Your CV is a marketing tool. It’s how you catch the attention of a prospective client or employer and say, here I am, your ideal candidate! It’s a way of capturing the essence of you, or at least the professional you that wants to find more work, all in one or two pages. It’s not your life story, so you can choose what to include or leave out.
1. One size does not fit all
A CV is not a static document: you need to select and present your most relevant experience for each specific role or client in a way that represents you and your experience in the best light for that opportunity.You don’t have to start from scratch each time, but you should certainly be making tweaks every time you send your CV out.
2. Make it easy to read
I don’t know about you, but when I pick up a document that has cramped paragraphs, with no white space and tiny text, I really don’t want to read it and, even if I did, it is much more difficult to read. I often see people using a smaller font to squeeze everything they have ever done onto two pages. Unfortunately, instead of dazzling with your wealth of experience, the reader is put off because they have to find somewhere with good light and look out their reading glasses. Bad start.
So use a reasonable sized font, I would suggest 12 point. Also, make sure you choose a readable and modern font. When I see something printed in an old font like courier or times roman, I assume the person who produced it is behind the times and perhaps not very computer literate. This may not be true, but it is how I react. Similarly, if someone goes for a ‘fun’ handwriting font, I assume they are not serious. Obviously this is a personal response, your intention may be to stand out, but beware these choices may also alienate your reader.
3. Take care over the layout and order
Once you have a font you are happy with, make sure you have a good balance of white space on the page to make it look attractive and easily readable.
Use a variety of indents and spaces between paragraphs (but not too many as it can start to look scrappy). Use a combination of paragraphs and bullet points, my preference is to use the paragraphs to give examples and tell stories, and the bullets to list examples.
Put the most relevant experience (in relation to the position you are applying for) first. If you keep the best to last, the reader might not read that far so they could miss it. The prime space on your CV is the top two thirds of the first page, that is your primary selling space, make sure you make the best use of it.
4. Make it interesting
Your CV should be an interesting document to read. Show don’t tell, by which I mean give examples of your skills and experience rather than stating that you have the skill. For example, consider the following:
“I am very resourceful when under pressure.”
“I am resourceful under pressure, e.g., in my latest theatre production role, I quickly tracked down a mobile generator in response to a power cut, which meant the show could go on.
Which do you think is more powerful? I prefer the story but you need to watch your word count so make it brief. Also, if you are making a ‘general’ statement, follow this up with a recent and specific example to illustrate your point.
5. Keep it simple
It is hard sometimes to think of ways to make your CV stand out from the crowd, so people get creative with the software they use to create amazing layouts. This can of course work, but it can also fall flat. I was once sent a CV that had been beautifully prepared but was unfortunately sent in a format that was incompatible with my version of word, so it printed out in an old typewriter font, with bizarre spaces between paragraphs. It is always safer, regardless of the format you have used to send your CV as a PDF. That way you can be confident that it will appear as you want it to.
Another way to try and stand out is to use colour or shading. There are risks here too, if someone prints your CV out in black and white, not only will the impact of the colour be lost, but some parts may be hard to read, and with shading, may even become illegible.
It makes much more sense to keep the technology simple and dazzle them with your experience, personality and the unique qualities you bring, which you can describe in the text, rather than try to demonstrate your technical skills, unless that is the role you are applying for of course.
6. Say what you can do, not what you can’t
It is important to be truthful on your CV, but that does not mean you have to draw your readers attention to any gaps you may have in your experience.
For example, which of these two would make you want to keep reading?
“I have not actually run a department like this, but I am sure I could.”
“In my last position, I managed the distribution of equipment across three remote sites and coordinated staff work schedules on behalf of the manager. I’m sure that this experience will be an invaluable resource for this position.”
I would keep reading the second statement.
Generally speaking your CV should be no more than two pages long. If you think it important, you can add a separate page with list of credits or reviews. But, as discussed above, remember that people often don’t read to the end so your most important points should be placed on the first page. Actors are advised by Equity to have a one page CV and they have specific guidance on this for their members.
8. Personal Profile
Your personal profile is the first paragraph on your CV and is like the leading paragraph of an article in a newspaper or magazine. This is the paragraph that tells the reader what to expect, and why they should keep reading. So make sure it is clear, concise and packs a punch.
Ideally it should be no more than a couple of sentences about you that details why you are ideal for this position and what the greatest benefits of having you on board are.
This introductory paragraph is also the ideal place to share key experiences, prizes and awards. Don’t leave them to the bottom of the second page. Even if you don’t go into detail, you can tease with, for example, “Award winning journalist…” Then the reader will read on to find out what award it was you won.
Many people find that this is not an easy paragraph to write, and it can be useful to ask someone else who knows you and your work well to write it for you, then you can tailor it to something you are comfortable with.
9. What you should include
Generally speaking you only need to include experience going back about 10 years, anything older doesn’t really need to be on there. The exception to this would be if something you did before this was really relevant to the work you are trying to get.
In this case make sure you include it, and if the appropriate place to put it is at the bottom of page two, then find some way to refer to it on the first page. The profile paragraph is a great place to put a highly visible short reference to key experience.
It always amazes me what people don’t include on their CV’s, just because it is old, or not specifically relevant to the position being applied for. In our workshops we have met people who played rugby for England, interviewed the Dalai Lama, written about religion in Albania when it was illegal to do so and many more amazing achievements. None of which those people were currently including on their CV. Yet all of those experiences gave important insights into their courage, determination and perseverance.
If you have done something noteworthy, regardless of how long ago it was, make sure you include a reference to it on your CV at the very least. You don’t lose the insights, knowledge or skills that you gained. It is experience that you will always have and it could provide a talking point at the interview.
10. What you don’t need to include:
- personal details such as your age, marital or parental status. You are legally not obliged to provide this information.
- details of your education unless you are at the start of your career and have little work experience. However, it is important to include professional qualifications that are required for this work.
- interests unless you do something that is relevant to this particular opportunity.
- headings like ‘Curriculum Vitae’ or ‘Personal Profile’, it’s pretty obvious what they are and just takes up valuable space.
In summary, when writing your CV, remember that it is a sales pitch, so make it compelling, interesting and easy to read, emphasising why you are the best candidate for this role.