The Successful CV
A successful CV is the product of careful thought and planning. The employer is looking for an applicant who has the right experience, skills, and personal qualities for the job. The person appointed is likely to be the one who not only possesses all these but also presents them in the most attractive way. The only way in which you can achieve this is by thinking very carefully about yourself and what you have done in the past and believe you could do in the future, given the right opportunity.
Begin by thinking about these four areas:
- personal qualities
There are various ways in which you can do this. What follows is only one possibility. Whichever approach you choose, however, make sure that you make detailed notes of your ideas – even if you think they may not be relevant. Also, keep all your lists and sheets of notes ‘open’; go back to them from time to time and make sure that you haven’t missed anything out. This preparation stage is essentially one of brainstorming. Selection and ordering come later.
Experience: Many people find it easier to start with this, because it is the most concrete. Begin by thinking of your life as divided into a number of stages. What these are depends on you – the divisions between the stages may be marked by changes of job, moves from one place to another, or by key events in your life – marrying, having children, buying a house, and so on. Your notes on your experience should certainly include:
- any professional training
- periods of employment – include part-time jobs and those which didn’t last very long, as well as ‘proper’ jobs
- other extended periods in which your life focused on a particular activity (for example, periods of foreign travel)
- any voluntary work you have done
Interests: You might question why you should consider your personal interests when preparing a job application. After all, these are the things you do in your spare time when you are not working. Interests are relevant for a number of reasons:
- They are one of the ways in which your personality can be defined; and your personality is very relevant indeed to a job application.
- They frequently indicate skills you have which are not currently used at work. See ‘Skills’ below.)
- They often have a bearing on why you are interested in particular types of employment.
- They may point the way to other kinds of employment that you had not previously thought of.
Skills: Your notes on your experience should provide you with useful prompts when it comes to listing your skills. Look at each of the different stages of your life and ask yourself:
- Which skills did I use here that I already had?
- Which skills did I improve on or consolidate?
- What new skills did I learn?
In addition, think about your leisure time interests: perhaps these also entail useful skills which may be relevant to a job application.
Make sure that you include not only skills related to your trade or profession, but also personal skills, for example:
|organizing events||training staff|
|chairing meetings||making presentations|
|meeting the public|
Don’t be too concerned at this stage about whether the skills you list are relevant. That can come later. For now write them all down.
When you have finished, look back through the list and consider whether each item is one separate skill, or, in fact, a bundle of skills that should be separated out. For example, you may have written ‘communicating’, when it may be preferable to list:
- simplifying technical subject matter
- writing simple technical manuals
- training non-specialist workers.
Personal qualities: This is the area that many people find most difficult; they are unhappy talking about themselves and their qualities because they feel it is big-headed or ‘pushy’. They may also find it quite difficult to step back and look at themselves objectively. On the other hand, if you don’t tell a potential employer about your personal qualities, who will?
It is sometimes difficult to begin such a list, so here are some qualities to start you off. Write down any which you think apply to you, and then add others of your own. For each one you choose, make sure that you can think of incidents in your own life and work experience that bear them out.
|can work under pressure||loyal|
|get on well with other people||sensitive|
|good sense of humour||thoughtful|
|hardworking||works well with others|
Turning your notes into a CV
You should by now have a full set of rough notes. (It doesn’t matter how rough they are, provided they are as detailed as possible.) The next stage is to decide how you want to order your CV. This can be done in one of two ways:
Chronological: A chronological CV presents your education and work experience either in the order in which they happened, or in reverse order, with your most recent experience first. Since recent experience is probably of most interest to an employer, this latter method is now widely used. The advantages of a chronological CV are that it emphasizes the companies or organizations you have worked for (and the periods of time involved) and your continuity of employment. The disadvantage is that if your career has had ups and downs, especially if it includes periods of unemployment, these show up very clearly. The employer who is looking for a steady and reliable employee will probably favour this approach.
Download a sample CV (pdf file*) Functional: A functional CV is organized by skills and qualities. If, for example, your experience is in motor-parts sales, both as a representative and in head office, the functions you could use as headings might be:
- presenting the product range
- customer care
- information technology
Under each one you can provide further details of specific experience. The advantage of this approach is that you can focus on you strengths without having to spell out relative inexperience or periods of unemployment. The disadvantage is that it may not make clear important periods of employment with impressive employers. The employer who is looking for applicants with particular skills and capabilities will find the functional CV more helpful than the chronological.
Download a sample CV (pdf file*)