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Five CV dos and don’ts

Book open Reading time: 3 mins

Stuck with your CV? Rattled by your resume? We’ve teamed up with CV writing and personal branding experts, The CV & Interview Advisors, to bring you five rules to follow when it comes to your CV – and how you can avoid making common resume mistakes.

We’re all guilty of underestimating the importance of the CV. Hey, some of us may even still be adapting that same Word doc we first created back when we left school, university or college. 

According to a recently interviewed director of a leading finance and accounting recruitment firm, 80% of the CVs they receive are either weak or need improvement. So, putting it bluntly, if we want to bag an interview, we need to up our game. 

"It’s not just about spelling and grammar” says Matt Craven, founder of The CV & Interview Advisors.

The art of creating a great CV has become much more sophisticated, with a knowledge of marketing techniques, psychology and global recruitment best practice needed to really master the topic.

It might sound overwhelming – so let’s start with the basics. Here are five golden rules to play by when it comes to writing your CV.

Don’t: focus on the past

A CV isn’t a simple list of jobs you’ve done in the past. Think of it as an evidence-based document that explains why you’re so perfect for the job. “Don’t merely describe the duties and responsibilities of your previous jobs,” says Matt. “Focus on where you are heading in your career and how you can add value to a future employer.”

Do: remember the importance of first impressions

Knowing what to write for that paragraph at the top of your CV stumps even the most experienced candidates. Sometimes called a professional summary or personal profile, you could be forgiven for assuming that it’s an opportunity to describe your personality – but that’s not what recruiters are looking for, says Matt. “Focus more on job-based skills that are aligned with the requirements of the role described on the job description”, he advises. Oh, and avoid the cliches. 

“Creating an opening paragraph full of cliched behavioural competencies such as ‘working well in a team’, ‘working under pressure’, being ‘honest, reliable and trustworthy’ or having ‘excellent communication skills’, isn’t going to make the right first impression.”

Don’t: be humble

“An accomplishment is something you did that made a difference”, explains Matt. “It is not a task or something that is simply part of your everyday responsibilities. It’s something that had a tangible outcome, where your actions delivered a measurable business benefit.” 

In case you wondered, your CV is not a place to be humble about your accomplishments. In fact, Matt says that a CV should be at least 25% focussed on what you’ve achieved – that is, providing tangible evidence that you’re good at your job. Measurable accomplishments, after all, are the main way a potential employer can ascertain whether you’re going to be good at the job they’re recruiting for.

Do: be concise, but not too brief

Hands up if you’ve struggled to fit your entire education and work history onto two pages? It turns out that a slightly longer CV isn’t a bad thing – especially as you become more experienced in your career. 

“A resume  should provide enough information for the reader to understand what you have been doing in your career”, Matt says. “Focus more on describing what you have done and how you can add value, than how long your CV is. And if it drifts onto a third page, don’t lose too much sleep about it.”

Don’t: forget about format

Random lists are difficult to follow — and your CV is no different. “Creating a list of duties and responsibilities in a random order is another common CV faux pas”, says Matt. “The flow of information must be well thought out.” 

Here’s The CV & Interview Advisors’ suggestion for how to structure your work history section: 

  1. Start with a description of the organisation
  2. Summary of the role
  3. Describe how your role is measured
  4. If appropriate, a bullet point to describe the structure and size of the team that you lead
  5. Key responsibilities, projects and accomplishments.

Find out more about CIMA here