Published: 17 Oct 2017

Campbell Urquhart describes how to write a quality curriculum vitae (CV) and reveals the most common mistakes he has seen in job applications.

Over the past 30 or so years, I have read a lot of CVs. And by a lot, I mean more than 20,000.

Having looked at almost every shape and size of CV (yes, I have even received a 3D one!) I have picked up some best practice knowledge along the way and know what helps a CV stand out from the crowd.

So, here’s a couple of key tips for writing a CV that grabs the reader’s attention.

Personal summary

In my opinion, you should always start your CV with a strong personal summary that encapsulates what you can offer.

Something like this: “BSc qualified, quality manager with over 20 years’ experience. Worked both on and offshore and in the North Sea, Middle East and Far East. Expert knowledge of quality management processes and procedures, including ISO 9001. Natural leader, adept problem solver with excellent people management and communication skills.” (Please note, this is a condensed version. You should flesh your one out more.)

The purpose of the summary is a bit like the News at Ten headlines: it gives the reader a quick summary of everything you can offer – skills, qualifications, knowledge, personality, sector expertise etc. It can also reduce the risk of a CV being put in the ‘maybe’ or ‘no’ pile, when being looked at by a busy hiring manager.

The number one golden rule – CUSTOMISE YOUR PROFILE FOR EVERY SINGLE APPLICATION!

Why?

Every company/vacancy is different and if you want to sell yourself as the perfect candidate, you need to mirror exactly what they are looking for. A very well written generic profile may fit some of their key criteria, but if half a dozen other candidates look like they may be a better fit, chances are they will be called to interview ahead of you – even if you are a better candidate overall.

First impressions count, so make your opening paragraph as strong and role-specific as it can be.

The ultimate aim here is to have someone read your profile and think you are exactly what they need and to get them excited about wanting to read further. As a recruiter, other than a successful placement, nothing beats the feeling of a perfect CV landing on your desk.

Achievements

I read too many CVs (and again, I mean way too many!) where the main content consists of a dull cut and paste from every job description the candidate has had. The problem with this is it tells the reader what the applicant did, but misses the single most important part – how well they did it. I call this the difference between telling and selling.

To sell yourself as the perfect candidate, you should talk about how well you have performed in your role by selling your key achievements.

So, a dull, generic ‘job description type’ sentence like this:“Responsible for managing projects, team and budgets.”  Can progress into something like this: “Lead a multidisciplinary team of technicians on the ABC project. Delivered the project ahead of schedule and below budget, through effective project management.”

Try to tailor your achievements to mirror the requirements of the role. Clearly the very best candidate would have amazing achievements that are directly in line with what the prospective employer is looking for with the actual role. You hopefully get the gist.

But we are not quite there yet on perfecting our achievement statement.

The key to a good achievement statement is the CAR formula:

  • Challenge: Briefly explain the issue/problem faced. What was the challenge?
  • Action: What was your involvement? What did you do?
  • Result: What was the impact/quantifiable result of your actions?

If you then add statements regarding quantity/scale/size/value etc, it ends up sounding much better.

So, your final achievement statement should read something like this: “Due to an unexpected staff resignation, promoted internally to lead a multidisciplinary team of 30 technicians on the £1.4m ABC project. Delivered the project two weeks ahead of schedule and 5 per cent below budget, delivering a £700k cost saving, through effective project management.”

As a quick recap:

  • In your opening statement, reflect exactly what the hiring company are looking for in the role – make sure you sound like the perfect candidate for each and every role by customising your profile to suit.
  • Use your achievements to to sell yourself as the ideal candidate. Talk about the amazing work you delivered and the impact you have made. Don’t just tell them what was in your job description.

Campbell Urquhart is managing director for White Cube Consulting Ltd, specialised in HR solutions.