The Ten Commandments of CV Writing

After recently returning home from a three month internship in Prague, it became a priority for me to update my CV. However, it dawned on me that the only time I’ve really sought CV advice was over four years ago, from a careers advisor at university. With the graduate job market being more competitive than ever, I thought it was wise to conduct some research into CV writing.

I began by entering the search term ‘CV’ into Google, which produced 1.38 billion results. Far from ideal. So to save myself a lot of time, I used a combination of broader search terms such as ‘CV writing tips’ and ‘top tips for CV writing’. As I made my way through the search results, I began to see a pattern in what I was reading. Each source was saying something similar to the next one. Having absorbed all of the guidance on CV writing, I decided to compile the most common points into one document to produce The Ten Commandments of CV Writing.

The Commandments

1. Thou shalt tailor thy CV for each position

  • Why? Many reasons. A role as a Graduate Analyst for a software company will necessitate completely different skills and experiences to a job in the hospitality industry as a Trainee Events Manager.
  • Dispatching a generic CV conveys an idle character to potential employers and does not allow you to effectively communicate your relevant skills and qualifications.
  • Conduct research into the company and role you are applying to. Utilise the job advert to decipher exactly what skills you should be highlighting in your CV.

2. Thou shalt account all relevant work experience

  • You should use this section of your CV to discuss previous employments, including details of each role and the responsibilities they encompassed. Be sure to use action words such as Created, Developed, Analysed and Planned.
  • Try to relate the skills you have acquired from each role to the position you are applying for. A job in the finance sector will involve numeracy and analytical skills, whereas a job in Marketing will place emphasis on pitching and negotiation.

3. Thou shalt include your interests and achievements

  • Try to keep this section short and to the point. As you grow older, your previous employments will take precedence over this section, so make sure it’s not full of waffle.
  • Don’t bore potential employers with clichés such as “socialising with friends”, “watching TV” or “reading” as you may be perceived as lacking people skills. If you do include any of these hobbies, then make sure you elaborate, for example “I particularly enjoy Dickens, for the vivid insights you get into life in Victorian times”.
  • Display a range of interests so as to not present a narrow image; if everything focuses on reading then potential employers may worry that you would not be able to hold a conversation with their clients.

4. Thou shalt not exceed two sides of A4 paper

  • It’s not an absolute rule, but a CV that exceeds two sides of A4 paper will likely find itself on the NO pile. When a vacancy becomes available, employers receive hundreds of CV’s and spend an average of just 8 seconds on each CV (www.totaljobs.com), so keep it effective and to the point.
  • How do you get your CV down to two pages?
    • First change your margins in MS Word to Page Layout / Margins/ Narrow – this will set your margins to 1.27 cm which are big enough not to look cramped, but give you extra space
    • Secondly change your body font to Lucida Sans in 10 pts size. Lucida Sans is a modern font which has been designed for clarity on a computer screen.
    • Use tables with two or three columns for your academic results and references
    • Use bullets for content, rather than long paragraphs of text.
    • Finally set line spacings to single space.

5. Thou shalt include your personal contact details

  • It may seem like an obvious one, but some people do forget to include all of their contact details. I know someone who distributed over 20 copies of their CV without a contact number on it!
  • Personal contact details should include your name, address, date of birth (although with age discrimination laws now in force this isn’t essential), telephone number and email.
  • However, do not provide a ridiculous e-mail address that you created when you were 14. Anything remotely close to hotlips1990@youmail.com should not be included on a CV, ever.

6. Thou shalt include a personal pitch

  • We are each our own brand and you need to demonstrate to employers why your brand is better than the other hundred people applying to the job. A short but punchy pitch at the start is the perfect opportunity to do this, especially if you are applying for a role in the media or advertising.

7. Thou shalt not adulterate the truth

  • Everyone lies on their CV, right? Well, actually they don’t. Some people do lie on their CV’s, but when it comes to the interview stage they’re probably so nervous to talk about anything that they have lied about that they don’t come across confident.
  • Although a CV does allow you to omit certain details (exam resits) and exaggerate roles and responsibilities, I would not advise to give false or inaccurate information. Doing so can lead to some very awkward conversations further down the line.

8. Thou shalt include all relevant skills

  • You should really utilise this section of your CV to demonstrate your key skills that will make you stand out from the crowd. For example, if you are competent in a foreign language or if you are experienced in Excel, now would be the time to mention it.
  • Skills acquired from specialist courses or anything that you have learnt in your own time will give you an advantage against other CV’s. For example, when updating my CV, I was sure to mention that I have recently enrolled in an online web design course which I have been undertaking in my spare time.

9. Thou shalt remember that presentation is key

  • Successful CV’s are always clearly presented on good quality, clean, white paper. So make sure you don’t put your greasy fingers over it after you’ve just eaten something greasy.
  • Take time to make it look sharp by using bullet points and short sentences. Use the graphic design trick of leaving plenty of white space around text and between categories. It makes the layout much easier on the eye.
  • And don’t forget the CV hotspot, the upper middle area of the first page is where an employer’s eye will fall naturally. Make sure you include the most vital information there.

10. Thou shalt have thy neighbour proofread the final draft

  • It’s extremely easy to make a mistake on your CV and pretty much impossible to rectify it once your CV is in the hands of the employer. David Hipkin, head of recruitment and resourcing at Reed Business Information, warns, ‘With most employers experiencing massive volumes of applicants right now, giving them the excuse to dismiss your application because of avoidable errors is not going to help you secure an interview.’
  • Even if you are confident that your CV is beyond perfect, still ask at least two people to check it for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes.

The commandments are merely a general guide to CV writing; the ten most important points all in one place. Each commandment will have a differing degree of applicability according to the role you are applying to. Feel free to use the commandments as a guide to writing/editing your CV, but please note, there are many different types of CV. Depending on the industry you are applying to, please ensure that you’re CV is tailored correctly.

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