How can you possibly get across the breadth of your experience, skills, and potential in just one sheet of paper? It’s not easy, but here’s how to present your resumé in a way that’ll knock their socks off.
Writing an effective CV is a delicate art. Often, looking for examples online just raises more questions than it answers. What is the optimal amount of information to provide? How long exactly should it be? How much do you need to tailor it to the position? What is essential to include and what should you leave out? How much is an employer really entitled to know about you? And why in the world can’t you just send a link to your LinkedIn profile rather than having to repeat all this information?
Gather ‘round, people. I’m going to reveal all (and link to some great examples).
Length, Layout, Font, & Format
Received wisdom says CVs should ideally be no longer than one page. How are you supposed to do that without resorting to a microscopic font? It’s not easy, but if these example CVs by Elon Musk and Marissa Mayer are anything to go by, it can be done!
If you really feel you are unable to fit all you need to convey into a single page, two pages is fine, but do try to be ruthless about cutting out any filler text. Think about what a potential employer really needs to know about you, and what they’re actually asking for. Only include experience that is relevant to the position you’re applying for.
It’s a good idea to ask a design-savvy friend for a little help to make your CV more eye-catching, but if you’re not au fait with design concerns, don’t fret. All you need is something clear, legible and informative. Choose your font wisely – ideally, something sans serif – and for the love of all that is good and pure, only use Comic Sans if you’re applying for a job with CERN.
When it comes to format, there is a simple order to follow. At the top of the page, provide your name, contact details, a brief opening statement and some key points about you. Follow this with relevant work experience in reverse chronological order, which should be followed by any relevant education or qualifications. Close with a very brief flavour of your personality by noting any languages you speak, any volunteer work, side projects, or hobbies that you think illustrate the kind of person you are.
There are some great templates here and here if you need a little inspiration. Don’t forget to provide links to portfolios or social profiles, because even though recruiters like to read a CV that is tailored to their position, they may want to flesh out the info by trawling your online profiles.
What You Should Leave Out
Your CV does not need to indicate any information that might lead to discrimination against you. Don’t state your age, your race, your gender, your religious faith, your marital status, or whether you have any dependents. No employer should ask you to provide this. There’s also no point in wasting valuable space with a photograph. If they’re really curious they can check out your LinkedIn profile!
If you’ve spent some time unemployed or travelling, don’t feel the need to explain your way out of this in your CV. However, you should prepare an answer on this for your interview. Make sure that you only include what’s relevant to the position you’re applying for, or experience that you feel somehow illustrates your employability. Don’t add an exhaustive list of every part-time gig you’ve ever had. Covering the last couple of years should be enough. If you don’t have any previous experience, you can show off your skills by listing interesting projects, leadership roles, or extracurricular activities that give a sense of your personality and potential.
Don’t waste any precious space by providing references or a sentence like the classic “references available on request”. Any HR head worth their salt will know that they only get to ask for them if they’re really interested.
Use of Language
Keep your language short, simple, and active. Don’t refer to yourself in the first or third person (i.e. “I am…”, “She is…”) – or at all! – the document has your name at the top of it, so it’s clear that all the information is about you. Don’t use full sentences unless absolutely necessary. Bullet points listing the relevant information will usually be sufficient.
Avoid buzzwords like the plague, steer clear of hyperbole, and don’t talk about how “awesome” anything is. You don’t need to embellish with elevated language – the ability to consult a thesaurus is not a skill in high demand – as your experience should speak for itself. As much as possible, try to keep your CV free of jargon, unless of course it’s specific to the role in question.
Watch your spelling, and don’t rely on spell check to iron it out. If you’re not 100% sure that your CV is error free, ask a friend to cast an eye over it. Pay attention to simple slip-ups that a spell check won’t catch, e.g. the difference between “form” and “from”. And watch out for words that sound the same but have different spellings.
Prepare to Impress
A great CV is one that gives a potential employer an accurate overview of your relevant experience, and not a syllable more. You’re welcome to dress it up as much as you want to with design, but if you have clear, compelling content, you don’t need anything else to support it. Deep-dive descriptions of jobs and projects are unnecessary, so make sure to include just enough info to show that you’re a capable candidate. While it can feel terrifying to cut large sections of text out of your CV, don’t forget that short CVs are easier to scan, and save recruiters time. That will have you in the good books from the very start.