To CV or not CV – that is the question

In these days of LinkedIn and Job Boards, is the traditional curriculum vitae still of value when it comes to getting a job?

In this blog we take a look at how the CV or Résumé, as the Americans call it, came about and how to create a document that will help you become a stand out applicant. However, before we do that, as an aside, what’s interesting about the word ‘resume’ (without the accents for ease of typing) is that it’s French and means ‘summary’. Ironically, the French prefer to use the Latin phrase ‘curriculum vitae’ or ‘the course of my life’.

So, who started the practice of producing a CV and how much notice do prospective employers take of the document today?

Surprisingly, the CV has been around for over 500 years when Leonardo da Vinci outlined his skills, in a CV, to the Regent of Milan. It must have worked as he was employed there for 17 years, including his time spent painting ‘the Last Supper’.

His angle, and it still applies today, was to ensure he wrote about what he could do for the city of Milan rather than making a list, as many do, of his achievements and employment in chronological order.

Despite 16th Century itinerant workers, in Britain, using a form of CV to introduce themselves to the local trade guild was still largely, right up to the 1930s, just a set of notes, usually written at the interview stage.

What changed all that was Napoleon Hill and his 1937 book, ‘Think and Grow Rich’ which some of our readers may be familiar with. Whatever our views on Hill’s methodology (we recommend researching his background) the success of this book should not be underestimated. Probably the most successful self-help book of modern times and still in print over 80 years later.

The mantra is that we should visualise our desired future as if it was already real, and focus on one goal at a time. In our case – getting that job.

In his book he refers to the CV as a ‘Brief’ to be prepared in the same way as a lawyer would. And as a prospective employer can take less than 60 seconds to consider if your CV is worth further reading, it’s clear that his views on creating a first impression are very relevant today.

This is especially important when you take into account the increased competition in the current jobs market.

Hill said then, and we repeat it constantly today, that before firing up Word on your laptop, be very clear about your objective. A CV is your gateway to securing an interview and subsequently landing that job. Visualise doing that job and, therefore, be very specific about why you believe you are the right person to fulfil the employment requirements – and more.

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Writing your CV

So, stage one is to target the vacancy with a clear objective (from the employer’s perspective) and then compose a succinct summary of the benefits to the business of your experience and skill set. Remember you have less than 60 seconds to create a first impression!

There is no doubt, a persuasive CV is a work of art and should be seen in the same way that a sales consultant, for example, uses psychology to persuade us to buy.  You are, after all, selling yourself to your future employer, and just like a product or service you need to stand out from the crowd.

And just like a powerful advertising message, it should be short, punchy, and targeted.  Every CV should be specifically produced for the job you are applying for and not simply a bluster gun of repeated content.

The best adverts are usually the ones that hit the target in the minimum of time. It’s the same with a CV. No more than two pages of A4 paper and we recommend getting someone who knows you (not family or close friends, but preferably work colleagues) to provide feedback. We tend to underestimate our achievements and personal attributes.

Be relevant to the role

Be concise and precise and don’t include stuff that’s not relevant to the position. Leave all that for your LinkedIn profile and summary. Also, and it might sound obvious, but you will be surprised at the number of people that don’t bother to spell check their content before sending, or consider how the document looks to someone who has never met you.

Anyone who has watched the interview stage on the TV show the Apprentice will also appreciate the need for accuracy and honesty.

We suggest keeping the content consistent throughout.  That means, same typeface, same line spacing etc. And, we believe it’s a good idea to avoid the temptation to emphasise key points in bold or colour. Admittedly it does depend on the type of job applied for (such as the creative sector) but in most cases, it just irritates the reader, which is the last thing we want.

One area that you will need to give great thought to, while admitting it does depend on the company and the position applied for, is personal information. We don’t just mean your contact details. For instance, you may wish to include a personal statement indicating how your hobbies, interests and personality relate to the job application.

Extra-curricular activities

For example, you may wish to talk about your charity work and the rewards that brings, or the enjoyment of travelling and learning about other cultures, or even out of work pastimes such as playing sport (always a good shout on a CV) or socialising with friends (remember, all work and no play makes Jack (and Jill) a dull boy (girl).

This will show to the prospective employer that you have a broad outlook on life and can act as a team player and / or enjoy a challenge.

A prospective employer will, naturally, want to know about your previous employment and your educational achievements. With regard to employment, start with your current or last employer and work backwards. Include job titles but more importantly your responsibilities and achievements.

And make sure you back up those achievements with figures. For example, rather than saying you increased sales or efficiency, say by how much. A 40% increase in sales over 12 months or a cost saving of 30% during my time in that role etc.

It’s also a good idea to include the reason why you left. Better opportunity (say what), closer to home (explain why this is important) or more money (explain further). In addition, if you have any employment gaps, say so with reasons and then explain what you did during these ‘free periods’. This could be where your personal statement (charity work / travelling etc.) comes in.

Education

As with your employment record, highlight your education in reverse chronological order. Start with your most recent qualifications and awards, making sure you include all relevant diplomas. Also, if you are currently studying for a qualification, say so.

Today, technology plays a major role on our lives and this is further emphasised when creating your CV. For example, if you have not been totally honest it can now take just a matter of minutes to check using the Internet and Google. Once again, if you are not sure how easy this is, refer back to the ‘Apprentice – interview stage’.

Also, with the advent of streaming platforms such as YouTube, it is now becoming increasingly popular for clients to submit a video CV.  However, it really does depend on the industry and age group. We’ve seen a positive response when applied to younger candidates looking for jobs in the creative sector. If unsure, ask us first.

Your online CV

Also, many recruitment consultants, such as ourselves, will ask you to upload and send your CV online. Here, therefore, is an opportunity for you to include keywords in your content. For example, if applying for a management position in the construction industry you might want to include relevant words that will be picked up by a search engine.

If you are not sure what to include, once again, we can help, or just Google the job title and see what keywords are commonly mentioned.

So, there you are, a few ideas that we hope, will help you create a ‘killer CV’ and secure that all important first interview.

Good luck and if you feel we can help you in the next stage of your employment journey, please give us a call on 0845 478 5009 or email enquiries@multitaskpersonnel.co.uk