It’s been roughly 3 years since I was last interviewing people for jobs and as usual, when enough time passes you tend to only remember the good stuff. In this case, it is the pleasure of sitting down with somebody and getting to know them. What I’d forgotten was the drudgery of slogging through a whole bunch of atrocious, horrendous and appalling resumés.
Seriously people. Get your act together if you want a job.
Given that little blip on the radar we affectionately call ‘recession’, I would honestly have thought many more people would have paid attention to their CVs in an effort to try and make them stand out from the crowd… or at the very least, not stand out negatively. But frankly I am shocked at the drivel I’ve been going through. Out of circa 30 CVs I’ve read:
- Only 1 was a PDF
- Only 2 were ‘designed’ (and this is for a “Web UI” role incidentally)
- Only 3 included a link to personal websites, LinkedIn profiles or similar (see parentheses above for emphasis)
- Only 5 include a covering letter
- About 20 actually looked horrible: inconsistent formatting, terrible choice of fonts and no clear delineation of sections
- A fair number were over 3 pages long; one was a shocking 8 pages!
- And for a bonus point, quite a few of those submitted by agencies were rendered worse for being so by the introduction of spelling mistakes, awful logos and further trampling over the original CVs’ layouts
So here are, in no particular order, my top ten tips for writing a great CV and getting the job. There’s a sample Word template at the end, or you can just download it now.
- 3 Pages. 3 Pages. 3 Pages.
The better you are, and the bigger your achievements, the shorter your CV should be. Steve Jobs’s CV need not have much detail: “Apple Inc, Founder and Pixar Studios, Founder” suffice. You’re unlikely to have such a short CV if you’re applying for a graduate web developer role but it’s good to aim high. My recommendation: Stick strictly to a max of 3 pages in length including a cover page. (If you think it “must” be longer, you’re wrong.)
- Write a Covering Letter
It’s not only polite, it’s your chance to summarize your skills and personality in a compelling and personal way. Let’s face it, however well written and designed CVs have a hard time being interesting because at heart they’re a list of dates, numbers and titles. In your covering letter however you have the opportunity to direct the recruiters’ attention to what you feel is most outstanding about yourself in a more personal fashion. My recommendation: Do not exceed 2 pages and if its longer than 2 paragraphs split it up into sections with bold headings. Finally, sign it at the end. (If you’re not sending it by post, scan your signature and add it in… it’s 2010 you know.)
- Include References
Your referees say something about you. If you think that listing the name and position of a referee is going to work against you, then you should probably pick a different one. It is OK to say “These are my references, please don’t contact them without letting me know first” but the practically standard “Excellent references on request” is quite frankly irritating. If they’re excellent, then their job title and relationship to you should be excellent and hiding that simply says that you’re not really sure of that. My recommendation: Write down a list of 3 referees including their name, their position and their relationship to you (e.g.: “Academic supervisor” or “Former employer” or “Character reference”).
- Design It
I don’t expect regular CVs to look like designers’ portfolios (although I do expect designers’ portfolios to look like a designer’s portfolio) but I do expect them to look like they haven’t just been knocked up by those proverbial monkeys. My recommendation: get a designer friend to go over it for you. Failing that, try to be consistent in how you lay out your information, make titles bold and leave adequate space in between sections, avoid bullet points and DON’T use font sizes larger than 14pt.
- I Don’t Really Want to Read Essays
The covering letter (see point 2) is where you can write your wonderful prose. In your CV try and stick to the facts. State your job title and short list of responsibilities or your degree and short list of subjects.
- Be Relevant
One way of being concise is to be relevant. If you have a Ph.D., do I really need to know your academic history all the way down to your GCSEs? If you’re applying for, say, a web developer role, give priority to your relevant skills and simply mention in a line anything that’s not relevant. If you were a waiter in a pub in the summer of 2006 and feel you need to state that, just say it and lay off the “I learnt so much about teamwork and tight deadlines” hogwash.
- PDF It!
Do yourself a favour and send your CV and covering letter as PDF documents. First of all, it looks way more professional and you’re guaranteed that it will look as close as possible to how you intended it to look. Secondly, if you’re applying via an agency you’ll force them to send on your documents as is without them accidentally or otherwise changing stuff in it.
- Don’t say you’re a team player and that you love challenges
Literally every CV states somewhere or other that the applicant is a “team player”, that he or she “loves new challenges”, that they work excellently “in a team or on their own initiative” and lots of other similar snippets. It is far far better to be specific and give me examples of what teams you worked in or led, what challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them and when and why you’ve had to work on your own initiative. Failing real life examples, just let it go.
- Include a Link
While this applies to everybody, it applies more specifically to people applying for software or design positions. Please include a link somewhere on your CV or covering letter to your personal (but professional) website, portfolio or LinkedIn profile or something similar. If you do include such links also take the time to make sure that a) the site you send along is relevant and populated with content and b) that the content matches up with what you say in your CV.
- Use This Template
Finally, use this Word document as a template. I’m sure there are better ones and different ways of doing it, but this is surely better than most.
Good luck and hope you get the job!
As with any topic there’s always more to read and find out. I would say that when it comes to CV writing there’s enough advice out there for free on the web but if you’re one of those people who prefer a book, here are some recommendations:
- You’re Hired! CV: How to write a brilliant CV
- The CV Book: Your Definitive Guide to Writing the Perfect CV
- How to Write an Impressive CV and Cover Letter: A Comprehensive Guide for the UK Job Seeker
Update: as @kvella pointed out, also don’t forget to proof-read… both your CV and my template!
Update 2: Read this FAQ for getting a graduate position in UX and design.