I built my first CV at the age of 14. In Year 10, we were provided the opportunity to complete a two-week work experience during term time and the position I’d landed for the second week (I worked at two local theatres in the first week and in the women’s department of Bentalls Kingston during the second) required a CV as an application. I’d booked an appointment with a lady from the work experience department at school to help me build my first CV who was very helpful in explaining to me what information to include, how to format it and how to make it stand out from other applicants. Ever since, I have been keen to remain knowledgeable on how to build a successful CV, especially as what is perceived as such by employers is everchanging. Further, not only did I gain a fair amount of work experience alongside my studies from sixth form through to postgraduate and was therefore eager to improve my CV every time it needed updating, but, as an Assistant Store Manager, I have also assisted in the reviewing of CVs and even conducted interviews upon reviewing such myself. Based on both my own research on CV-building and experience in recruitment, I wanted to share some tips for students and recent graduates on how to build an effective CV.
1. Keep it simple
According to James Reed, author of The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview (2019), a recruiter spends just – in case you hadn’t figured from their book title already – 7 seconds looking at a CV. Why? Think about it: they can have hundreds of applicants to review in a short space of time before they start inviting some for interviews. So, in order to ensure that your CV passes the 7-second test, my first suggestion is to keep it simple so as to not overwhelm the recruiter. By this, I mean:
- Include a short objective. If a recruiter only takes 7 seconds to scan an entire CV, keep your objective short. In just two-to-three sentences, you can explain a little bit about yourself, your current position and your goals. This information will be enough for the recruiter to know whether you’re the kind of person they’re looking for and decide whether to continue looking at your CV.
- Use headings. Headings make it really clear to the recruiter where to look for information regarding your personal profile, experience and qualifications. For instance, on my CV under my name, contact details and objective, I have the headings “Experience”, “Education”, “Key Skills” and “Websites”.
- Keep a uniformed colour scheme. For the modern CV, it is absolutely acceptable to use some colour to make it appear more attractive and to highlight certain information, but try not to go overboard. If you’re going to use a colour scheme, keep it uniform and professional; don’t use neon or unreadable colours, for example.
2. Use or follow a template
The modern CV is far different from the traditional one; it’s extremely rare that you’ll come across a CV nowadays that uses the Times New Roman font, follows a one-column structure and sticks to one font size. Instead, recruiters love a CV that – as mentioned above – has a bit of colour, includes columns or text box-like sections and somewhat reflects your personality. If you’re unsure on how to structure your CV, there are an abundance of templates available to use or follow online. For instance, when you select the “new” document option on Microsoft Word, a search bar appears which enables you to search for online templates; a simple “CV”, “resume” or “modern resume” search will generate plentiful templates. Likewise, graphic-design tool websites like Canva too have hundreds of templates to choose from; you might be required to sign up, but a free account offers you many benefits.
3. Keep it relevant
Oftentimes, candidates will try to include as much information as possible from every aspect of life in an attempt to land the interview. However, if you’re applying for – say – a Sales Associate role, is that one cake sale you assisted in setting up in Year 8 really relevant? Probably not. If you’re in such a position where you have no work experience (we’ve all been there), think about what is more relevant and helps to define who you are, such as any qualifications you’ve achieved or any extracurricular activities you’ve committed to for longer than a one-hour cake sale. If you are experienced and are seeking something new, include relevant descriptions of your previous roles to the one you’re applying for; if they’re all similar, you might want to consider summarising your key responsibilities across all your past roles in one place so as to avoid repeating yourself.
4. Try to keep it to one page
Again, think about it: if a recruiter spends an average of 7 seconds looking at a CV, they’re certainly not going to look at more than one page per applicant. If you use or follow a template, as I recommended above, it is entirely possible to keep all your experience to one page. This is where the “keep it relevant” tip becomes even more relevant for more experienced candidates. Like I said, I’ve had my fair share of roles since I was 16 and have several headings on my CV, but I’ve managed to keep it to one page because I’ve only kept what’s relevant. For instance, under the “Education” heading, when I completed my A levels, I had my A levels and GCSEs on my CV; when I completed my bachelor’s degree, I had my bachelor’s degree and A levels on my CV (I removed my GCSEs to save space); now, since I completed my master’s degree, I have only my bachelor’s and master’s degrees on my CV and have removed my A levels to save space. Also, I removed my first ever job not long after gaining a few more titles; it was important to have on my CV when I applied for my first “official” job, but now, who needs to know that I worked as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant for three months? (Oops, now the whole world knows…)
5. Be honest!
We’ve all heard the “everyone lies on their resume”, like when Joey Tribbiani claims that he can tap dance, ride a horse and drink a gallon of milk in 10 seconds which he ~ successfully ~ proves (one thing I haven’t mentioned on my blog yet is how much of a Friends fanatic I am – you’re in for a treat!), but – on a serious note – it’s not worth it. Why lie when you can be honest about your actual skills, hobbies and interests and experience? Once again: we’ve all been in the position where we feel as though we have ‘no’ experience to showcase, but you’ll always have something, like your A levels, extracurricular activities and any voluntary work you’ve completed. If you really have ~ no ~ experience (although you probably have more than you think), there are always opportunities available. If you’ve never partaken in an extracurricular activity, you can join or create a society at university that interests you. If you’d like to complete some volunteer work, you can ask your university or around your local area. If you’re passionate about something like writing, art or textiles, you can create your own portfolio. Anything that presents who you are and why you are right for the role is enough to make you the ideal candidate!
As usual, I hope you found my tips useful and, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comment section below or by contacting me via social media or email (you can find my contact details here).
Good luck and have fun with your CV creations!
Sophie Pavlou at Little Pav ♡