What should your CV look like?

It is fair to say that I see and read more CVs than any of our client companies – that’s obvious as it is part of the job. I thought I would just mention this, as I have a fairly controversial opinion/theory:

I believe there is an inverse relationship between the seniority of the person and the quality of their CV… as in: the more senior the person, the more embarrassing their CV.

Obviously there are exceptions (and I’m sure that most of you who read this think, yes mine is OK), but I’d say they are few and far between. I know that selling yourself is hard, however so often it is easy to get the impression that the person has never put a great sales presentation together or written a half-decent project report.

Here’s a quick list with the main offences:

  • Spelling mistakes or poor proof reading after using spell check – manager/manger, achieved/acheived, are the most common.
  • Using non-existing terms – ‘EBIT profit’ isn’t actually a thing, it is either described as profit or EBIT not both. All you’re demonstrating here is that you do not understand what you’re talking about!
  • Sentences that do not make sense – ‘recognised internal talent by building a strong senior team’. What?!
  • Disguising responsibilities as achievements – ‘restructured the team and hired two external high flyers’. And?
  • Too long a CV. Sure the older and more experienced you are, the more difficult it becomes to keep it to 2 pages, however 5 pages is really too long!
  • No contact details – do I need to say more? Just a mobile number and email address will do, or if you want to push the boat out, include the town or city where you live.

Rant over. So what should you do, what should a CV look like?

Think about it, this really is a sales document that should persuade the reader to invite you for a meeting, therefore it should be compelling. Chances are the recipient is hiring, and probably ploughing through a pile of CVs, so it should be easy to read. Once read, the reader should be able to remember 2-3 stand-out facts that will make them decide not to file this in the circular filing cabinet.

My personal reference for a lay-out is this:

Name + contact details

Current company – one line to describe size and purpose/what do they do

Current position

  • Start date
  • 2-3 responsibilities
  • 3-4 achievements (the more specific the £ and % signs, the better)

Previous position

  • Start date and finish date
  • 2-3 responsibilities
  • 3-4 achievements (the more specific the £ and % signs, the better)
  • Previous company, etc

(The key here is that your achievements from over 10 years ago are not that much of interest. Naming the company, position and one achievement is often enough for the jobs you had before 2009.)

Education details – no, you don’t need to list your GCSE subjects and marks, neither you’re A level subjects, although 3 A*s are impressive enough to warrant a mention.

Interests – particularly if there are any that give an indication of personality, eg. captain of the local rugby team and coach for the under 10’s, or completed the London marathon in 2015, or play the cello at grade 8 or work as a volunteer one night a month to help feed the homeless.

Hot tips:

  1. Try and let your personal attributes and qualities shine through, so that when you meet the interviewer it feels like they already know you. The familiarity principle is a proven success factor in advertising and it works in this scenario too!
  2. Promote your USP, what is that you are known for in your current business? If it is of value in your current business then it will be of value elsewhere.
  3. If you are looking for an external promotion rather than a sideways move, then make sure that the CV highlights the areas of your expertise and approach which demonstrate you have the required aptitude and capability to operate at that level.
  4. If it all just seem too much work, then engage a professional CV writing service, however be aware, there are varying standards and quality levels. Let me know if I can help you with this!

Good luck!

Maarten Jonckers