Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
There is no ‘model CV’ - think of it as your advert 21/11/2012
People have often asked me to show them a CV which they can adapt to their purposes. While examples can help, CVs should be created around the very different individuals they are to advertise.
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- Shape your CV
- Ignore textbook models
- Don’t bore the CV sifter
- Balance content, length and aesthetic looks
- The most common - chronological CV
- The functional CV
- The targeted CV
- The hybrid CV
- Keep a record of how well different CVs work
Shape your CV
The CV needs to be shaped both to reflect the person’s strengths and to fit well with the desired target position.
Some content is obvious: name, address, contact details, employment and qualifications. Other features could be considered optional: the CV may, or may not, also include general skills, interests, references, gender, age, marital status, resident status and possibly ‘curriculum vitae’ itself.
Interests may be uninteresting, references may be ‘available on request’, personal details may not be considered acceptable to divulge and one’s name may make a better heading than boring old ‘Curriculum Vitae’ (or ‘Resume’). Consider both the likely attitude of the recipient – an old-fashioned firm might prefer to see ‘Curriculum Vitae’ – and the targeted position, where what is left out may be as important as what is left in. The main presentation task is to slow down the rate at which the CV heads for the waste paper basket.
Ignore textbook models
I advise CV writers to ignore ‘textbook’ models in favour of two points: personal strengths and what the employee is looking for. Employers are not necessarily going to be interested in the overall worthiness of a stranger if they have dozens of CVs to look at; they may go on impressions.
If the person has a stronger employment history than qualifications, then employment should go first to impress the employer with the applicant’s strengths. In other cases, except where education is a weak point, qualifications would usually come first.
All things being equal, it would be best to put first whichever the employer is more likely to be looking for. The only general rule is that employers expect to see jobs covered from the present or most recent job first, going chronologically backwards.
Don’t bore the CV sifter
Unless the employer has specifically asked for a full CV, 1 or 2 pages should suffice. CVs should cover full pages, rather than one page with a six line hang-over on a second page.
I find that people think that everything in the first draft needs to stay put; in fact, there are various things that may be left out.
Full descriptions of every job may not be necessary, but may be given for the most recent or particularly relevant positions. As they get older, I advise that certain other things may be omitted; early swimming certificates and primary school never appear, and other achievements are eventually phased out as an individual ages.
These things are always a matter of judgement: for example, how much of a school’s address should be included in the cases of very young candidates and as and when even the name of the school may disappear from the CV altogether.
Balance content, length and aesthetic looks
Some books on the subject give the subjects studied in long single columns; what is wrong with two or maybe three columns across the page? On the other hand, don’t avoid white spaces altogether. White spaces can make a CV look pleasant. ‘Tombstone’ paragraphs, with blocks of text stretching from margin to margin, may be less than readable.
With the possible exception of the name at the head of the CV, I suggest avoiding having more than two fonts; garishness does not impress.
In calculating size and style, I think it necessary to consider questions such as: are titles such as ‘name’, ‘address’ and ‘phone number’ strictly necessary?
I find it useful if details of employment and qualifications, skills and activities are put into the first draft. It is then to recall and tease out more details and decide what to leave out.
The most common - chronological CV
This is organised strictly by date order and is especially good where there is a history of steady progression, particularly if continuing in the same career direction.
If experience is limited, however, this is the least clear and to the point of all CV styles. It's particularly unuseful if there are gaps in employment, frequent career changes or factors which require playing down.
The functional CV
The functional CV shows the main achievements organised into ability groupings (for example, IT, communication, leadership, specialist skills).
I find this particularly useful for career changers, periods of absence and similar problematic situations. This is not useful for the inexperienced, however.
The targeted CV
The targeted CV is for those who are clear about their goal and what is needed.
I have often created these CVs by dividing them into skills and experience, citing examples of paid and unpaid experience.
These are particularly useful for showing an employer a good fit with their particular requirements. Not for the inexperienced or for a wide range of jobs.
The hybrid CV
The hybrid CV is a variable document for the experienced and confident. An organised display is given of a particular range of skills and qualities.
This is not to be used when a progression of jobs needs to be shown. It is probably best only to venture into the unusual after experimenting with other types of CV, if they prove unable to meet particular needs.
Keep a record of how well different CVs work
I encourage clients to keep a log of different CVs sent, saving them as different computer files and recording where they were sent.
A pattern of success (or failure) to reach interviews may reflect upon the different styles used. It is of course always worth checking that the CV is spelled correctly and that it looks well-balanced and avoids saying damaging things.
It never fails to surprise me how often people send off a CV without having tested out on somebody else to gauge the impression it makes on the reader.