Special Section  The Times (London )

June 21 1998                                                       YOUR CAREER


                                Putting it on paper:  Jessica Bondy advises
                                on how to compile a CV that will get you an interview
                                Photograph: Justin Williams

                                                    The CV

                                          Story of your life

Your curriculum vitae is your most critical selling document. If you get it right, it will land you the interviews you want; get it wrong, and your hard-earned work experience could be consigned to the waste bin.

As it is the only thing that you can fully control in the job selection process, it is vital that your CV puts across everything you want to say about yourself in the most impressive way. It must highlight your value to the potential employer, as well as leaving the interviewer with a clear reminder of what you could do for them. Not only that, if it gets you on the shortlist, it will help provide a structure for the interview and encourage your interviewer to focus on your achievements.

Content and structure: your aim is to make it as easy as possible for your potential employer to select you, so ensure that your skills, ability and experience literally shout out from the page. Keep it brief but full of substance, so that they can see at a glance that you would be capable of the job.

Most critical is that you write for the reader. Identify what it is that your potential employer is looking for, so your CV focuses on their needs. Ideally, you should tailor your CV for each job.

Keep sentences short, they are easier to read and have greater impact. Examine each word that you have used to describe yourself to see if a more powerful one could be used. Avoid jargon.

Write your CV in the third person, rather than the first, so you can give yourself proper credit without appearing brash.

Keep your CV up to date. The interviewer is more interested in what you are doing now and the pertinence of your current skills and experience than in what you were doing 10 years ago.

Headhunters nowadays advise that your career and corresponding achievements are highlighted up front. So after your name and address and contact number at the top, go straight into details about your employment history, followed by your education and qualifications, finishing with your personal details.

Always put your most recent job first and then work back in reverse chronological order. As people read left to right, put the most important things on the left-hand side of the page, so state the title of the job you had first, then for whom you did it and finally when you did it. Give a brief description of the scale and scope of the company you worked for. You cannot assume your reader will have heard of it.

Under each particular job you mention, your own achievements are more important than your responsibilities. Quantify and qualify what you actually did in your role, using hard facts to demonstrate the tangible benefits you brought.

Education and qualifications: keep this brief and relevant. If you have been in a career for a long time, you do not need to include your early education and qualifications. Write the information in reverse order and put th qualifications you achieved, then where you achieved them, followed by the date. Include any appropriate training courses you have been on.

Personal details: apart from your name, address and contact numbers, which should go at the top of your CV, all other personal details, including your date of birth, marital status and interests should be left to the end.

Interests are an important part of your CV. They can really bring you alive, say something about you as a person, and differentiate you from the rest. Make sure what you put down adds value.

Presentation: having worked on the content, make sure the layout does not let you down. It must look professional and be clear and easy to read. Use headings to help the reader to scan the document and bullet points to focus on key information.

Watch the typography. Lots of different type sizes and styles can cause confusion on the importance of different points.

Print it on quality paper to ensure a quality impression. Use A4 white or cream, avoid colours at all costs.

How many CVs? Ideally you should customise your CV for each job you are going for, but this may not be practical if you are going for dozens of jobs at a time. What differs fundamentally about the CV you produce is whether it is built around your present job or aimed at a change in your career. CVs appropriate for a change in career will need to pull out all the transferable skills of relevance and this can be done in an easy-to-read format by having a key skills and experience section, ahead of the career summary. These four to five key skills will match what is on the job specification.

At the end of the day, your CV is all about packaging. If you can't sell yourself, how will you be able to promote the company you are working for? And you must feel comfortable with what you have written, and confident that you can back it up.

Your covering letter: a covering letter should be individually tailored, so always write to a name. Ask yourself what the employer is looking for. Go through the job advertisement or specification with a red pen and underline the skills and experience they are looking for. Sell yourself in response to these, highlighting the features that show you are right for the job, emphasising the positive aspects of your CV.

Keep your letter brief; it should be one page at most, with bullet points to highlight key points. Avoid negativity, jargon and tentative language. Take responsibility for the next step by suggesting that you telephone them to fix a meeting.

Most covering letters need just three paragraphs. The first should give a brief reason for writing - "I was most interested in your advertisement in X paper on Y date."

The second paragraph is to highlight why you are the right person for the job, pulling out some of the key skills from your CV that will demonstrate a match.

The third paragraph should ask for an interview, but not directly, using a phrase such as "perhaps I can telephone you next week to arrange a meeting at a suitable time".

Jessica Bondy

Jessica Bondy is an independent business and marketing consultant who also runs workshops for CareerWorks. Call 0171-435 2588 for details

Copyright 1998 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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