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Creating a Killer CV

by Rob Cross on March 24th, 2010

Do you have a killer CV?

You know…one that makes employers stand up and take notice. One that makes them want to call you up for an interview!

I’m guessing that if you’re anything like most the people out there, your answer is likely to be NO.

Over the last few years I’ve recruited many Graduates and have looked at many CVs, and, I can honestly say that very rarely do I see a CV that really catches my eye. Usually they’re poorly laid out, missing vital content, or worse, they just miss the point all together.

So to help you get potential employers to sit up and take notice of YOU, below are my tips on how to create a Killer CV.

Creating a Killer CV

In seeking to create a killer CV there are two critical things to consider; content and format.

The Right Content

The content of your CV must tell a story about you! And in telling this story, it has to present you as someone who an employer would like to get to know better – it has to leave them wanting to know more!

So what do you put in your story?

Well, there are four key things you need to include in your CV’s story:

  1. A succinct description of who you are – Like the first paragraph of a newspaper article or a good book, this description has to draw the reader in so they want to know more. It has to describe what you have to offer in terms of skills, attitude and aspirations.
  2. A list of your educational achievements – Many people go over the top on this. The listing of your educational qualifications only needs to prove that you have what they desire. That is, if they are asking for specific subjects which you need to have studied, then show that you have this. But if not, just show only what you need to against what they ask for – whilst getting a degree is something to be proud of, for employers it is just a ticket to the table which proves you have the minimum level they expect!
  3. An outline of your work experience achievements – The list of your work experience is really the most essential content in your CV. It is the part of your story that tells an employer not only what you’ve achieved so far, but also what your future potential as an employee might be.
  4. An outline of any other achievements – This is a list of anything else of significance which reinforces your story. For example, leading large groups of people in a club or association, or even volunteering with a charity.

So ultimately, what employers look for in the content of your CV is a compelling story. And whilst this story has to be non-fiction, it’s also got to be one which shows that you’ve got a track record of success and that you’ll fit in their organisation – they need to feel confident that you can deliver real results now and in the future!

Now…as you think about your story, make sure you think about what it tells people about who you are, what you’re capable of, and how great you’ll be to get into their team.

Your story has to leave people wanting to know more!

The Right Format

Having a great story is one thing, however, if it’s difficult to read then employers just tune out - there’s nothing more frustrating than having to work hard trying to draw out the important points from a CV!

So what does your CV need to look like?

Employers often get hundreds, if not thousands of CVs for every role they advertise, so you really want the key parts of your story to jump off the page at them. This doesn’t mean that you should do anything particularly ‘creative’, but there are a couple of simple things that are a must:

  1. Keep your sentences short and to the point- Imagine reading hundreds of CVs. For yours to stand out, you want the reader to pick up the maximum information from the minimum words.
  2. Use bullet points - Listing information in bullet point form really helps you to set out key points, whilst avoiding lengthy paragraphs of text. Once again, you don’t want employers working too hard to draw out what you want them to see.
  3. Ensure there is white space on the page – CVs that are too cluttered are far too difficult to read. Think back to a book that you’ve read where the words are too small and there is too much on a page – that’s not what you want your CV to look like.
  4. Use words and phrases that align - As you start applying for jobs, you’ll notice that all employers use common words and phrases to describe what they’re looking for. Whilst you want to be careful to not just re-write their job ads in your CV, you do want to pick out key words and phrases. By doing this you’ll be able to align your skills and experience to the specific things they are looking for.
  5. Never go beyond 2 pages – Your CV has to be a short story and not a novel, so never go over two pages. There is always a lot of information you want to pack into a CV, but it’s essential you do this in a concise way that is easy to read.

As you create your compelling story, and begin shaping it into a CV, it’s essential that the format you use makes it easy to read. You never want to make an employer work too hard to understand your story – in just a glance you want to capture their interest and then they should be able to just scan your 2 pages and have the key points jump off the page to them!

Common Mistakes

In seeking to create your compelling story that’s easy to read, there are a few common mistakes that you should really avoid:

  • Telling what you’ve done, not what you’ve achieved – Too often people describe the activities they’ve done, rather than what they’ve achieved. For example; the activity of being a head waiter at local restaurant, should really be described as, managed 10 staff and a nightly turnover of $10,000 as head waiter. Only describing the activity, does not show an employer what you’ve delivered or the full extent of your responsibility, so be sure to focus more tangibly (using figures) on what you’ve achieved.
  • Squeezing in too much - There is always so much you want to put into a CV, especially as you progress through your career. This leads to the temptation of reducing the font and expanding the margins, just to fit it all into 2 pages – don’t do this! Instead, focus on brevity and conciseness. Don’t be afraid to cut out or shorten parts of your story – remember you don’t want the employer to work too hard!
  • Assuming that your CV means more to them than it does to you- As our CV is our story, there’s always a risk that we make it too much about us, and not enough about proving your ability to do the role you’re applying for. The sad truth is that employers will read hundreds of CVs. So in telling your story, you have to make it about what they want know about you, and not just what you want to tell them.

A last thought…building your Story

By following the instructions above you can create a CV that will get you noticed. However, this is only if you have the right content for your story. As an employer of Graduates, there are a few simple things that I would always look for in the story of anyone applying for a role:

  1. The Right Qualifications - Your degree is a ticket to the table, so must prove you have the minimum of what is needed for an employer to want to know more. If you don’t, the conversation stops here!
  2. The Right Experience – People who have only ever just studied whilst at University, and not worked part time, managed clubs, travelled, volunteered, or engaged in any other activities such as sports or drama, tend to get overlooked. Employers want to see a track record that you can deliver results and manage your time. Without proving that you have done some of these things, it’s very difficult to understand what else you’re capable of than just hitting the books!
  3. The Right Attitude- The story you tell in your CV tells an employer a lot about you, especially from your qualifications and experience. Employers want to see that you will fit with their organisation and that you have the type of attitude they desire. This is not only in terms of being willing to work hard, but also in terms of aligning to their culture. So be sure to understand what the culture and attitude of their organisation is like (e.g. creative, hierarchical etc) so you can show how you align.

Now you know what employers look for, it’s time for you to create you’re Killer CV!

Email for more information on how to get your CV reviewed to ensure it stands out.

  1. Great CV advice; before starting your CV read the job specification as all employers (even employers recruiting for similar job roles) require different skills and qualities for their particular company. The job specification will tell you the employers essential criteria-you need to ensure this essential criteria is recorded on your CV

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