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CV Writing Dos and Don’ts

Posted by on Wednesday, 27 October, 2010
We produced this extensive list of CV Writing Dos and Dont’s to assist candidates overcome the mistakes we have seen repeated CV after CV, year after year.  Stick to these and you will go far in producing a recruiter friendly CV that will get you interviews and help prepare you for those interviews!  Get in touch if you want more comprehensive instructions.

  1. Formatting – do use a business font (Arial or Verdana) and save as a Word 97 document.
  2. Don’t use tables, capital letters, colours, shading, underlining, comic sans or pdf files.
    Recruiters will coldly reject CVs that are cumbersome and difficult to read (extract fact).
  3. Don’t use “I” or you own name in your finished CV; write in the third person.
    If this is strange to you, initially write the whole document in the first person (i.e. “I was responsible for..”) then remove the “I”s to put into a 3rd party note style. So, this becomes “Responsible for…” Your CV will read like an objective and factual business document and less boastful as a result.  Also, don’t use your own name (i.e. “Nick was responsible for…”) as this reads oddly, even egotistical after a couple of instances.
  4. Do state and be clear if your university education was not completed – write “not completed”.
    Do not mislead recruiters as this will come out at some stage and you will be perceived as dishonest.
  5. Do give detail of your Career History for the last 5 – 10 years.
    Recruiters are assessing how relevant your recent experience has been to their requirement.  What you did 10 years ago is not recent.  Just state your employer, dates of employment and job titles for older experience.
  6. Do state the month in which you started and completed each employment period or assignment.
    A recruiter will want to quantify the volume of experience you have gained in a role.  Consider, if you write 2000 – 2001 this could mean you have anything from 1 month of experience (Dec 2000– Jan 2001) to almost 2 years (Jan 2000 – Dec 2001). Be clear and inform the recruiter.
  7. Do change your job title to be more representative of what you actually do if you have a generic or idiosyncratic title.
    Use a “/” if you want to be clear about your actual and descriptive job titles. Your CV will at some time be on a database whether with an agency or on a job board therefore it needs to be searchable. If you do not have an industry recognisable job title it will not be returned in the most basic of searches and only the most dedicated of recruiters will find you.
  8. Do set the scene and describe each employer and any major function you have worked for.
    State what the employer/function does, who, where and how many customers they have, their turnover and any common practices such as Project Management methodology.  This will allow recruiters to assess a match between your situational experience and their company/client requirement.
  9. Do provide metrics for each role in your CV.
    This allows a recruiter to immediately assess if the scale of your experience is a match to their requirement.  Do not leave them guessing (and annoyed).
  10. Do use job ads or job specification to help you construct the main components of your CV.
    The most important component of your CV is telling a recruiter what you have done and how you have done it.  Reviewing job ads and specs will remind you of things you have done in your career and provide you with ideas on appropriate language and metrics to use.  At this stage do not look at online CVs they will just confuse you.
  11. Do use dynamic language.
    Your CV should give the impression of someone who makes things happen, not someone that lets things happen to them. Use positive, dynamic action-words to describe your activities in each role/ assignment, such as “accepted” not “given”, “ownership of” rather than “tasked with”.
  12. Don’t put negative information on a CV.
    Everything on your CV should be positive and be able to sell you. So don’t include things you can’t do, or need training in. Never include detail that shows you in a bad light. Anything negative should either be “worked round” or shown in a positive light. i.e. “inexperienced” is “newly qualified”, “not directly experienced” is “extensive parallel experience” and “close to retirement” is “many years of experience”. You get the message- think estate agent spin.
  13. Don’t lie on your CV.
    There’s a difference between stretching some aspects of your experience, to actually making things up. If you are found to be lying about your experience after starting a new role, many firms will simply dismiss you. In some professions, your employer may start criminal proceedings.
  14. Do include achievements.
    An achievement is a specific example of a responsibility in your job that went well.  2/3 for each main period of employment will be sufficient.  It’s not a deal breaker if you cannot put something down but think – what will you be remembered for when you eventually move on?
  15. Don’t put the names of your references on your CV.
    Simply state “References available on request”.  On receiving a job offer take the opportunity to call your chosen reference and ‘coach’ them. Recruitment agents mainly use your references as candidate and business leads, not to benefit your application.
  16. Don’t include salary information on your CV.
    This will make you look too money orientated.  Also, as your CV can get handed round a number of people before an interview, including staff junior and senior to you, it can cause issues if and when you’re finally hired.
  17. Do keep your CV (no matter how long your career) to 2-3 pages.
    Concentrate on providing information on the last 5 – 10 years of experience. Once you get to the end of page 2 provide only limited information: Employer Name, Dates of Employment and Job title(s).
  18. Do tailor your main CV for each and ever application you make.
    This is the most important piece of advice I will give you in this document!! Ensure your CV reflects the job description/ad for each role you are applying to.  How similar were your employment environments, metrics, job titles and your activities, to the target employer and role?  When you list what you did, order these as they appear in the job description. Don’t be dishonest, just re-order and edit simply to reflect the targeted role.  If you cannot do this YOU can take the decision not to apply because you are not a match to the role!
  19. Don’t provide personal information in an online CV.
    A telephone number and an email address with your first name only.  Do not provide your address. Stop the fraudsters getting to you. And while we’re on it, do not use your work email address or a quirky email address in your CV.
  20. Do leave your CV for 24 hours and then review it.
    With a clear mind, check that your telephone numbers and email address are correct and clearly visible.  Look for grammatical and spelling errors.  I have a habit of writing ‘you’ instead of ‘your’ (I just did it again!) and ‘out’ instead of ‘our’ and ensure you use US or UK English as appropriate to your country of residence. Apply when you KNOW you are a 70% fit or more.