Q & A – CVs: how to write them with impact

Q and A

Questions: FAQs from workshops
Answers: tutor Sue Walker

Q1. Why are CVs important?

A1: CVs matter for a whole host of reasons including:

  • To get a job
  • To gain access to pitch for work
  • As a marketing tool - to tell potential and previously untapped clients/markets about ourselves
  • To convey our unique selling points. One key thing with any marketing document is that you need to ensure that you’ve given yourself the best shot possible - to show what you can do that others can’t or at least that you can do better.

Q2. What makes a good CV?

A2: A strong and effective CV must be instantly readable, i.e., that particular reader receives the most relevant information about you straight away. This means that when writing it you’re looking to achieve several things:

  • You need to know (or at least to have made an educated guess at) what the person you are sending it to is most interested in. This will dictate content and how you tailor it to meet their specific needs.
  • The layout and style/look of a CV is vital as this affects how easy (or otherwise) it is to read. CVs are a writing challenge. You need to convey key information in as few, powerful words, especially on that all-important page 1.
  • You need to catch the reader’s attention straight away or they may not continue reading - particularly if they are wading through scores of other CVs.
  • Don’t overdo stylistic elements such as italicising, emboldening, underlining or use too many bullet points. This can have a distracting (and irritating) effect.
  • Also, be sure that if you are sending your CV by email that it looks and prints outs how you expect it to. It’s a good idea to send it to a few friends and check that it’s opening up okay and that, if printed out, it looks as good on paper as on screen. These might seem trivial points but computers, operating systems and software, can affect how a document looks at the receiving end.
  • Try to avoid having too much dense text that makes it hard to read.

Q3. How often should I re-do my CV?

A3. Constantly!

  • A CV is a ‘living’ document not a one-size-fits-all. As flagged above, it must always be individually tailored to the client/market you are approaching. Think: what do they want? What is the function of this particular CV? This does not mean that you have to write a new CV from scratch each time but you must ensure that the most relevant information for the particular employer you are targeting is clearly emphasised.
  • It also means that you can (and should) have many versions with different content and length. In some cases a short 1-page CV will be just as effective as a longer one. In any case, most CVs should not be longer than 2 or 3 pages.

* Performers – the advice on length from Equity is that CVs should be no longer than 1 page. For more info, contact Louise Grainger: lgrainger@equity.org.uk

Q4. Some people have a profile at the top of their CV. What is it exactly and is it necessary?

A4. The profile is a short paragraph at the top of your CV that describes, in brief, what you have to offer.

  • As with the rest of your CV, it should change depending on whom you are sending it to.
  • It’s not necessary but including one can have its advantages. If someone is wading through a mountain of CVs, they may well be making initial sifting decisions very quickly, and possibly, in part, by what is said in a profile.
  • Also, the profile is your chance to decide the professional identity that you are conveying in any given CV and give the profile as a taster and ‘teaser’ for the reader to want to know more.
  • If you do decide to use a profile, there are a few things to bear in mind:
  • Keep it short, factual and positive: a few lines – not half a page!
  • Profiles tend to have more impact and gravitas if written in the 3rd person. (But if you want, experiment with the difference in tone that 1st versus 3rd can have. You may have a good reason to want a more informal tone at some point.)

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