There are various ways to write a CV, so if you’re looking for instructions on how to write your CV precisely- then keep looking. While this article can’t tell you exactly how your CV should look, it can provide you with some helpful tips and downfalls to avoid.
Let’s get two things out of the way from the beginning:
- Unless your potential employer is the 13 year old kid who runs the local lemonade stand, calling it a ‘Curriculum Vitae’ won’t impress anyone.
- There is no set structure or format when it comes to CV’s – this can be determined by the job you’re applying for, the requests of the employer, and your own style. However, there are some ‘golden rules’ which all job seekers are encouraged to follow.
Put yourself into an employer’s shoes. You’re sitting at your desk after a long day of hard work. Usually you would be home right now watching the latest Game of Thrones episode, but tonight you have to stay after working hours because there’s a pile of CV’s on your desk that you have to read. You want to read each one thoroughly, but you’re tired and there’s going to be load shedding in 20 minutes anyway. Besides, you’re pretty sure that if you get the angle right, you’ll easily get it into the bin without having to get up.
Now you might be thinking that this is a dramatic setting for how your CV will be received, but since research shows that CV’s are commonly read after working hours, selectors on average receive 60 for non-skilled jobs and 20 for skilled jobs, and load shedding is all too common, it’s definitely not impossible. Add this to the other applicants that very well may be more qualified than you, and you’ve got quite a task ahead of you.
At this point you might be asking yourself a rush of questions about how to adequately present your CV. Before you succumb to panic, let’s answer some of those questions.
What is a CV anyway?
A ‘Curriculum Vitae’ is Latin for ‘course of life’ and is a summary of your experience, skills, and education. You may be familiar with the USA and Canada version, which often appears on television, called a résumé.
What should be in my CV?
Your CV can cover a range of categories that will be shaped by the employer’s specific requests, the job position itself, and your own emphasis. However, there are some things that should be included in addition to what the employer asks for.
- Full name
- Physical address
- Contact number
- Helpful Tip: Your ID number, gender, and date of birth, should only be included when specifically asked and always with caution as this information can lead to identity theft.
- Employers are looking for your most recent activity, so begin this list with the last education you received.
- Include the dates you received this education. For example:
- EduConnect High School (2010-2015)
- EduConnect University (2015-)
- It is also beneficial to include awards and leadership positions if you have the space.
- Helpful Tip: As you gain more work experience, your educational history will become less important.
- Volunteer work
- Part-time jobs
- Previous and current employment
- Even waitressing or coaching can be beneficial, as these positions show you can work under pressure and communicate effectively within a team.
- Helpful Fact: A study in 2010 found that 45% of employers consider this the most vital part of a CV.
- Do not throw in whatever random skills you can think of. List skills that relate to the job position.
- Skills that suggest an ability to work in a team or manage people are good to include.
- List any languages you have and include the degree of fluency in each. For example:
- Basic Zulu
- Good conversational Afrikaans
- If you have a driving license, say so in this section.
- Fun Fact: A 2012 study asked what would make employers immediately reject an application, the fourth most common answer was CV’s that don’t have a list of skills.
Interests and Hobbies
- Keep this section short
- Don’t mention hobbies that suggest you prefer to be alone (such as reading or watching TV)
- Include hobbies that cover a range of interests, are unordinary, relate to the job, and display signs of leadership
- Helpful Tip: When your CV starts getting too long, this should be the first section to cut.
How long does my CV need to be?
In an ideal world, your CV should be no more than one A4 page. However, it is perfectly acceptable to have a two page CV. In this case, it should be two sides of an A4 paper, rather than two separate pieces of paper. Under no circumstances should your CV be more than two pages – it’s a summary, not a detailed layout of your life.
What is a cover letter and do I need one?
A cover letter can be used to add more weight to your CV and give you the opportunity to personalise your application. A well-written cover letter can set you apart from other equally-qualified applicants. While most employers will ask you to answer or mention certain points in your cover letter, you should always say what job you are applying for and when you would be available from. Mention why you are attracted to this position and what you can offer this position as well as the company. It can also be helpful to make yourself available for one-on-one interviews and provide context to any part of the CV that may require you to do so. The cover letter should be roughly 5 paragraphs in length.
Is it better to show modesty or confidence?
Modesty is never a bad thing, but ultimately employers are looking for self-confidence rather than a humble heart.
Do I need to include references?
No. Unless otherwise stated by the employer, most selectors don’t require references during the application stage. This is usually only asked for once your CV has hopefully secured you an interview. If you do need to provide references, two should be enough – usually one being academic and the other a past employer. But again, in most cases, simply saying “references available on request” is more than enough for your CV.
What format should my CV be in?
Depending on the freedom given to you by the employer, job hunters can submit their CV in a variety of forms. There have been stories of CV’s in brochure format, designed as a Rubik’s Cube and printed onto a mug. However, these are risky decisions applicants have taken and happy endings are not guaranteed. Online CV’s have become creative ways of structuring a CV in the technological age, but it is recommended that this be presented as a URL at the end of a traditional CV, rather than relying on the online CV entirely. Ultimately, using a white A4 piece of paper is the best way to go as employers often don’t have time to search online or decode Rubik’s Cubes.
Hopefully some of your burning questions have been adequately answered, but there’s still more you should know. Here are the do’s and don’ts of CV writing:
- Double, triple, or even quadruple check your spelling and grammar. Findings from the same 2012 study, mentioned earlier, found that 61% of employers would immediately dismiss an application due to a spelling or grammar error in the candidate’s CV.
- Always place more impressive skills and achievements at the top of your CV to hook the employer from the outset. Start with your most impressive skill or grade and work your way down.
- Ensure that your CV is neat and easy to read. The use of bullet points can help present lists and the use of font style Lucida Sans or Verdana in size 10 are commonly recommended by career services.
- Have an unprofessional email address. One study found that 76% of CV’s with unprofessional email addresses are rejected. So cut ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ loose now, before it’s too late.
- Use decorative or colourful paper. The standard white piece of paper can go a long way, especially when 20% of employers discard CV’s on decorative paper before they even read it. Rather rely on your skills and work experience to get your CV to stand out.
- Use a photo. Unless applying for an acting or modelling shoot, photos are not to be included. In some European countries photos are expected to be in an applicant’s CV, but not in South Africa.
- Include your home address on online CV’s as this can lead you to being targeted by fraudsters.
- Copy wording from the job advertisement. 41% of employers ignore CV’s that use too much of the advertisement’s wording. Employers are looking for candidates that can think for themselves.
So now you’re all set to begin writing your CV. Even though this article can’t tell you exactly how to structure or write your CV, it has given you some tips and advice on how to avoid making some common mistakes that prevent qualified candidates from being rejected. So write it up, change your email address and put yourself out there – because that lemonade isn’t going to sell itself.
Writing a CV is a very personal part of job hunting. One person’s understanding of how a CV is meant to look could be completely different to the next. At the end of the day, make sure you get work experience, achieve good grades, and develop practical skills for the workplace. That way, the content of your CV will hopefully speak for itself.