It’s time to update your CV

Let’s face it: with everything happening in the world, you might need to look for a new job. That means writing a CV, building your network, and job interviews. But what if you have to do it all in English? No worries! We’ll be discussing this and much more over the next couple of weeks.


Analysts around the world are trying to figure out what the economy will look like after the coronavirus pandemic is over. While it’s hard to predict, one thing is sure: unemployment will rise. That means you need to start updating your CV and building your network now. Even if you aren’t worried about your job, it’s still a good idea to update your CV two or three times a year anyway.

So, where do you start?

Most people look at their CV as a history of what they’ve done from the past to the present. But I don’t see it that way. I look at a CV as a vehicle to move you forward, which means the first question you need to ask yourself is: where do you want to go? Do you want a job similar to the one you have now, or are you looking to go in a different direction? This is important to know because that will determine what you focus on when you write your CV.

Jobs are complicated because most people do multiple things in one position. Now, I want you to imagine that you have a light and you are going to shine it onto your job. Most people shine a big wide light to show everything they do. But because the light is so spread out, it doesn’t let a recruiter see what they need to know about you and whether your skills fit the job description.

Now I want you to imagine that you can refocus this light into a very narrow beam. This lets you highlight certain aspects of your job in much greater detail. This makes it much easier for a recruiter to understand why your experience makes you a great candidate for their job.

What you highlight depends on what type of job you are looking for.

For example, let’s say you have a job where part of your responsibility is database management, and another part of that same job is designing promotional brochures and tracking their effectiveness. If you are looking for a job in marketing, highlight the various aspects of the promotional work. If you are looking at a more analytical job, highlight the tasks involving the database and analyses of that data.

“What do you do with all those other tasks?” you may ask. Simple. You leave them off.

Now, this suggestion has made a few clients nervous because they feel that leaving tasks off your CV is dishonest. But it isn’t.  If you are looking for a job in marketing, the last thing that recruiter wants to see is a lot of information about database analysis unless that is what the job entails[1]

Keep in mind that most employers will spend less than a minute looking at your CV unless they are really interested. You need to grab them quickly, which means leaving off any extraneous[2] information. And you need to keep the CV short – two pages is best. Remember, the CV is to grab the interest of the reader enough to get an interview. You can talk about your career, and all it entails, then.

Here are some tips:

  • If you are answering a specific job advertisement, use the that as your guide. Look at the requirements of the job and make sure you have covered them all on your CV. If you have other skills that you think are relevant, include them. But leave out anything that isn’t relevant.
  • Write your CV in the language of the advertisement. If the advert is in English, the CV and cover letter should be in English as well. If it’s in another language, write it in that language unless it tells you to do otherwise.
  • If you don’t have a specific job to apply for, look online to see jobs you might be interested in. What are most of them looking for? Use these to tailor your CV.

What you should include on your CV

Personal details

Name, address, telephone number, email address. You can also add in your LinkedIn profile or website if you have one. When writing your CV in Europe, it’s OK to add a photograph. Most people still expect it. However, don’t include your date of birth, your marital status, number of children, or nationality. You can include that you have the legal right to work in the country where you are applying (if that is the case).

Now, I’ve had a lot of pushback on this, because traditionally these things were always included on your CV. Not anymore. Even the Europass website, a service of the EU and a great resource to help you build your CV, doesn’t ask for this information.

If you are applying for a job in the US, do not include your photograph. It isn’t done and would seem really weird if you did so.

Objective

This is where you list the type of job you are looking or applying for. Keep it short and leave off phrases like “energetic, enthusiastic lawyer seeks responsible, flexible position…”.  Everyone uses those, so it means nothing other than wasted space. A better statement would be:  “I am a recently qualified lawyer seeking a position in sanctions compliance within an international bank.” It says who you are and what you are looking for. Simple.

Education and training

List the most recent qualification/training first and work your way back. But don’t go too far back – just to education relevant to the job. A recruiter does not need to know where you went to school when you were ten. (Remember, you only have two pages!)

If you are a school leaver, list what you studied, the dates, and your courses. If you’ve been working for several years, simply list what you studied and the dates. Leave off the course work.

If you are a recent graduate or school leaver, list your education at the top of your CV. If you are an experienced worker, place the education section after your professional experience.

Professional Experience

When writing a summary of previous jobs, remember to use dynamic action verb like coordinated, developed, and managed. Also, show the result of these actions. This will give the summary more impact. I also like to include a short introductory sentence if it isn’t clear what the job is.

Look at the difference between these two CV entries. Which person would you be most interested in? This one:

Outreach Team, A University, London

Tasks included:

    • Monthly newsletter
    • Workshops for teachers
    • Database entry

Or this one:

Outreach Team, A University, London

The Outreach Team brought schoolchildren from low-participation neighbourhoods into the university to show them the possibility of higher education.

  • Liaised with Marketing for the production of a monthly newsletter to parents, teachers, and schoolchildren around London.
  • Delivered workshops to introduce London schoolteachers to our programmes. This, combined with the newsletter, increased participation by 40% over the previous year.
  • Management of database to record the efficacy of outreach activities. This allowed the team to determine which activities not only drew the most participants but which activities made the highest impact on those students.

The second one tells a potential employer not just about the job, but what you did for that organisation – and makes them think about what you can do for theirs.

Like education, start with your most recent job and work your way backwards. Also remember to address any gaps, even if they seem obvious.

For example, my CV shows my last position in the US ending in January 2013. The next position is in June 2013 in the UK. You would think most people would see that I moved and understand that it takes time to get settled — especially if you move overseas. I mean, it took three months just for our furniture to arrive! But people still asked about the gap, sometimes giving the strangest of reasons. One recruiter said they needed to know – after all, I could have been in prison or something. (!) So, I added an entry that says “January-June 2013: time to settle after a move from the US to the UK,” and they have stopped asking.

Skills

This is a summary of the languages, computer software, or any other specialities you may have. For me, I only have my language skills and MS Office, so I list it at the end. But if the job requires a list of computer software or other skills, place this section after the Objective and before Professional Experience, right at the top of the page. It allows the employer to see right away that you have the hard skills they are looking for, so it is worth their time to continue reading.

Volunteer Experience

Most people think that you have to be paid in order for your experience to count. No! If you have volunteer experience that is related to your work, list it. With this type of work, you have two options. You can list it just like a job Professional Experience, which is what I do. I put (Volunteer Position) after the organisation name. In my case, I volunteered with an organisation in the US and worked my way up to the Board of Directors. From this, I gained experience in strategic planning, organisation management, budgets, and grant writing– definitely transferrable skills. The other option is to add a separate “Volunteer Experience” heading to show that you have a life outside of work. The choice is yours.

I hope this very basic introduction was helpful. As I said, I will be writing more about job hunting skills over the next couple of weeks. 

If you’re interested in help with your CV or interview skills, packages in multiple price points are available.  Please leave me a message on my website. I’d be happy to speak to you about it. Also, feel free to leave me a message if you have any questions or comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

 As always, have a great week and stay safe wherever you are!

[1] Entail (v): include; is a part of. What the job entails means that’s part of the job.

[2] Extraneous (adj): Something that is extra and not important. Extraneous information on your CV could include where you went to school when you were 10 years old. It’s not important for me to know, so it’s extraneous.