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Writing the perfect CV: Guidelines for an effective resumé

Writing the perfect CV: Guidelines for an effective resumé

You only have one chance to make a great first impression. Nowhere is this theory truer than when applying for a job. The first contact with a prospective employer is usually in writing, and a key element of any job application is the curriculum vitae (CV) or resumé which, when formulated cleverly, can do far more than merely summarize your experience and skills. We share some guidelines for writing a CV which can help to position you as the perfect candidate for the job of your dreams.

It’s the simple things that help your resumé stand out

HR departments in large organizations receive many resumés every day. They are therefore delighted when candidates follow a few simple rules for CV writing. In general, a resumé should be exactly that: a summary which spans no more than two pages, no matter how extensive your experience. White space is as important as text; nothing is guaranteed to send your CV to the trash bin quicker than a solid wall of text. White space means just that: white space. Unless you are applying for a job in a particularly creative environment, avoid coloured paper and graphics; white paper creates a more professional impression. Don’t reinvent the wheel: The internet is awash with templates for creating a professional-looking CV.

Resumé writing for results:How should a CV be formulated

How is it possible to write a CV that summarizes ten years of experience in two pages? It’s simple; focus on your achievements rather than a long list of tasks. Consider the following examples:

I was responsible for managing a one million EUR training budget for 2,000 staff. I organized 20 training courses a year and collected and evaluated course feedback from delegates.

Achieved training budget cost savings of 0.25 million EUR, while raising course attendance by 25% and increasing delegate satisfaction by 45%.

Which information better demonstrated your ability and is therefore more interesting for a prospective employer? Note too, the use of specific verbs. When writing a CV, use active and positive verbs, such as achieved, increased, reduced, boosted, generated, lead, executed, optimized, maximized, restructured, motivated, attained, and succeeded.

First things first: Information order when formulating a CV

When composing a resumé, make sure the most important information is at the forefront. Your name and contact details should be clearly visible. Your most recent job and achievements should be in prime position on the first page. Work backwards through your experience; depending on the length of your career and the number of jobs you have held, it may be sufficient to list the companies, dates and your job title for very early roles. Employers will be curious about any gaps, so when writing your CV, be sure to account for any periods of time when you were not employed. If you hold qualifications that are specifically required, these can be listed with your personal details on page one. If you don’t have the requisite qualifications, tailor the description of your recent experience and achievements to the role you are applying for, to clearly identify you as a strong candidate.

What other information should be included in a CV?

CV guidelines can be contradictory in terms of whether a personal statement should be included. A generic statement of personal values will not help you to stand out - employers will have read similar descriptions a thousand times before. However, a well-written statement of around 150 words, summarizing the skills and experience you can bring to this specific role, gives you the opportunity to sell yourself and can help differentiate you from the competition.

When writing a CV, you should also include your highest level of education - your primary school is not necessary! - and relevant qualifications. Hobbies and other activities should only be included if they are relevant to the job; running a sports team, for example, would be of interest to an employer, whereas reading, swimming and listening to music can usually be omitted. Some aspects will depend on the location of the job. In some countries, for example, a photo is essential; in others it is positively discouraged. Dates of birth/age, marital and family status, and other such personal data is also dependent on the culture in the country in which you are applying; in some cases, asking for this type of information is contrary to employment law. When formulating your resumé, research the CV guidelines in the relevant location for additional information.

And finally, perhaps the most important resumé-writing rule of all: When you have written your perfect CV, check it at least twice to ensure there are no spelling errors, to avoid your application failing at the first hurdle. When it comes to writing an effective resumé, it’s the detail that really counts.

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