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Writing an effective C.V.

Keep your curriculum vitae simple. Your curriculum vitae must be concise. Your curriculum vitae must be easy to read. Your curriculum vitae must sell you. And your curriculum vitae must be tailored to what the reader is looking for.

These CV and letter principles apply to all career moves. Having a good CV is essential for full-time jobs, part-time, internal, external, promotions, new jobs, career changes, internships and work experience placements – wherever an employer or decision-maker is short-listing or interviewing or selecting applicants.

Short-listed and successful candidates are invariably the people who provide employers with the best CVs and best covering letters. A CV does not have to be a text document. It can be a video. If a picture tells a thousand words, imagine what moving pictures can convey about you. The technology exists now for anyone to create a video CV, and to upload it onto a website – including this one.

These notes are therefore not restricted to text-based CVs. The principles are good for your video CV too. Text or Video – the same principles apply.

How you perform at the interview or group selection is of course crucial, but only the people with the best CVs and letters get to that stage.

CV writing is a form of marketing or advertising, when the product is you.

This is especially so now when you can publish your CV – and/or video CV onto websites.

Your CV must sell you to a prospective employer, and compete against other applicants who are also trying to sell themselves. So the challenge in CV writing is to be more appealing and attractive than the rest.

This means that your curriculum vitae must be presented professionally, clearly, and in a way that indicates you are an ideal candidate for the job, i.e., you possess the right skills, experience, behavior, attitude, morality that the employer is seeking. The way you present your CV effectively demonstrates your ability to communicate, and particularly to explain a professional business proposition.

Put yourself in the shoes of the employer: write down a description of the person they are looking for. You can now use this as a blue-print for your CV. The better the match the more likely you are to be called for an interview.

If you find it difficult to match your own CV description to the requirements of the role, then perhaps the role isn’t for you. There’s little or no point distorting or falsifying yourself in order to get a job. If you falsify yourself in your CV you’ll be unlikely to provide the necessary proof of your claims at interview, and even if you manage to do this and to get the job, then you’ll not be able to do the job enjoyably without stress.

CV surveys and key points

These statistics relating to CVs and interviews were published in the Guardian in July 2006. The survey quoted the sources: Cubiks HR, IRS, and IAG. The survey findings serve both to remind job applicants and interviewers of warnings, opportunities and critical aspects of CVs and related preparation and approach for job interviews. The statistics also provide a basis for formulating some very useful pointers for CVs and job interviews:

Apparently 86% of interviewers think CVs and application forms (we assume all CVs and application forms) are not wholly truthful, whereas separately it seems that 35% of CVs are actually factually correct, although (for some reason, not actually explained) this apparently reduces to 23% for CVs belonging to women aged 31-35. The precise source of these statistics is not made clear, but the interesting point that comes from all this is that people who are truthful, and can convince the interviewer as such, will place themselves in an advantageous minority group, since the majority of interviews involve CVs which contain lies, and/or are perceived by interviewers to do so. So if you want to have an edge over most other CVs and applicants, tell the truth. (For what it’s worth this confirms what I’ve observed over the years – an honest solid applicant will always be preferred to a dishonest ‘star’ – integrity is considered to be a significantly vital factor among all good quality employers.)

It seems that only 8% of interviewers believe that academic qualifications reliably indicate future performance in the job. This confirms that for all but the most academically-dependent roles (NASA scientists, brain surgeons, heads of university faculty, etc), it’s important to emphasize strengths such as relevant achievements, capability and attitude, and appreciation of what is required to make a difference in the role, rather putting a lot of emphasis on academic qualifications.

Combined with the first point, these findings also confirm that lying about qualifications on a CV and/or in an interview is a completely daft thing to do, because seemingly most interviewers won’t believe you (moreover, 66% of interviewers say that they check up on professional qualifications, and 56% check academic qualifications), and hardly any interviewers regard qualifications as the most significant factor anyway.

• Ensuring that reliable referees are prepared and able to provide excellent references when asked by the interviewer, should (when) the job is offered. The survey findings also state that 85% of interviewers seek references from at least one previous employer, which is further confirmation of the need to cover this whole area professionally and reliably. According to the research, these are the most common CV inaccuracies (presumably from the perspective of interviewers):

• Employment dates (length of, dates from and to)

• Job titles

• Gaps between employment

• Qualifications, and surprisingly,

• Undeclared directorships

This is all very interesting because again it shows the opportunities for applicants to sharpen up the reliability and truthfulness of their CVs in certain key areas. It shows that interviewers will be sensitive to, and therefore on the lookout for inaccuracies, distortions omissions and funny smells generally in these areas, so again, be honest and consistent.

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