Step 3: Formatting your CV
You have taken time to make sure your CV is relevant, now tidy it up – it is your shop window! Employers only spend 20 to 30 seconds scanning a CV, so it needs to be clutter-free and easy to read. The last thing a recruiter wants to do is to go hunting for the information that they are looking for, so do not hide it amongst an array of elaborate graphics or irrelevant words! Remember, a potential employer receives many CVs, so it is important to get the facts about your career across to them as early and as quickly as possible to create a good and business-like first impression.
Your CV should be clear, interesting and easy to understand, but there is no such thing as a perfect CV; the only “right” CV structure is one that you feel comfortable with, and one that ensures that you get that all important invitation to present. A CV reflects you as a person, your skills and experience, so when designing a layout take into consideration the length of your work experience, academic qualifications and your skill sets. The layout of your CV will ultimately depend on the amount of information you are trying to fit into it.
Try to keep your CV to a maximum of two A4 pages. Even better, see if you can fit it on one page to enable the reader to quickly see your achievements, qualifications and work history.
Leave a decent margin around the text for recruiters to make notes in and make sure all the margins and indents are consistent throughout your CV. White space increases legibility and allows the CV to “breathe”.
Choose a single, clear and legible font, not too large and not too bold. Do not use fancy fonts that may be difficult to read and do not use more than one font… you should, however, use different weights and point sizes of your preferred font to differentiate between headings and paragraphs.
Organise your CV so that relevant work experience for the role you are seeking is at the head of that section and work in reverse chronological order. Less relevant or personal information, such as hobbies and interests, should be at the end of your CV.
Below is a CV layout that I would recommend you use starting from the top down:
Section 1: Personal details
The first section tells the reader who you are. Give your full name and a mission statement if you feel you would like to add one (make it brief and bullet pointed!). The employer will need to know that you are permitted to work in the country that you are applying for – some people like to include their nationality but others like to omit this information in-case of discrimination. Use this section to add any languages you speak and whether you are fluent in them.
Next, come your professional and academic qualifications in exact reverse chronological order. As with the employment section, dates attended should sit at the left of the page and school/college/institution names to the centre or to the right of the page, with a list of your qualifications achieved at each institution below.
Section 2: Work experience
Your career achievements and job responsibilities should include the period of employment to the left hand side and the employer centred or to the right of the page. Starting with your most recent job first, make sure you provide a good summary of this role, using bullet points if possible and keeping it snappy and to the point. Your jobs and achievements in the last five years or so are more important than what you didten years or more ago, so concentrate on the more recent roles.
Section 3: Closing section
Complete your CV with your hobbies and interests. This section should be very short. Try to restrict your hobbies and interests to those that would paint you in the best light – for example do not include ‘going to the pub’ or ‘my family’ – these are best regarded as implicit! Also avoid anything potentially contentious – blood sports, memberships of political parties or very exclusive clubs and organisations – an interviewer could be side-tracked by controversial topics and forget all the good stuff in your work history. You can leave this section out completely if you prefer but it is useful to show that you are human and do simply not live to work.
Step 4: Keep your achievements up-to-date
You’ve followed the first 3 steps, and should have a crisp, clear, concise CV which is not too long, and grabs the readers’ attention! The next thing you need to do is make sure you keep it up to date. It’s often difficult remembering all the projects you have been involved with and the achievements you have made. To avoid missing important pieces of information out, we suggest you revisit your CV every month adding anything of importance and cut any information that is no longer required.
You may think that revisiting your CV once a month is a bit much, but it really is worth taking a few minutes to do this for the following reasons:
Easier to remember
It can be very easy to forget things. If you were involved with a project 6 months or so ago, the likelihood is that you won’t remember all of the key details regarding the project. While it is fresh in your mind, take the time to put pen to paper to add it to your CV. If you are currently working, you are likely to be achieving new bullet points for your CV– or refining existing bullet points on a regular basis. You are likely to omit key points if you don’t regularly update your CV.
Reflection & understanding
By revisiting your accomplishments regularly, it will enable you to track your personal progress and allow you to reflect on your achievements with the perspective of time. The more you read through and edit your CV, the better understanding you will have of yourself, your career and the path you would like to take. You will be able to analyse what has worked well – where you have shone! And what hasn’t worked for you.
Most people don’t think about updating their CV until they find themselves looking for or applying for a job. Remember that job security is a thing of the past, so it benefits you to ensure your CV is up to date. If you have kept up with updating your CV every month as we suggest, it will save you so much time in the long run. Creating a CV from scratch, adding a few years of history and trying to remember what you did in a particular role 7 years ago, is going to take a lot of time.
Keep it fresh
Whether you are currently employed or not, it is always good to keep things fresh and up to date. You may look at your existing CV and think it looks dated. You can play around with the type face (ensuring it is an easy to read font, of course), you can change wordings etc to give it a new feel.
Step 5: Check, check and check again
You will be amazed at the number of CVs containing errors and silly mistakes that that drop into in trays or letterboxes. You might think that this is a minor issue but employers have been known to reject great candidates out of hand when they have discovered a minor mistake. You owe it to yourself to ensure that your CV is completely error free before you press that send button or seal that envelope.
A CV containing obvious errors will give a reader the impression that you are lazy or careless. No matter how good your skill set and how appropriate your experience, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage and you run the risk of failing to make the first cut when the recruiter (internal or external) sorts the pile of resumés into two categories:” immediate reject” or “read again”. It is a shame that your own behaviour might well work against you before you have had a chance to meet and demonstrate your value to a potential employer!
External recruiters may call you to point out mistakes but you should not expect that as a matter of course; they are busy people and you are relying on their good will. It is best to ensure that your CV is error free at the very beginning of the recruitment process. Here are some pointers on how to get it right and ensure your CV receives the attention it deserves.
Use Spelling and grammar check
Sadly, many job applicants fall at the first hurdle because of errors and typos in their CVs. According to government statistics, over half of the hiring managers in London completely disregard applications that contain spelling or grammatical mistakes. Some of easiest mistakes revolve around apostrophes: using they’re’ (they are) when you mean should be ‘their’ (belonging to them), ‘it’s’ (it is) when it should be ‘its’ (belonging to it) our favourite is “CV’s” when you mean “CVs”! Even more bizarre is the use of slang conveying a terrible first impression to the potential employer: “gonna” instead of “going to, or questionable phrases like “go to person” etc. Also language can be coloured by buzz phrases and meaningless words: “reaching out”, “very” or “nice”.
Always ensure you use your computer’s spelling and grammar checker. Use it after you have completed your CV, and every time you update it… do not forget that some applications and word-processing programmes are geared up to correct you using the American dictionary – be aware that if you are in the UK or Europe, you will need to use the English dictionary. Your spelling & grammar checker may not pick everything up, so don’t assume it is all perfect once this check has been completed – read it again and again, possibly with someone else looking over your shoulder.
Check employment dates
Potential employers will pay particular attention to your work history, checking the dates to discover unexplained gaps or inconsistencies.Once you have written your CV, go back and double check the dates, make sure you have the correct years, and months, if you know them, and that they are in chronological order (generally reverse chronological order with the most recent role at the head of the work history). If you have any gaps in your employment history/work experience, ensure that you insert explanations for them. Make sure you tell the truth, you cannot lie on your CV as it will most likely be checked. If an employer wants to check references, and your past employer has different dates to the ones you have on your CV it will make you look dishonest even if it was just a simple mistake.
It is vital that you read through your CV to check it, typos appear when we are not looking, so when you are checking it over, even for the tenth time, do not quickly scan over it. Read it properly! You need to ensure also that the CV flows, making sense as well as containing no errors. When updating a CV, it is vital to consider it holistically. Like all writing, there has to be a beginning, a middle and an end. It is important that the whole document proceeds naturally.
Check important information
By now, you will have checked the bulk of your CV, so it should be clear, concise and error free. Do not forget to check important information like your email address and phone number. The last thing you need is a potential employer being unable to contact you due to a missing digit in your phone number or a .com instead of a .co.uk on your email address.
CEO, Director, Alan J Cutts Associates
Alan Cutts founded his own boutique search consultancy in 2003 after a career in financial marketing and PR led to a move to executive search in 1991.
Alan specialises in wealth and asset management assignments, delivering a professional, creative and individual service for clients and has executed high-level searches sourcing teams and talented individuals for many major blue chip UK and international investment houses.