A CV does not get you a job. That is not why people write CVs. Instead, it gets you an interview. The purpose of the CV is to make your employer interested in you enough for them to want to meet you in person.
Therefore, a CV is all about presenting yourself. The main task, when writing a CV, is to make every single small achievement of yours look like a big thing. I will come back to this later in this module and in this guide.
There are two main types of CVs – those based on experience and those based on skills. Naturally, the first type is more popular. It is the usual type of CV that gives a lot of space to describe work experience.
So how do you compete in the job market if you have little or no ‘serious’ work experience?
Well, the answer is simple: you focus your CV on your skills and achievements. You focus not on what your tasks and responsibilities were but what you learnt during the limited experience that you have.
I am absolutely certain that, even if your work experience as a student hardly extends beyond the traditional range of jobs (cashier, bartender, waiter/waitress, salesperson, etc.), you can still present yourself as a well-rounded individual with a set of skills that will make you as competitive as a working professional.
Let me tell you one thing from the start: even in a job that is ‘uncool’ or unpaid, or both, the most important thing is not what you did, but how you did it. What did you achieve? What skills did you develop? How can you apply those skills at the new workplace? This is what you have to think about. This guide provides you with examples of those skills and teaches you how to present them.
Many people know how to cook but only great cooks also know how to serve the food!
A CV is all about self-presentation. It has to be clear, concise and full of powerful words. It is all about presenting your every little achievement as if it were the biggest thing in the world! And you are not lying or exaggerating here – it is the biggest thing. For you. In your life.
So let’s see how to do it!
Any Writing Is a Craft: And It Can Be Learnt!
Writing is hard work – just ask any writer about that and they will confirm it. Writing a CV is also hard work. That is why I wrote this guide: to make your job easier. Because CV writing (or, in fact, any writing) does not simply come from inspiration.
No book, no article, no two-page document was ever written just because great ideas beamed from the sky into the writer’s head. It is a craft and it can be learnt if you know the techniques.
In the following sections, I will provide two made-up examples of CVs. One is experience-based and the other one is skills-based. I will analyse both of them, and make a list of elements of which a CV is made.
Later in this guide, I will write more about each of these elements, especially focussing on how to present your work experience and skills. The majority of the focus of this guide will be on skills-based CVs, but the advice I give also applies to experience-based CVs and you can use it later during your career.
Ms Jane Smith
Flat 1, 16 Anywhere Road, Anytown, AN1 5AB
E-mail Jane.Danie[email protected] Tel. 07123 456 789
Anycity University 2010 – 2014
BSc Marketing and Management, 2:1
Anytown Sixth Form College 2008 – 2010
A-levels: Mathematics (B); Business Studies (A); Spanish (B); Media Studies(A)
Events and Contracts Manager Feb 2016 – Present
Dandelion Hotel, Anytown
- Responsible for organising over 70 events annually, leading a team of 8 staff members;
- Responsible for marketing activities and presentations during events;
- increased the customer base by 15% since the start of 2017;
- Amplified my leadership, teamwork, planning and organisational skills.
Marketing Executive Aug 2014 – Jan 2016
ABC Media, Anycity
- Organised and delivered marketing presentations at over 120 events
- across the city; attracted eight high-profile clients (multinationals and government bodies) and over 90 clients in total;
- Actively liaise with stakeholders and prospective clients; enhanced my communication, negotiation and public speaking skills;
- Actively learnt on the job; gained valuable knowledge about the market side of media services;
Marketing and Events Assistant Jul 2012 – Aug 2013
Anycity University (work placement)
- Took an active role in the organisation of events around the academic year, especially the graduation and the Welcome Fortnight for new students;
- Managed the Fresher Buddy scheme (second-year students mentoring first years), involving 30 volunteer mentors;
- Received positive feedback from my supervisor on my proactive approach and excellent organisational skills.
- Proficient user of MS Office Applications (Advanced User certificates for PowerPoint and Excel);
- Experience in blogging and internet publishing; familiar with most major blogging platforms;
The example CV of this guide is experience-based. As you can see, this type of CV is only one page long (skills-based CVs can be two pages long) and the main focus is this person’s work experience.
I must say, however, that if you have more experience, it is perfectly fine to write an experience-based CV that is two pages long.
The experience-based CV is usually written by people with a significant amount of work experience in one field (in this case it is marketing). Jane Smith is probably looking for a new job in the field of marketing, given her experience.
On the other hand, skills-based CVs are written by people who either (a) do not have a lot of experience at all; (b) have had a number of different jobs in a range of fields or (c) simply want a career change after working in a certain field for some time.
Let us analyse Jane’s CV in detail. As I mentioned before, a lot of what I say about experience-based CVs applies to skills-based ones as well. I will go through the elements of Jane’s CV one by one, commenting on them.
The only thing that should appear in the first line of your CV is your name. Do not write the words Curriculum Vitae, CV or Résumé at the top of the document. Your employer knows that they are reading a CV and not a crime novel. Your name looks much better and more professional.
This is rather straightforward: your contact details should be right at the top. Besides your address, you should also include your email address (3) and phone number (4). If you are writing a two-page CV, then type your name and phone number into the footer. This way, the employer will be able to contact you even if the first page is lost.
Your email address should look professional. The best option is the following format: [email protected] or [email protected] Do not put ‘funny’ email addresses like [email protected] or [email protected] These look very unprofessional.
3. Phone number
Make sure that your phone number is current and if you happen to lose the number, update your CV immediately: write the new number and print several copies.
It is important to list your education in reverse chronological order – that is, the most recent education should be mentioned first.
You do not need to mention the month when you started or finished college or university. Everyone knows that the academic year starts in September/October and ends in June/July, so just write the years.
5. Work experience
Just like in the education section, the most recent job should be listed first. When writing about your work experience, it is important to emphasise your achievements. It is also important that these achievements are measurable: ideally, they should include some numbers, but there are many ways achievements can be measured. I will talk about this later in this guide as well.
Another thing you can mention when describing your work experience is which skills you developed in that job.
It is a good idea to add a Skills section to your experience-based CV. However, that section should not contain information about your “soft skills” like communication, teamwork or time management. Rather, you should include “hard skills”, such as languages, if you speak any, and IT and computing skills.
There are also a number of things you should not include in your CV – they are unnecessary and it is even unacceptable for employers to ask for some of this information. These are:
(a) Your nationality. This information is mostly irrelevant. Companies have different policies regarding recruitment (for example, in order to get a job in the field of national security you should be a national of the country). However, many multinational companies hire people from all over the world and the only thing that matters are their skills. Under the current European law, British companies can choose to hire a person from any country that is a member of the European Economic Area and they should not discriminate based on nationality.
(b) Your marital status. It is nobody’s business if you are married, are about to get married, are pregnant, are planning to have children or already have them. Your employer should not discriminate against you based on any of these.
(c) Your date of birth. It is illegal for a company not to employ somebody because they are ‘too young’ or ‘too old’ – this is age discrimination. The information about your date of birth is irrelevant.
(d) Your gender. It does not matter what your gender is. Your employer is not allowed to give a job to a man just because they think that men are better than women at doing a particular job. This is also a form of discrimination.
(e) Your picture. Unless you are applying for a job as a model or TV presenter and the employer requires applicants to submit photos, pictures are not usually included in a CV.
The next section contains a made-up example of a skills-based CV. The author of this CV, John Smith, is a fresh graduate who would like to apply for a job in marketing. However, he does not have any experience in marketing.
So, he has written a CV in which he emphasises his skills. Communication, teamwork and organisational skills are all vital for working in marketing.
Therefore, John has looked at his work experience and found examples of effective communication, successful teamwork and good organisation. Let’s look at the CV.
Mr John Smith
Flat 2, 8 Anywhere Road, Anytown, AN1 5AB
E-mail [email protected] Tel. 07987 654 321
Anycity University 2013 – 2017
BA English and Spanish, First Class Honours
A four-year course with an integrated study placement at the University of
Anytown Sixth Form College 2011 – 2013
A-levels: English (A); History (B); Spanish (A); Media Studies (A)
Communication and Marketing Skills
- Planned and organised three successful charity bake sales with the Amnesty International Student Society; raised over £240 for the local Women’s Crisis Centre;
- Created a presentation about Student Learning Mentor services at the Anycity University Library; delivered the presentation to over 800 students and increased attendance at the mentoring service;
- Wrote over 30 10 articles for Anycity University’s Student Blog;
Teamwork and Organisational Skills
- Was appointed team leader for two group assignments (essay and presentation); successfully managed the workflow of the team, delivering excellent results – the mark for the entire team was over 70% for both assignments;
- Used to working both in a team and independently; amplified my skills of working independently and managing my time while working as a researcher at the English department of the University of Malaga;
- Excellent time management skills: successfully managed my studies while working part-time.
- MS Word – advanced; MS Excel – Intermediate; MS PowerPoint –Advanced;
- Outstanding internet research skills developed while working for the English department at the University of Malaga;
- Experience in blogging and internet publishing; familiar with most major blogging platforms;
Researcher 2015 – 2016
The University of Malaga, English Department
Journalist Aug 2014 – Jan 2016
Anycity University Student Blog (voluntary)
Student Learning Mentor 2014 – 2017
Waiter and Cashier 2013 – 2015
Café Amelia, Anycity
Just like with Jane Smith’s experience-based CV above, I will now provide an analysis of John Smith’s skills-based CV.
Just like Jane Smith, John is also applying for a job in marketing. However, unlike Jane, he does not have any direct experience in marketing. Even his degree is not relevant to the job: Jane has a degree in Marketing and Management and John studied English and Spanish.
However, he tried to extract as much as possible from his work experience and make his CV relevant to the marketing position that he is applying for. Let’s look at his CV in detail.
John’s CV is one page long in this guide because this is just an example. A real skills-based CV will be longer, more detailed, and contain more skills.
Skills-based CVs are usually two pages long because CVs are written in response to job descriptions and these job descriptions usually contain a long list of skills that the candidate should have. It takes two pages to list examples and evidence of all the skills required from the candidate.
The purpose of a skills-based CV is to show how the applicant has acquired and developed all these skills over the course of his/her professional experience. The first four elements of his CV are the same as Jane Smith’s. However, Education is a bit different.
As you can see, John has added a bit more information about his education: he mentioned the fact that he did a four-year course with an integrated study placement abroad. Why did he mention it? Why is it relevant?
Well, in the modern world it is important to have a global mindset and having international experience, knowing an additional language and working in multinational teams is always an advantage. If you have studied or worked abroad, it is definitely worth mentioning it on your CV.
The Skills section is the most important one in a CV. Even when you are writing an experience-based CV, you should highlight your skills: what skills you have developed while working in a particular position, what existing skills you have successfully applied in that job, etc.
In a skills-based CV, the skills are grouped into categories: John Smith tells the potential employer what skills he has and then gives examples and evidence of those skills.
Just like Jane Smith, John provides figures to make his evidence more specific and measurable. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that sentences in both CVs presented above are incomplete: the subject is missing. When describing their work experience and skills, both John and Jane begin their sentences with verbs and not with the pronoun I.
Since none of the jobs John has held is relevant to the marketing position he is applying for, the work experience section of his skills-based CV goes to the end. In a two-page CV, it can go on the second page. The most important part of the CV is the Skills section.
3. Work Experience
Please note that, unlike in Jane Smith’s experience-based CV, the Work Experience section in John’s skills-based CV only contains the years when he worked in these positions and not months. This is a little trick to make the work experience seem more impressive. For example, John probably worked as a researcher at the University of Malaga from October 2015 to June 2016.
However, when he only mentions the years and not the months, it appears that he stayed in this position for over a year or maybe almost two years.
I would also like to note that in experience-based CVs almost all the jobs are usually more or less in the same field. For example, if you look at the CV of Jane Smith, it becomes clear that she has worked mostly in the fields of marketing, promotions and events.
However, it can also happen that the jobs you have done over the course of your professional experience are not all in the same field. In this situation, these several lines that describe work responsibilities and achievements should make it relevant to the job you are applying for.
For example, if you are applying for a job that requires good presentation skills and you want to list your job as a salesperson, you can emphasise customer service, interpersonal and spoken communication skills, which are all related to giving presentations because a presenter must be friendly, positive and eloquent.
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