How to Present Yourself Positively to Employers
Things to consider when writing a CV or applying for a job:
- Is your information well presented and easy to understand – can a recruiter easily identify why you are perfect for the role and organisation?
- Is the message clear and positive, and does it say the right things about you?
- What problems, challenges or opportunities does the organisation face that you could help them address with your skills, experience and attitude? What are your transferable skills?
- Be selective and realistic – do you meet the essential requirements for the role and some of the desirable criteria?
A 2004 UK survey by Royal Mail of HR departments in large organisations in the legal, retail, media and accounting sectors identified these other CV pointers:
- Incompletely or inaccurately addressed CVs and CV cover letters were rejected immediately by 83% of HR departments.
- CVs and cover letters addressed to a named person were significantly favoured over those addressed to a generic job title by 55% of HR departments.
- And, interestingly, over 60% of HR departments said that the inclusion of a photograph with the CV adversely affected their opinion of the applicant.
Irrespective of style and design, above all the presentation of your CV needs to be high quality, clear, professional and up to date.
Putting Together Your CV
Your CV is likely to be the first contact you have with prospective employers. Remember that employers get many applications for jobs. They may only glance briefly at each CV received and it’s important for yours to stand out. Your CV should ideally not be longer that two sides of A4 – think of it as a sales document about you, not a full operations and technical specification manual. Your CV is not the place to go into a lot of detail and it should be kept simple and clear.
What it must do is show the employer that you have the relevant skills and experience for their vacancy and get you through the first hurdle of being selected for the next stage of the recruitment process. Interviewers and recruiting employers will thank you for keeping it simple and clear, plus it shows that you know how to communicate a complex series of facts quickly, concisely, persuasively and effectively.
Ensure that when you describe what you have done that you are able to back up your claims at an interview, and ideally provide examples or evidence if asked. This is an easy thing to prepare and get right, and will give you a huge advantage over people who fail to approach their CV and job search in this way. As a general guide, whilst being honest, do try to ‘blow your own trumpet’ in your CV.
Use strong professional phrases in describing your personality, capabilities, experience and achievements. One or two other people competing for the same job will be doing just this, so be fair to yourself and ensure you do it too. For each statement that you use, ask yourself the question that the interviewer might ask:
“Your CV says that you are [whatever the description is] – can you give me an example of when you have demonstrated this in your work?”
Make sure you can think of a really good answer which provides evidence of your description.
Use punctuation in a varied professional way to illustrate your ability with written communications. Someone reading your CV who appreciates good written language skills will notice the use of a semicolon for example and infer from it something positive about the writer.
Ensure your grammar and punctuation format is consistent. For example, in bullet points, either use full-stops or don’t use them. Decide on a format and apply it consistently. The same goes for capital letters at the start of bullet points; either use them or don’t but avoid mixing the grammar format. These days grammatical tolerance is quite flexible; no one will criticise you for using or failing to use full stops or capital letters in bullet points but the important thing is to be consistent. The same applies with headings, bold type, and underlines, you need to decide on a format and use it consistently. This helps keep your presentation style simple, clear, tidy and professional.
Mix and match words and phrases to project yourself, and also to reflect what you believe the job requires and what the employer and interviewer are particularly seeking.
It’s always worth getting someone to look at your CV to check it for clarity.
Key Sections of a CV
You can find a lot of information about CVs at www.careersadvice.direct.gov.uk where you can also access an interactive CV Builder. In addition there are a wide variety of CV (resume) templates on Microsoft Word – saving you the time and hassle of formatting the information. Your CV should include the following types of information, no matter what style of CV layout you choose to use:
Your personal details – include your name, address and contact details (telephone and email) so recruiters can easily get hold of you. It’s not necessary in the vast majority of cases to include your age, marital status and nationality, so use the space for something more useful.
Your personal profile - your ‘Personal Profile’ should summarise your:
- Skills and qualities.
- Work background and achievements.
- Career aims.
It should only be a few lines and must grab the reader’s attention. For example, if the job involves working with people, you could say you’re a good team worker and an effective communicator. Make sure you’re brief as you can highlight examples of your skills in later sections.
Achievements and Skills
These sections are the chance to really show that you meet the requirements for the role. An achievements section shows that you see your success in terms of positive outcomes for the organisation. Spend some time thinking about where you personally have made the biggest impact/difference in the workplace. It might be a great new idea, improving an existing one or identifying where something was failing and putting it right. Focus on the outcome – what results or feedback made you believe it was an achievement. It doesn’t have to be something huge, as long as it’s relevant and appropriate for your experience.
Thinking about your transferable skills means you’re doing the work for the recruiter rather than giving them a straightforward job description of what you currently do and expecting them to translate it into their organisation and the role. Think about how you do your job and how this makes you successful, rather than what tasks you achieve through employing those skills.
Employment History and Work Experience
If you’ve been working for a while then put your employment history first. If you don’t have much work experience, you might like to highlight your education and training.
In this section you should start with your present or most recent job and work backwards. You should include employer, the dates you worked for them, job title and your main duties. Provide more detail on the relevant jobs you’ve had and give examples of the skills you used and what you achieved. Use bullet points to clearly lay out your experience.
Try to tailor your skills and experience to the job description, or what you think the employer is looking for if you’re sending your CV on spec. Also include any relevant temporary work and volunteering experience.
Avoid unexplained gaps in your employment history. If you had time out travelling, job seeking, volunteering or caring for a relative, include this along with details of what you learnt from the experience.
Education and Training
Start with your most recent qualifications and work back to the ones you got at school. Using bullet points or a table include:
- The university, college or school you went to.
- The dates the qualifications were awarded and any grades.
- Any relevant work-related courses.
You can include hobbies, interests and outside work achievements that are relevant to the job. For example, if you’re involved in any clubs or societies this can show that you enjoy team activities or meeting new people. Try to avoid putting activities like cooking or reading, as these activities are too general and widespread to be of interest to an employer. Make them specific and interesting!
You can include this section if you need to add anything else that’s relevant, such as explaining that a gap in your employment history was due to travel or family reasons. You could also include other relevant skills here, such as if you have a driving licence or can speak any foreign languages.
Types of CV
There are several different styles of CV layout. Which one to choose depends to some extent on personal choice and to some extent on the type of work you’re applying for and your experience. Full guidance and examples can be found on www.careersadvice.direct.gov.uk
- The Chronological CV. This is a basic CV listing your personal details, work experience, education and any relevant interests. Always start with your most recent job and work backwards.
- The Performance CV. This is probably the most popular type of CV. It is laid out in a similar way to a chronological CV and includes an Achievements section for each of your job roles. This is where you are able to make your CV stand out from other candidates.
- The Functional CV. This is a skills based CV format. This format can be useful if you’re looking for a career change. This is because they focus on your transferable skills and experience, rather than job titles, companies, and how long ago you got the experience. Generally, you promote your skills and experience under functional headings e.g. if you’re applying for a retailing role, the headings could include ‘customer service’ and ‘sales’ as these are key skills for any retail role.
- The Targeted CV format. This is also a skills based approach but you use it to aim for a specific vacancy and include details that are relevant for that role. It focuses on your transferable skills and experience.
- The Alternative CV. This uses an original or eye-catching layout and is used mostly if you are applying for work which requires creativity e.g. in advertising or graphic design. Some employers react well to this approach, others do not – if in doubt, stick to a more conventional layout.