A CV is the first impression you will give a potential interviewer or employer. It is a representation of who you are, your capabilities and your achievements. Writing a good CV isn’t hard but over the years I have reviewed many CVs and I have seen applicants make the same mistakes over and over again. Below I list the top 5 areas you should focus on when preparing a CV. There are many ways to draft and lay out a CV but below are a list of pointers I regularly give applicants who ask me to take a look at their CV:
1. Use a good structure
CVs need to be easy on the eye. It is very easy for a reviewer to get distracted by an inconsistent format and not take the content seriously. When drafting a CV, don’t cram everything onto one page unless you have been told to do so. There is nothing wrong with going onto a second page if it is required. Use clear headings to ensure that your CV is easy to follow. It is also a good idea to put each position and the dates worked in bold so it is clear which role/position you are discussing. You should only use one type of font and remain consistent throughout the document. Do not change from bullet points to full sentences and then back again as it makes your CV look messy. There are many CV templates available for free online if you are struggling.
Remember your CV is the first impression you are giving your potential employer and in the same way you would dress your best for an interview you need to make sure your CV looks its best as well!
2. Be selective
Many applicants believe that a good CV must include every single piece of work experience they have ever had and nothing could be further from the truth! Before starting your CV, take a blank sheet of paper and a pen and list all of the experiences you have had. For each experience write a brief description of what you did. Firstly, this will ensure that you don’t miss anything out which should be included but it will also show you where you have many similar experiences (for example, many mini pupillages etc.). Listing every single piece of work experience on your CV isn’t necessary. Focus on what you actually contributed during each experience as it is the quality of the experience that will help you stand out from other applicants rather than the volume.
Also, be prepared to tailor your CV for different roles or applications to different firms depending on the type of work you required for each role. While an experience may not add much on your CV for one application it may be very helpful for another.
3. Sell yourself
You need to place emphasis on your most significant achievements to date. An easy way to do this is to make sure that when describing each role you mention your biggest responsibilities and most remarkable achievements first. If you had a paralegal role in which you were given the opportunity to run a high value matter you should mention that matter in your first sentence describing the role. Your other day to day tasks such as research and admin should be mentioned later on. Remember to explain what you have done and to show your ability. Don’t downplay your role in any way. Focus on the responsibilities you were given and any successes (such as winning in the small claims court or successfully arguing a point when negotiating a document for your client) you may have had.
You can include a link to your LinkedIn profile on your CV if you cannot fit all of your experiences into your CV if you still want to give the reviewer the opportunity to see them.
4. Work on your attention to detail
You should view your CV as another piece of work be it a research paper, an essay or a draft email for a supervisor. There should be absolutely no typos on your CV. Unfortunately reviewers generally look for mistakes in CVs and having too many typos can prevent you from being selected for the role you have applied for. Make sure you use spell check and grammar check your work. Once you have done this, you should print off your CV, take a break and then review a hardcopy of your CV. It is easier to spot mistakes on a hardcopy than it is on the screen and so you should always check a hardcopy of your CV before you submit it.
5. Get to the point
You need to be succinct when writing a CV. The person reviewing your CV has usually reviewed other CVs before they have looked at yours and probably has more to review after yours. You need to make sure that you grab the reviewer’s attention by being direct and describing your roles with enough detail. Don’t use five words where one will do. Make sure you are consistent with the use of the past and present tense as jumping between tenses can be confusing for a reviewer. Use bullet points to make your description of your roles digestible but remember to use full sentences and punctuation as well. Do not miss out important facts about a role but do try to exclude additional information which doesn’t actually add anything to your description. For example, don’t feel under pressure to mention that your role includes photocopying if you have already mentioned photocopying in your last three roles.
When debating about whether to add something think about whether it will improve the viewer’s perception of you. If it doesn’t make a real difference, don’t include it.
The above 5 tips should be very helpful but you should always take the time to get your CV checked by a professional, a recruiter or a careers adviser. While you may receive conflicting advice, it is always helpful to have a second pair of eyes look over your CV to pick up any remaining typos or mistakes.
04 June 2016
Natalie A Carter
Reed Smith, London