There’s one issue, I’ve noticed, that can reduce the strongest personalities to nervous wrecks – and the normally focused and ‘lets get on with it’ types, into serious avoidance behaviours. The issue is one that causes concern when it’s not done and creates euphoria when completed. It’s dreaded by some and welcomed by others. It’s important that everyone has one that’s up-to-date, ready to go at a moment’s notice. And no, it’s not the annual performance appraisals or annual budget. It’s a curriculum vitae – every working person’s little companion.
It’s easy to see why writing CV’s presents many challenges. The requirements have changed dramatically over the years: from needing nothing documented at all to a crisp one page affair; numerous pages to no more than three or four. Then there’s the dilemma of how much information is too much or too little; and whether photographs and personal (hobby, interests) information helps or hinders. Busy managers may initially spend one to two minutes scanning CV’s when they’re short-listing for vacancies. This means an applicant has approximately that amount of time to make an initial impression and show their ‘fit’ with the organisation’s needs. So, in writing CV’s – yours, or in assisting your staff with theirs – remember there are some traps to avoid.
Lack of Detail
Recording a job title, name of the organisation and its geographic location – and absolutely nothing more than that – is singularly unhelpful. It tells the reader nothing. You cannot assume the reader has passed Mind Reading 101 (they probably haven’t) so give them enough information to get an understanding of the responsibilities and competencies required in the roles. Offering minimal information means an opportunity to show your experience, is missed.
Lack of Scope
Unless the reader has also completed the practicum for Mind Reading 201, they won’t know whether ‘managing the annual budget’ means a budget of $1000 or $1.2M or, ‘responsible for the day to day management of staff’ means three or two hundred people. Make it easy for the reader to know what you know. It’s important to convey the scope and breadth of your experience. So, put yourself in the short-lister’s shoes and ask – ‘If someone didn’t know anything about this role, what would help them find out?’
Too Much Information
Listing everything you’ve ever been involved in before you left school (and you’re now forty six), could be a touch too much. The same could be said for listing every course, seminar and workshop (even the ones lasting two hours) you’ve attended over the years. Be discerning and record only what’s relevant now – the really important things. You don’t want the reader to be glazed after the fourteenth page, now do you?
Some positions can be so far back in the past – ten to fifteen years ago, that they might not warrant a great deal of detail and CV space. They can be included under a heading of ‘other employment’ and listed with role title, organisation and years only. If you’ve listed every role, ever, including all the minor holiday work, think again.
Over-stating qualifications, experience, knowledge and abilities (or downright lying) isn’t recommended, as any short-lister and interviewer worth their salt will check qualifications and experience. You may be found out. Simply state, don’t inflate. Under-stating, the path that the shy and ultra modest may go down, may eventually lead to little or no movement in the job stakes. Remember that people making short-listing decisions need real information, not wisps of very little. The CV is intended to reflect your experience, skills and competencies.
Tempting as it may be to unleash creative writing skills and the poet within, the CV isn’t the place. Neither is it the place for waffly prose. The style needs to be crisp (yet not so crisp as to be curt or rude) using clear, plain English.
It always pays to know your referees and to ask them, before nominating them. Ideally, they will be willing to endorse you and speak about their experience of you and your work. It’s not necessary to list referees in a CV, as they can be placed in a covering letter.
One Size Fits All
Alas, it doesn’t. Presenting the same letter of application to accompany a CV, regardless of the position and organisation, isn’t helpful. The covering letter content needs to contain specific information that has been asked and that is relevant to the job applied for. In the covering letter, don’t restate most of the key information from the CV. The covering letter should sufficiently interest the reader to warrant the CV being read. It goes without saying that the covering letter (and CV) should be 100% correct – in spelling, grammar and vocabulary.
The initial construction of CVs requires the most work and effort. However, that done, updating them is effortless. A four to five page CV (that includes the cover page) is a good size to aim for. So, if you or your staff have been avoiding writing your CV, do give it a go – then you’ll be ready for any eventuality.