The S.M.A.R.T CV (Curriculum Vitae) to Get a Job

Before we start dealing with the specifics, I would like to describe a general principle of writing CVs, covering letters and application forms, which is called a SMART approach. SMART is an acronym that is widely used in self-help literature. In this book the meaning of the acronym SMART is:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Achievement-oriented
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Traceable (and Truthful)

Let’s briefly analyse all of them one by one.

S – Specific

Being specific means providing details instead of talking in general terms. In order for your CV to be as convincing as possible, you have to give the details about your achievements and responsibilities at work, answering these questions:

What? When? Where? How much? Who? When describing your education, skills, accomplishments and work experience, please give the details: dates, places, projects, numbers, etc.

Let me give you an example. If you simply write that you have great teamwork skills, your employer might wonder if you really do have them. However, if you provide evidence for this, it looks much more impressive and convincing.

Let us look at how John Smith describes his teamwork skills in his skills-based CV (refer to Module 1: Two Basic Types of CVs and Why You Need One).

Planned and organised three successful charity bake sales with the Amnesty International Student Society; raised over £240 for the local Women’s Crisis Centre;

  • 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;

As you can see, he is very specific: he mentions what kind of teams he was working with, what they were doing and what the result of the successful teamwork was (£240 raised and marks over 70%).

You also need to be specific when you mention your work experience. When you write a skills-based CV, you only need to write the job title, the dates and the organisation. When you write an experience-based CV, it is important to list your responsibilities and achievements. Let us look at the example below.

Secretary/Events Officer

Anycity University Volleyball society 2012-2013

Organising official and social events, tournaments. Organised ten inter-university competitions.

Managing a Facebook community page. Increased the society’s social media exposure by uploading videos and photos from training sessions and tournaments;

The person who wrote this focuses on specific achievements: organised ten competitions; increased the society’s social media exposure.

M – Measurable

This is all about the facts and figures. Your results and achievements should be measurable. Let’s look at the examples:

Managed student teams for three university assignments with close deadlines. The teams received first-class marks for 2 assignments out of 3.

Organised an inter-university conference on green technology, involving 10 speakers from 3 universities.

As you can see from the above, achievements are measured and illustrated with figures. This is what you should do, too.

A – Achievement-oriented

This is perfectly straightforward. Spend as little time as possible describing your duties and day-to-day activities, and focus on your achievements instead.

And by the way, do not call them duties – they are called responsibilities! Even in an experience-based CV, the majority of your job description in the work experience section will be about your achievements. 

When you start writing your CV, do not think about the length, about one or two pages – write as many pages as you can, as much as you can about every job and position of responsibility you have held. Write what skills you have developed, what projects you have accomplished and what rewards you got for it. Provide figures and facts – it will help you impress your prospective employer. 

Next, look at the job description and person specification again and edit your CV so that only the most relevant information remains. However, before you edit, you should have as much information about your professional path as possible. I cannot emphasise it more:

WRITE DOWN EVERY SINGLE ACHIEVEMENT, NO MATTER HOW SMALL!

You will use all that information later – when preparing for interviews, when writing another CV, when filling in application forms, etc. And then, when you edit your CV, make all your achievements look big and important. 

Because there are no small achievements. They are all yours. And they are all important. They all make you what you are and contribute to your professional and personal development. They make you better – every single one of them.

Let me give you an example. Imagine that you are writing a skills-based CV for an internship, a work placement or a graduate position, and you want to describe your job in a fast-food restaurant in that CV. 

You could say that all you did was serve food and make money, but that does not say much about you to your potential employer. However, let us see how your experience in the restaurant can be turned into achievements:

  • Boosted my teamwork and self-motivation skills while working in a fast-paced environment (a fast food restaurant);
  • Developed excellent customer service skills: served over 200 customers per day; received positive feedback on my service from my supervisors;
  • Successfully applied my numerical skills while working on the till; was responsible for cash handling and depositing the revenue for the day into the safe;

See what I’ve done here? Everything you do can lead to the development of skills and to achievements. What matters is how you present your experience.

R – Relevant

I will repeat this several times throughout this book. Your CV must be relevant. It must correspond to the job for which you’re applying. You would not write about your skills in photography if you are applying for a job as an investment banker, would you? 

However, being skilled in photography is beneficial if you are applying to work as a designer or a marketing professional (photographs can be used to produce marketing collateral).

It’s very simple – look at the keywords in the job advertisement and the job description and make your CV reflect those keywords. Make sure that your CV contains information about the experience and skills that they want the candidates to have. If you are applying speculatively (i.e. sending the same CV to 100 companies for the same position in case they have a vacancy), then read what the position normally entails and what skills you need for it. 

One of the best sites to find this kind of information (what qualifications and skills you need to do a particular job) is www.prospects.ac.uk.

T – Traceable (and Truthful)

This means only one thing: do not invent stuff. Do not lie. I would like to make myself clear: if you take a small achievement and make it look important, that is not lying. That is presenting a true event, a true achievement and using powerful words while doing it. Lying is writing about achievements that do not exist.

Just write what you have done. Even if it is not very easy to check whether a company/student society exists, the employer might ask you additional questions about that non-existent experience during the interview. 

Do you really want your employer to see how you are sweating and how your eyes are darting from one side to another as you are trying to invent a story on the spot? Quite honestly, it’s not worth it. It won’t be fun if you’re found out. In short, if you lie – prepare to say goodbye.

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