CV Tip #3 – A good CV is more than a list

A new client recently sent me her CV for review to see how I could help her tailor it to a role she is interested in applying for.

Her CV was five pages of densely packed, tiny text, listing what appeared to be everything she had ever done. It was the longest CV I had seen since I helped an academic trim theirs from a mighty 17 pages to four. (Yes, the CV rule is two pages, but this one included a lengthy list of lectures and publications).

Like the academic, my new client had made a detailed list of what she had done and then added new jobs to the same CV in the same format, building up the pages (and detail) over time.

But, good CVs are not repositories of dates and facts, lists of everything you’ve done and do. Good CVs are marketing tools, a way to promote your skills, knowledge and experience and show a new employer what you have to offer them.

Include what you have done but balance it with what you can do.

So, how do I begin revising a lengthy CV with a client? Picture yourself in their place and this is how it goes:

We talk about the new role and what’s prompting you to apply. Then we talk about what you’ve achieved that is relevant to the new role. Achieved, not just done.

That helps build up a profile and a section on relevant skills and experience. It also sets the tone for what the rest of the CV should contain.

We cut, cut and cut again. As I’ve said in other posts, be selective and be brutal with your CV. For example:

  • Remove or condense the day-to-day tasks in your role to make space for details of the positive impact you’ve had
  • If you have over 10 years’ work experience, condense your early career and junior roles into a single section: e.g. ‘1996-2006   Roles in retail, business administration and transport logistics’
  • If you hold a degree or higher education qualification, remove your O-levels, GCSEs and A-levels

3 We identify what is relevant. The recruiter is going to read a lot of CVs so we make yours stand out by being clear, concise and relevant to the role.

And remember, they know their industry so you don’t need to spell out every detail or daily activity for them.

  • Put the most relevant activities at the top of any list and add them to your profile and/or Skills & Experience section
  • Focus only on the skills and experience that are relevant to the role you are applying for
  • Exclude or condense other aspects of your career history
  • Information about previous roles should be far shorter than your current role
  • Take out irrelevant information. For example, don’t say you hold a driver’s license unless driving is part of your job

4 We allocate space. Allocating space on your CV can help you think about what needs to go, stay or be condensed. As a general guide:

  • The profile, skills and experience section and your current role should take up most of the first page
  • That means you have less than a page for previous roles
  • A professional development or professional qualification section would be next
  • Education is at the end of page 2

That’s it. You don’t need any more sections.

The recruiter knows that ‘References are available on request’ and doesn’t need to know if you love dogs or mountain biking at the weekend. You can tell them about that when you get the interview (and only then if it’s relevant)!

Some CVs will be more than two pages because certain professions or specialisms demand it. But, following the two-page rule and the steps above are a great way to get your CV trimmed down and turned into a highly effective marketing tool to get you the job you want.

So, if you have a CV that’s more than two pages or bogged down in detail and you’d like some help to move forward in your career, then get in touch.


Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

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