How do I describe my job on a CV?

This is an area of a CV that is very easy to get wrong and the vast majority of CVs that we see contain some basic errors when describing job roles. The area I’ll cover in this post is the Header.

The Header:
You need to put yourself in the recruiter or employers shoes and consider what they’re looking for in order of importance.

As an example of this lets look at a salesman working for a BMW car dealership.

As the employee the most important thing to you as an individual is that you work for a BMW Dealer; in Sales; and you’ve been there for 3 years.

But a potential new employer with a job vacancy to fill is looking for someone who works in Car Sales; has 3 years experience; preferably with a prestige brand.

So the way you need to present the information on your CV is:

  • What do you do?
  • How long have you been doing it?
  • Who do you do it for?

So it needs to look like this:

Car Sales Executive                               2012 – date

 BMW Lincoln

This may seem a minor point but it’s all part of what makes it easy for an employer or recruiter to quickly understand what you do and whether or not they want to interview you.

In my nest post I’ll cover what comes after the header in more detail.

Do I need a different CV for different Jobs?

I often hear this idea bandied about and the answer is No…and Yes!

There are certain aspects of your CV that you can’t really change. Your education, training, memberships, age, interests and your career. They are what they are.

But, you can slant your CV to appeal to a recruiter or employer for a specific role by having a properly written and constructed opening to your CV. This needs to consist of a Profile and and a Key Skills section. The former should be a précis of your career in 3-4 lines stating what you are and what you do, and the latter should highlight your skill set.

These 2 sections can then be modified to fit different job adverts and appeal directly to what the recruiter or employer is looking for in a candidate. If you don’t know what they’re looking for in their ideal candidate then you’re not reading the advert properly!

So, get these 2 sections done properly and you can easily and quickly have an application specific CV.

“Successfully” – is this the most overused word in a CV?

Recently I have noticed the prevalence of the word “Successfully” in CVs to describe an achievement.

Why do people use it? Probably because they’ve read a list of “Power Words” to use in a CV that they believe will give it more impact, but this doesn’t really work. Why not? Well it’s just too generic and without substantiation it doesn’t really mean a great deal.

A good (read poor!) example would be:

(A) “Successfully implemented a new system of quality control in widget production”

Great, but what did it do? – that’s what interests an employer.

A much better version would be:

(B) “Implemented a new system of quality control in widget production that reduced defects from 5% to 2%”

Even better would be:

(C) “Reduced manufacturing defects from 5% to 2% in widget production by implementing a new system of Quality Control”

And even better still:

(D) “Saved £50,000 per annum by reduced manufacturing defects from 5% to 2% in widget production with the implementation of a new system of Quality Control”

In that last example the word “Successfully” would actually be hard to include!

As you can see we have initially moved the focus to the outcome of the implementation by putting in the fact that a reduction from 5% to 2% was achieved in (B).

Then we change the emphasis again by putting the outcome at the beginning in (C).

Finally, we really beef it up by putting a monetary value to it in (D).

So you can see that the effect of taking out “successfully” and quantifying the outcome (in 2 ways) has taken this achievement to a whole new level.

Using Headers in a CV

Lots of people use headers in their CV for putting in their contact details and on the face of it, it’s a good idea since it gives you a little more space on the page for content.

However, you could be making a massive mistake with your CV if you do this.

The problem arises with the scanning software used by the job boards and the way that they can read a CV. For some reason (it’s probably very technical!) they don’t scan the text in a header – just the body of the CV – so when a recruiter is searching through Monster or Reed they come across your CV and think “great! I’ve found a perfect candidate”, but then they can’t ring you as your telephone number was in the header.

In itself this is not an insurmountable problem because you probably had to give them your email address when you registered so they can contact you that way, albeit a little delayed.

What’s worse though is if your postcode was in the header. All recruiters search databases based on location anchored around distance from the potential employers postcode and if your postcode is in the header, guess what? That’s right, they won’t even see your CV in the first place.

So, don’t use headers, or footers for that matter, in your CV!

Is a Resume a CV?

The simple answer is yes.

Resume is essentially an American term for a CV or Curriculum Vitae but there are subtle differences between examples of resume writing and CV writing. 

UK based CVs tend to have a basic format at their core that covers Education followed by Employment History and then any personal of additional information. Within the Employment History you usually talk about the job you did, your responsibilities and if you’re a bit more switched on you’ll also include some achievements.

A resume writer will come at it from a slightly different angle. There will be much more emphasis on broader skills and achievements as an opening section, generally followed by simple 1-liners about who they worked for and when.

As a CV writer I find the resume approach a bit impersonal and that it isolates achievements and skills from the job you were doing at the time, which takes away relevance. Resumes are also seen much more as a selling tool which doesn’t really sit well with the British mentality and aversion to “showing off”.

If you’re an American with a resume and looking for a job in the UK you’ll probably need to get your resume rewritten so it’s more like a conventional CV, and for any Brits looking for a job in the states  you’ll need a complete rethink on that CV of yours!


Does your CV Sell You?

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But, it’s probably the commonest mistake we see when we review CVs.

Ultimately a CV is about you, but you’re not writing it for yourself but rather to achieve your career objective. Whoever reads your CV will, in all probability, have never heard of you or met you and just wants to know that you meet their objectives and requirements.

You really need to make sure that when a recruiter or employer is reading your CV that it is clear what you do, what you bring to the role and what your motivation for applying is.

Remember that prior to interview a potential employer is thinking of only 2 things:

1. Do they have the experience to do the job?

2. Do they enjoy the job?

The final question can only be answered at interview, namely “Will we like working with this person?”

So, make sure that your CV is clear and understandable to someone who’s never met you.

5 things not to put on your CV

Here’s 5 things that people commonly put on their CV which are a waste of space and simply clutter up the real story you should be telling:

1. Good timekeeper – Seriously, why say this? Every employer works on the assumption that you can get out of bed in the morning!

2. Enthusiastic – Again, why say this? Employers start off assuming that you are enthusiastic about the job since you’re applying for it.

3. Team Player – Unless you are a lighthouse keeper or a hermit the odds are that you have to work or interact with other human beings so of course you’re a team player – we all are.

4. Bubbly – Just don’t put this on your CV. If it’s on there, delete it. NOW.

5. Hard working and reliable – As with the other points, this is taken as a given by any potential employer.

The main thing to always bear in mind with a CV is that it’s only real purpose is to get you an interview and you do that by telling the employer what you have to offer by way of experience and/or potential.

What Font to use in a CV?

This is a commonly asked question and it makes a big difference to your CV.

Basically, you should use a modern looking font that is easy to read and not too dense.

Some fonts have a smaller gap between letters and these are useful if your CV has run into an extra page by just a line or two as changing font can significantly shorten a CV. Try switching between Calibri and Arial and you’ll see what I mean.

Avoid using Times New Roman or similar fonts like Georgia as they make your CV (and you by inference!) look dated. Equally you should avoid Comic Sans like the plague!

The best thing to do is experiment with different fonts and see how they can make your CV appear until you find one you’re happy with.