A CV has one purpose and one purpose only – to sell you, the job seeker. This is your sales tool; designed to demonstrate to a potential employer that you would be the ideal candidate for the job. It is your professional identity on paper. Considering the importance of getting it right, the wide and not always wonderful selection of CVs that crosses the desks of the Alexander Lloyd specialist Pensions and Benefits division on a daily basis is remarkable. Make sure your CV is the best it can be by starting with the basics:
A CV has a fairly standard layout that incorporates small variations, but the core is a clear and concise structure including, personal details, personal profile, qualifications, professional experience and achievements and general skills.
Keep this simple. You need your name, address and contact details. Make sure these details are up to date and regularly checked. If you have one, add your LinkedIn profile address to this section. It is not advisable to include any equal opportunities information such as your date of birth, marital status or nationality.
This is your first chance to make an impression on a potential employer, to make yourself stand out from the crowd and grab their attention. This is not your life story. You are looking to include succinct details about your key skills, experience, achievements and strengths.
“A highly skilled PMI qualified Pensions Manager with over ten years experience gained within both an in-house and consultancy environment, managing administration teams varying from 5 to 20 members. Well-developed inter-personal and man management skills have contributed to success in implementing new processes that resulted in improved efficiencies and service levels.”
Employers will also want to know whether you are degree educated and if so, the degree title, class and which you university you attended.
A level qualifications are useful to list, along with the grades achieved, however GCSE’s or equivalent secondary qualifications are not necessary. If you do wish to include them, we would suggest they are not listed individually but the total number and grades as in A-C. It can be helpful to stipulate English and Maths if you are early on in your career.
If you are actively studying towards a qualification, please ensure you include this with the month you are due to complete your studies.
If you have additional qualifications from industries other than the one you’re applying to, such as Prince2 for example, make sure you include them as long as they are relevant to the role that you are applying for.
Memberships which have required study etc, are much more significant than those that are simply gained by paying a membership fee. Continuous learning and development are important so show your commitment.
Professional experience & achievements
Working backwards in time from your most recent role, use a bullet point format to lay out your experience. Each role must start with your job title, company name and the dates (including month and year) in which you worked for the company. It is a good idea to add in a synopsis of the company particularly if it is an SME, but limit this to a single line, you are selling yourself not your company.
If you have worked for one company for a number of years and progressed in a number of roles during this time, then it is essential that you detail the company and your entire length of service at the start. Then list each separate role and its responsibilities, including the timescale spent in each role in brackets next to the job title. Do not include the company name each time, as at first glance this may appear that you have moved jobs too frequently when what you actually have done is shown good progression.
Dealing with career gaps
If you do have career gaps, detail what you were doing during this time; were you on a gap year, maternity leave or raising a family? If you’ve been unemployed, make it clear you have been proactively seeking new roles – if you’ve been made redundant, make that clear too.
If you have been doing work experience, contract or interim work, make sure you include this along with the job title to make it very visible these were short-term roles and you don’t hop from job to job.
In each role keep the format simple: list your responsibilities under one heading and achievements under another. When describing your responsibilities, do not use first person narrative:
- “I managed a team of administrators in the Group Risk Department.”
- “I provided training and support to team members.”
This can lead to the description becoming rather long-winded. Instead use the third person narrative and be specific:
- “Responsible for the provision of training and day to day management of a team of six administrators in the Group Risk Department.”
It is useful to look at your role from the perspective of a job specification and approach the description in this manner, not scrimping on the use of industry terminology and ‘buzz words’.
If your career is more sales focused, or the more senior the roles you occupy, the more important achievements become. In this instance, include a section underneath your responsibilities detailing your achievements in the role. Employers want to see where you have made an impact in a business, implemented or improved processes and generally exceeded expectations. However, a word of caution when considering your achievements: ensure they are relevant to the role that you are applying for and can be substantiated.
Computer skills are important for a prospective employer and they will want to know what relevant and well-known in-house packages you are familiar with, and your level of competency. If you are a super user for any of the packages, then make sure you detail this.
Of the Windows packages, Excel and Word (and Powerpoint if you are in a sales environment) are the most important. Employers do not need to know that you can use Outlook or Internet Explorer. If you also have Access, Visual Basic or SQL skills, then make sure you add these in.
Hobbies & general skills
The inclusion of a hobbies and interests section can be a very contentious topic. Many recruitment consultancies will recommend they are omitted, along with equal opportunities information. Including them can risk alienating a potential employer and may cast a bad light on your application. Those areas deemed lower risk are activities that are team orientated or altruistic such as charity work (as long as the information is accurate), but if in doubt either speak with your recruitment consultant or leave them out.
How long is too long?
Many people will argue that a CV shouldn’t be more than two pages long. For recent graduates this is a good rule of thumb: however more experienced candidates shouldn’t be too concerned with extending the length to three or even four pages if necessary. We strongly advise against falling into the trap of putting detail against your most recent role and simply listing dates and job titles for the rest. As a minimum, ensure you have detailed information against your previous three to five roles, depending on your circumstances.
To avoid repetition, if you have had a number of similar roles, we recommend you list fewer but different areas of responsibility for each role stipulating the schemes you have worked on and the sizes of teams you may have managed.
Do not copy and paste either from your job description, as this is very obvious, or previous roles as you need to demonstrate differences and preferably progression.
Importantly, don’t forget; for experienced candidates, employers are not interested in your weekend job for Marks and Spencer when you were in your teens, only roles that demonstrate up to fifteen years of experience. If you are at the start of your career however your previous roles are important. If you have supported yourself through university for example, include this but ensure it is very clear that this was the case.
In this market, a one-size fits all approach is not appropriate. This doesn’t mean however that you have to rewrite a CV for every new application, nor does it mean that the information provided is less accurate. Rather it is designed to focus on specific skill sets that are relevant to the role for which you are applying.
Have two or three CVs that are tailored specifically for the areas that you want to pursue, highlighting the relevant skills. Any good consultant will keep these on file and use the appropriate one for the role that they are submitting you for.
The key things to keep in mind are firstly relevance; place yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager – what would you want to see from an applicant? Secondly, if you feel that additional help is required, a good recruitment consultant will give you an opinion and tips for improvement. Lastly, proof, proof, proof! Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can have a hugely negative impact; so ask someone to cast a fresh pair of eyes over the finished product to see if they can pick out any errors. This is your professional identity; as such it should sell your skills and experience to the full.