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Mar 24 10

Creating a Killer CV

by Rob Cross

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 info@grad-expectations.com for more information on how to get your CV reviewed to ensure it stands out.

Mar 24 10

What’s Next: 5 Steps to Decide what to do after University

by Rob Cross

The BIG Question

There’s light at the end of the tunnel!!

That’s right, University is finally coming to an end – no more lectures and no more books!!

But after so many years of study and enjoying student life, you’re now faced with that one BIG question:

What am I going to do after University?

Damn! Decision time is here again, and this time the decision seems even more important than before.

So, I’m sure you’re wondering; “How do I tackle such a difficult decision?”

Well, I think that the answer to this is what I call tough, but simple. It’s tough because it feels like a daunting decision. But, I think it’s also simple because many students have faced the same decision before, and, I think there’s a simple approach you can take to help – I call it the 5 Steps.

Before looking at the 5 Steps though, it’s important to realise a couple of things:

First, despite what people say the option (or options) you decide on now are not make, or break. That’s right, just because you make a decision now, it doesn’t mean that this is the path you must follow for the rest of your life!

Secondly, and this is something you’ll rarely be told, the decision you make now is only just a starting point for your journey beyond University. That’s right, this is a journey! And as with any journey you never know what will happen along the way, and also you can still change direction whenever you wish.

So ultimately this decision isn’t that big after all…provided you take your time!

What are the Options?

The most obvious options people consider after University are as follows:

  • You could get a job of some kind – good for starting your career or earning some money until the right opportunity comes up.
  • You could volunteer your time with a charity – good for building experience and your CV.
  • You could sign on for another few years at University and continue studying – good for developing greater expertise in a particular area.
  • You could pack your bags and head off travelling – good for gaining some ‘worldly experience’ especially in other cultures.

Whilst this list isn’t exhaustive, in seeking to make a decision about what next, each of these (and any other choice) is completely legitimate…provided you know why you’re choosing it!

How do you choose?

With all the options available, I’m sure you’re now thinking; “that’s great, but how do I choose which is the best one for me?”

As I said, the answer to that question is what I’d call tough, but simple. It’s tough because there is no single right solution – there are many ways to fulfil what you desire! It’s simple because through the 5 Steps it’s easy to define the path(s) that will work for you.

The 5 Steps to help you decide what you would do after University are:

  1. First define what you want – out of life and your career
  2. List all, and I mean all, of the options you have available to you
  3. Review your options against what you want
  4. Define the path(s) of your journey
  5. Identify what next

In following these 5 Steps it is critical to remember that your life and career is just a journey, and whilst there is no single right path, that journey is a marathon and not a sprint! So don’t feel you have to rush and get it right – if you speak to any successful people, they’ll never be able to tell you exactly how they got there. But, they will tell you that it was a journey full of may coincidences and happy accidents.

How to Use the 5 Steps:

To help you use the 5 Steps, let me tell you about Sue. As an Ancient History student, Sue contacted me three years ago in a panic. She had just started her final year at University and was really struggling to know what to do next. “I just feel like I’m running out of time,” she said, “I don’t want to just end up in any job, but I still have no idea what I should do.”

1. First Define What You Want – Out of Life and your Career

The challenge with thinking too quickly about all the options we have is that we start behaving like we’re trying to find solutions without knowing what the problem is!

“What should I do?” I remember Sue asking.

“Well, that depends on what you want your contribution to be,” I replied.

“Contribution?” asked Sue with a blank look.

“Yeh…contribution. What do you want to be remembered? What do you want people to say you contributed to the world?” I answered.

Each of us has a unique contribution to make to the world, which evolves as we progress through the journey of our lives. And whilst these questions are initially quite tough to answer, by asking them, you can start to get to the heart of whom you are as a person, what is most important to you, and ultimately, where you want to go in your life and career.

For Sue, once she had really considered it, her answer was, “I really want to be remembered as someone who made a difference to those around me, especially through helping people to learn new things.”

Against this answer Sue wasn’t too worried about what types of things they would learn, as long as it helped them to be the best they could be at what ever they chose to do.

Although, it did take some thinking and whilst it wasn’t set in stone for the rest of her life, this simple response gave us a really good foundation to work from.

2. List ‘All’ Your Options

When we sat to identify all the options available to Sue, we sought to look at all the possible alternatives, no matter how bizarre they seemed to be. Some of these options included:

  • Train to become a teacher
  • Stay at University and complete a PhD to become a lecturer
  • Seek a job in the training or learning and development field
  • Volunteer to help teenagers develop skills to get a job
  • Start her own charity to help children learn to read and write
  • Become an adult education trainer to help unemployed people gain the skills to join the work force
  • Travel to another country and teach English language skills
  • Travel around the world working with different charity or not for profit organisations focused on helping people build new skills

And there were many more than this!

To identify ‘all’ her options Sue took her time and she spoke to others to understand what they had done throughout their lives, and also what they had regretted never doing.

By looking at all the options, Sue pretty quickly realised that she could fulfil her contribution in many different ways – there were many solutions to this problem!

3. Review Your Options

We then worked through reviewing Sue’s options against her contribution. However, before doing this we first identified a few of her ‘non-negotiable’ criteria. These were things that would help Sue ensure she felt safe and secure in moving along her journey. Her non-negotiable criteria were:

  • She wanted to be financially secure (i.e. have an income which meant she wasn’t worried about how she would pay whatever her bills may be)
  • She wanted to be part of a team rather than doing things solely on her own
  • She wanted variety in what she did (i.e. not just doing the same thing day in, day out)
  • She wanted to travel and not just stay in one location

Using this criteria and then what she defined as her desired contribution, Sue then reviewed all her options. In doing this, she created a simple tick matrix (see tools at www.grad-expectations.com). This allowed her to review her options, but also see how each option was not mutually exclusive – there was not a single right answer, instead she had a form of buffet to mix and match from!

4. Define Your Path(s)

With her ‘buffet’ of options identified, Sue then sought to create a path. Her path involved laying out her potential options on a time-line to see how she could mix and match them to help her feel good about how she was starting her journey beyond University. Some of the elements of Sue’s path included:

  • Volunteering with a charity who helped young children improve their literacy skills
  • Taking a short course to qualify to teach English as a second language
  • Travelling to South-East Asia (somewhere she really wanted to travel to) to teach university students how to speak English
  • Securing a training and development role with a large organisation where she could travel

Through being able to create paths where she could do multiple things at any one time, Sue felt far more confident that she was never tied down to a single option if it didn’t work out. And as a result, she could vary how much of any option she was doing at any one time. This also helped her realise that if one option didn’t work, she could switch to another quite easily without compromising her contribution or non-negotiable criteria.

5. Identify What Next

With her potential paths laid out, Sue then identified immediate actions she was going to undertake. This mostly involved researching about which charities she might work with, identifying short courses to take, and also researching which companies were offering roles that she was after.

Then, Sue did exactly what her actions identified – she got moving on the path she had defined!

So, where is Sue now?

Well, Sue did volunteer with a charity whilst still at University, but ended up not taking the teaching English short course. Instead, through her charity work she met someone who had contacts in South America, who then helped Sue work in multiple different countries for a year whilst doing community regeneration. When she returned home, with all her experience she easily secured a job with a large organisation where she is now required to travel throughout Europe helping employees build their skills and knowledge in particular areas. She has also worked to build that company’s social responsibility programme and occasionally travels to Asia to work with the not for profit organisations it sponsors…and best of all…she loves it!

A last thought…

Now used by Graduates all over the globe, the 5 Steps helps you not only decide what you should do after Univeristy, but it also links your choices and decisions to a higher definition of who you are and what you want from your life. And, by creating this link, it will assist you to be more honest with yourself in choosing where and how you wish to progress on your journey beyond University.

So my question now for you is:

What are you going to do to start your journey beyond University?