Seven Tips for to make sure your CV works for you

There is no right way to put your curriculum vitae together. There is definitely a wrong way though, and James Max has had some of the worst pass across his desk.

During my time working in investment banking, I interviewed and recruited some of the country’s brightest. The whole process always started with their CVs, and while you might have expected good candidates’ applications to be outstanding, there were some which were, well, pretty poor.

The golden rule for CV writing has got to be to make sure yours is always up to date. Work contracts are often short and people are regularly hired as team members for a specific project. Your CV is your calling card, wherever you work.

To get your CV right takes time, crafting and careful thought, and if you need to send one off at short notice, it is as well to ensure that what you are sending out there to a prospective employer is of the highest standard. It is the first thing people will see of you. So prepare it when you are not under time pressure.

What makes a good CV? Indeed, what makes a bad one? To an extent, it is dictated by the company or job you are applying for. These guidelines can help you get your CV right. Like anything else, you must sell yourself and your skills.

1) Layout: Your CV should fit on no more than two pieces of A4. The shorter the better. If you are going for your first job, then one page is best. If you have had a few jobs that are relevant, then you may need to extend it.

2) Photograph: If you are going to stick a manky photo from a booth, do not bother. I do think a good photograph helps. Make sure it is appropriate and spend the money to have it done professionally. It should be a head and maybe a bit of shoulder shot. It should not do anything other than present you. Do not ask the photograph to present you in any other way than is appropriate for the job you are going for. It should merely act as an aide memoir for the interviewer and nothing else.

3) Headings: A CV should have all your personal and contact details at the top. Lay it out clearly, so people know how to get hold of you. Have a postal address, telephone numbers, e-mail and so on. If you do not want e-mails going to you at work, then make sure you have a personal account set up. Be very careful. Firms often monitor mail coming in and going out from their servers, so conduct any negotiations away from work and out of work time.

4) Work Experience: List the companies where you have worked, the year you joined, and the year you left. Put the most recent job first. You should put your title, a brief description of what you do/did, and your level of responsibility. If it does not breach any confidentiality, then mention notable transactions. These comments should be informative and brief. If someone wants to ask you what you did, then be prepared to talk about it.

See your CV as a taster of what is to come. It does not have to be encyclopaedic. Similarly, if you do not write it – how will anyone know your capabilities?

5) Key Skills: This section identifies, in generic terms, your abilities. This section augments the Work Experience section. It may be that you are “creative” or “hard-working” or that you are “lively” or “entrepreneurial”.

Whatever words you use, be prepared to back them up in an interview with stories or anecdotes. To help you choose words that best describe your strengths, ask people you work with to describe you in five words.

6) Other Notable Information: If you run marathons, won the local horticultural society competition for your prize winning dahlias, play in a local orchestra, won a photography prize – all these things define you as a person. Whatever it is – this is where you start to differentiate yourself from your competitors. If you have nothing to put in this section, you are in trouble. You need to get out more.

7) Interests and Hobbies: The final section is one of the most important. Again, like the section above it defines you. This is an essential place for you to make a statement about yourself.

A few last tips. Use the spell checker. Do not use loads of different fonts or colours.

Use bullet points. Above all else, use integrity. Do not lie on your CV.