Give an introduction – but make sure you update it and keep it relevant. I often see CV’s professing competence with technology which was phased out around the time of the fax machine. If you’ve not used it in the last 5 years, it probably doesn’t need to be in the skills summary.

Discuss projects and achievements, and give the reader a flavour of what you have done and why they should pick you for an interview. Telling potential employers that you’re ‘dedicated’, ‘passionate’ and ‘driven to succeed’ is all very well and good, but the fact is that anyone can write that in their CV without it necessarily being true. If you’ve got specific examples that you think will prove that you’ve got the qualities the company are looking for, then don’t be afraid to put them in and be clear about how you think they relate to the role you’re applying for. Don’t worry if you think it sounds a bit self-aggrandising – that’s the whole point of a CV!

DON’T:

Be so focused on keeping it down to 1-2 pages that you can’t explain yourself sufficiently. Yes, short and sweet is good, and it’s important to be concise, but the fact remains: if you’ve got tonnes of experience and knowledge that you think is relevant to your role, you should try and get as much of it on your CV as possible. Keep it succinct, but don’t sell yourself short. Make sure there’s enough good content on your CV to whet the reader’s appetite.

Do the polar opposite of the above and write a short novel. This may seem flippant, but you’d be surprised how often I come across a CV where the candidate has decided to write a couple of pages for each and every job they’ve ever had. Chances are, the person reading your CV has dozens of others to go through that day, and as such they don’t have time to read 14 pages. Keep it concise and relevant to the job you’re looking for. If you’re not sure whether something is relevant, then it probably isn’t.

Write your CV in size 6 font to make it appear shorter than it is. This is the oldest trick in the book, and frankly, it doesn’t work. Similarly, don’t write it in size 18 font to make it look longer. Any recruiter or hiring manager worth their salt will see through this straight away and will immediately start to have doubts about your strength as a candidate. Find a way to make your CV shorter/longer as appropriate, without resorting to cheap tricks.

Don’t bold random words throughout your CV. I mentioned this earlier – using things like bold and italics to emphasise key points is great, but make sure you are using them properly and that you are actually emphasising those key points.

Use a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to applying for different roles. Every role is different, and even roles that at face-value sound the same as each other will most likely require slightly different specific qualities from their candidates. It may be more time consuming, but you’re doing yourself a major disservice if you don’t at least make sure that the points you’re primarily emphasising on your CV directly apply to the specific job you’re applying to, and not only to the general industry.

These are all things that most seasoned professionals will already know from experience, however it never hurts to give your CV one more check and make sure it’s saying as many accurate things about you as possible, as clearly as possible. Any good recruiter will be happy to advise you in situations like this, so don’t be afraid to ask. It is in both of your best interests to present yourself in the correct light without changing the facts.

Saragossa are a talent provider specialising in the Financial Technology, Financial Operations and Data Science sectors. Our role is to match clients with high calibre candidates. Our work encompasses filling temporary contracts along with building permanent teams and resourcing projects. To find out more, please contact enquiries@saragossa.co.uk or call 020 7871 3666.

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