CV Writing – Part 1 of 2

This is a post that I wrote for an internal audience in our company, but I thought it would be worth sharing on this blog as well. Let me know what you think.

Far too often we place too much emphasis on what to do rather than identifying what not to do which results in us building constraints that should otherwise not be relevant. This is because when we focus on what to do, we automatically limit ourselves to a finite set of options, which prevents us from finding more creative ways of doing things if they weren’t thought of before.

So instead of telling you what to do in your CV, I thought it would be best if I shared some thoughts on what to avoid instead. Let me know if you have anything that you think is worth adding to the below list:

  1. Never use Comic Sans as a font style in your CV ever! Seriously, Comic Sans and other similarly informal fonts (just the name itself spells trouble if you want to be taken seriously!) should be avoided in formal writing.
  2. Select fonts that are easy on the eye especially when viewed electronically. Times New Roman and Courier are also no-no’s. They are difficult to read and easily cause eye strain for someone that has to wade through piles of CV’s when looking to short list candidates. Remember, you want to make it as easy as possible for someone to identify your strengths in your CV.
  3. This brings us to the third point which is formatting. The wall of text two-column format was ok when CV’s were written using type writers. Those days are gone unless you’re trying to write a romantic note to someone. Remember, we’re bombarded with professional business articles and other documents on a daily basis, so a shoddy document sticks out like a sore thumb. Take the time to format your document, once again with the emphasis being on readability.
  4. Readability must therefore be focused on making it easy for someone to work through your CV without knowing who you are, what you’re about, or what your achievements or current job entails. So be careful and ensure that you don’t assume that everyone knows what all the acronyms and company-specific jargon means, unless of course you’re applying for an internal post and your use of acronyms and jargon is relevant to the area in which the vacancy exists.
  5. Don’t leave blank fields and incomplete information when using someone else’s template against which to capture your information. Remove those sections of the template that are irrelevant to your profile. Ensure that the alignment of text and layout is consistent and professional. Again, the emphasis is on readability.
  6. Use a decent word processor application, and use it decently! There is no excuse for shoddy formatting because of a lack of skill. If you don’t have the time to learn how to use widely available word processing applications in order to compile a professional looking CV, then ask for help. But just because you think your best effort is good enough doesn’t mean the recruiting manager will appreciate your efforts as well.
  7. Poor spelling and grammar is a major turn-off. This is especially true when you’re applying for a position in an area that has a high focus on quality. Which job doesn’t focus on quality and an eye for detail these days? Don’t expect to be taken seriously if you’re going to be tardy about your spelling, or using poor grammar. Don’t write the way you speak. Write the way you want to be read! Use the proofing tools available in Microsoft Word or whichever word processor application you’re using. It’s there for a reason, and it takes away any excuse you may have had for compiling a poorly written CV.
  8. Keep it fresh, but tasteful and professional. If you have the skills to use the formatting options available in Word or similar application, use it with a view to make your CV look distinctive but professional. Going with the boring legal style layout of two columns and walls of text in either column that often don’t line up or is poorly/inconsistently justified will most likely get your CV to fade into the background with the majority of CV’s that are submitted in that way. Once again, focus on readability but make it appealing.
  9. Use of photos and company logos is a nice idea, but you really need to know what you’re doing if you hope to make it professional. You’re not writing a product catalogue for the companies you worked for, so don’t make their logos too prominent if you do use it. And if you’re going to include a photo of yourself, make sure you strike a balance between a mug shot and a social networking update, because you want to be presented in a professional light. So if you include a photo that belongs on Facebook, it assumes a level of familiarity with the recruiting manager that is most probably inappropriate, and it sets you out on the wrong foot because you’ll have to break the stereotype or biases that they may have before you can get them to really listen to you, if you make it to the interview phase.
  10. Unless specifically requested to provide it in Word format, send your CV in PDF format because it’s easier and quicker to view, and looks more professional. It also takes up less space in the recipient’s mailbox, which is often limited in the private sector. It also negates any concerns around word processor version incompatibility issues, because often formating of a document is messed up if it is saved in a version of Word that is different to the version on your PC.
  11. Finally, remember to update your past experience so that you don’t keep referring to it in the present. Often we write about our responsibilities and achievements in our current role in the present tense because that is what is relevant at the time of applying for that next position. However, once we get that position, and a few years down the line when we’re ready to move again, we often just update the CV to include the details of the new position and leave the previous one worded as it was. Going back and tidying up is definitely recommended because it also ensures that you review the relevance of the detail that you included for more junior positions relative to a much more senior position that you may be applying for now.

Remember, you want their eyes to fall on your most important attributes and skills without having to trawl through tons of information that is useless in their world. So make sure that you adapt your CV if needed relative to the focus of the role you’re applying for, and the culture of the company. Just because the CV was appropriate for your last application, doesn’t mean it is still optimal for your next one.

I hope that helps. Good luck with your career development, and please feel free to comment as needed.

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