Tips and tools to make your CV more appealing and engaging
The goal of a résumé, or Curriculum Vitae as it is known on the continent, is to provide a summary of your career, education, and skillset. Résumés are usually written with a specific job or career direction in mind.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression ~ Will Rogers
Writing a resume is harder than it usually sounds. Having a good résumé greatly increases your changes of making a good first impression.
In order to help you write a CV that pops out, I have collected a set of tips and tricks that I will go over in some detail.
These advises are collected from conversations with HR professionals, and my own experiences as both an applicant and hiring board member.
Without further ado, let's take a look at what makes a good résumé.
Make it look nice
Imagine being a recruiter for a company, looking over dozens of CVs each day. All of these applicants have things to offer the company, and the first-line recruiter is responsible for creating a short list of people that are most suited to be called in for a follow-up interview. If your CV looks nice, you have a greater chance to stand out and be remembered. It also shows that you have put in the effort to present yourself in an appealing way.
All too many recruiters are bored of the fixed form, black text on a white background, style of résumés that find end up on their desks. Recruiters are people too, and as such, they are more likely to engage with visually pleasing content (see this article by Larry Kim for more information on the topic).
As a additional caveat: Use a spell checker! Nothing ruins a good résumé as fast as clumsy sentences full of grammatical or spelling errors. It comes across as sloppy work, which is not an characteristic you want to be associated with.
Step away from simple word documents, and look for a modern, elegant CV template. For inspiration, take a look at my own free-use CV template over on github.
Keep it brief and relevant
Make sure you have something left to talk about
Your résumé should not include all details of your professional career. Stick to the highlight reel. As important as a first impression is, it is equally important to be able to follow it up with a confirming second impression. This means that you have to give yourself a chance to demonstrate that the skills and values you highlight in your CV are truthful. You can most easily do this by not overloading your résumé and give yourself some topics to talk about during your first interview.
As for the content of your CV: avoid using long-form text in your presentation. The experience section of résumé ideally includes a description of your tasks and responsibilities, but avoid writing these out in free flowing text. Rather, use a bullet list to describe these. Aim to make the entries on your CV relevant, and accurate. There is little point in listing the details of a summer internship you did over ten years ago. Page space is a valuable resource, and you should treat it as such. Most people have heard that the ideal length of a CV is one to two pages. This is true. It is also imperative to treat the first page of your CV as your billboard. Make sure it catches the eye and contains notions of the relevant information you wish to share to your prospective employer or customer. You are free to add some additional pages to give additional background.
As an example: my CV consists of two pages. The first page contains my personal information, career track, and relevant education. The second page contains a list of technical and people skills. While this second page is not a must, a lot of recruiters appreciate it, as it makes their match making easier.
Sort your experiences from new to old
Write your experience section in reversed chronological order. This means starting with your most recent experience, and working your way backwards towards the start of your career. In general, the entries become less detailed the older they are. You can even combine some experiences to save vertical space on your CV.
Do note that the amount of experiences you have influences this highly. Someone just starting out their career is advised to go into more detail than someone who has a career spanning multiple years or even decades.
Do I add a picture?
In general, adding a picture to your résumé is a good idea. It helps your interviewer to put a name and a face together. It also helps them find your CV when you enter their office. Just make sure that the picture you use is suited for a professional environment. Wear work-appropriate clothes, and take the picture against a neutral background. This background can be anything from an office setting, a colored wall, or some plants. Just make sure it is neutral in nature. Vacation pictures, or snaps taken during leisure activities usually are not the way to go.
Do note that the inclusion of a picture on your CV is highly dependent on the company culture and regional customs. I know of certain companies that ask to send in résumés without pictures, or location information. If you are unsure, check with people that work in the sector or company you are applying to.
Use active tenses and quantifications
Avoid writing vague and passive sentences. "I led a project of 5 people over the course of 14 months" sounds better than "I was given the lead over some people for about a year". Try and be as precise as possible, and include numerical data wherever possible. Do you know how much money you were able to save for your employer? Do you know how many people made use of your service? Aim to provide references to outside sources validating your claim (either through linkable text, or have them handy for follow-up interviews).
Above all: do not lie! Boosting your figures or inventing them is not a good tactic. It might give you an "in" sometimes, but if you can not back up your claims you will come across as untrustworthy.
Update your résumé regularly
Most people wait until they are looking for a job to actualize their CV. It is wise to revisit it every couple of months. This keeps it up to date, and allows you to put emphasis on certain topics or responsibilities that are more relevant to the direction your career is going. It is advisable to have an up-to-date version of your résumé readily available. Especially if you are a contractor or freelancer. You never know when you will find a great opportunity or contact on your path.
Try and cut down on some of the skills or technologies you have not been using frequently. A common mistake is people that still include topics or technologies they came in contact with during their education, even though they have acquired multiple years of real life experience by now. Trim the fat!
Armed with these tips, the next thing to prepare for is how to conduct yourself during job interviews. The preparation you have done writing your CV will give you a big leg up during the interview process. Your strengths and development points should be well known to you, and you should have a good idea of what your interviewer is looking for. Let's hope it goes better than the famous job interview sketch by Monthy Python.