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The CV advice I nearly always give

by Fiona Christie on December 14, 2009

I was doing a few sums and realised that in the time I have worked in Universities, I estimate I have given feedback to about 5000 individuals about their CV. I have been presented with everything from the jaw-droppingly impressive to those where I think “if this is what your CV looks like I wouldn’t like to be marking your coursework!” Overall this experience has given me a good idea about what the benchmark is for a good CV. I have also participated in numerous training sessions with colleagues on the subject and I know that even though checking CVs is a routine part of anyone’s job working in careers, opinions on CVs from us as professionals can vary and will be subjective; so don’t be surprised if the advice you get from 2 different advisers is subtly different. However, I think most advisers will agree more than disagree and what is common to us all is a belief that transparency of content is what is critical in making sure your CV has impact.

Here are some of my favourite bits of CV advice that anyone who has seen me may recognise! This advice is mostly appropriate to non-academic CVs.

Use a targeted career objective: I like to see a strong career objective at the beginning of a CV. You can change this to target it to whatever position you are applying for and it should include what you think are your unique sellingĀ  points (USPs) as relevant to the job in question. Avoid bland personal profiles with just a load of positive sounding words with no evidence.

Allocate space appropriately: It’s nice to see a CV that isn’t too cluttered, but think carefully how you use your space. Avoid prioritising space for the detail such as “dates” on a CV. I sometimes see CVs with a great big margin for dates; this seems a waste of space to me. Most of the space should be used for the real content of what you have to say. Bullet points allow for good spacing and mean you can use a more report-writing style.

Use strong headings: Headings are really important in signposting your reader. Your own biography will influence what headings you use but I do like headings such as Positions of Responsibility, Achievements, and Voluntary/community work. Sometimes people make the mistake of using a general heading such as Other Information and just putting everything that isn’t work or education under that header. Sub-headings are also important, e.g., make sure that you include a job title for each position as well as the employer you worked for.

Using a hybrid CV: There’s been a bit of a fashion for skills-based CVs. I prefer something which I would call a hybrid CV which merges chronological and skills-based CV approaches. It’s good to interweave the skills you have developed under specific jobs/experiences; but it’s also sensible to have a short skills profile in which you highlight 3 or 4 of the skills you know you are really good at and provide evidence concisely of how you can prove you have each of those skills. This may involve reinforcing what you have included elsewhere.

Creative CV structuring: Don’t feel you have to follow a specific format; work out what suits you. For example, instead of having one work experience section with a miscellaneous list of jobs; have functional headings for different types of experience e.g., Teaching/education, Hospitality/catering, Administration. If you chunk up your work experience this can mean you can put the most relevant section first even if this work experience isn’t the most recent chronologically.

Make your CV and Cover letter look like they belong to one another: If sending a cover letter with a CV, use the same font for both. It’s even worth having the same footer that goes across each of the pages of the CV and cover letter. I also like to see page numbers.

Avoid templates: I don’t like many of the CV templates out there. I find they force people to channel their experiences into a framework that doesn’t always suit them. Create your own CV look. Use a nice font, include lines between sections.

The detail: Don’t go under a size 11 font and bigger for your headings. My favourite CV font is Arial. As a general rule I also advise against any single point on a CV going over 4 lines.

For more information, take a look at our downloadable CV handouts. Remember what I said though, about careers advisers not always agreeing with each other – I may not agree with everything in these handouts! If you meet a careers adviser at a party, ask them what style of CV they prefer – be warned, you won’t be able to get away.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous December 15, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Well that’s really appreciated and beneficial work that you have done.I will be making changes in my CV according to the above mentioned points, well thanks for sharing this with us.

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Manjeet January 1, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Great advice. I have a homepage where I also publish free CV advice. Please have a look at http://www.manjeetss.com/cvadvice/information.html for general information, http://www.manjeetss.com/cvadvice/cvtemplates.html for free and downloadable CV templates and http://www.manjeetss.com/cvadvice/agenciessites.html with a long list of UK recruitment agencies and job sites.

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Jessica March 4, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Really Great Information!! Thanks for sharing this information !
I saw one website which also provides CV advice but I don’t know whether they provide all the services like you or not. I recommend this personal statement/CV sample site http://www.seemycv.co.uk

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