»5 Your CV or Resume

Your CV needs to sell. That’s the purpose. Not to tell, to sell. To say:

“I am the solution you’re looking for.”

Your CV (curriculum vitae or in plain English, ‘course of life’) needs to answer the questions:

“What can you do for me?” and “why should I believe you?”

Study a good dandruff shampoo advert and you’ll learn a lot about how to go about your job-search and indeed how to write a CV or covering letter. Why? It’s a sale.

Here’s an analysis to illustrate:

  • The problem: dandruff – graphically displayed on the shoulders of a black tuxedo jacket -ugly, unhygienic, a turn off to the opposite sex, etc.
  • The solution: new SOS shampoo with Xzoidamine

Use it and get …

  • The result: instant sex-appeal, smiles, happiness, hygiene and honeymoons.

Now let’s translate this into an employment scenario:

  • The problem: decreasing market share – lower profits, sales manager’s job in jeopardy, shareholders getting edgy
  • The solution: you, with your IMM Diploma, 5 years of corporate sales experience and 5 year track record of winning new business in a declining market

Hire you and get …

  • The result: increased market share – raised profits, sales manager gets an award, shareholders invest more money – more success, more money, more profits for your company.

So that’s the principle. Don’t confuse it with the marketing principle: “sell the sizzle, not the steak”. It’s not the same. In a CV the steak is critical. It’s the substance. ‘Hype’, ‘fluff’, all promises and no ‘meat’ is a big turn off to employers and recruiters alike.

But what about some of the practicalities? Here are some practical CV/resume guidelines.

By the way – what’s the difference between a curriculum vitae (CV) and a resume? Here in South Africa, nothing really. They’ve come to mean the same thing. Sometimes a CV is seen as a more academic, detailed document, and a resume one that’s briefer and more of a summary. For the purposes of this information however we’ll assume that you’re one of the 99% for whom a request for your CV or resume means much the same thing.
Assessing your curriculum vitae, CV or resume – will it do the job? here’s an assessment tool for you – with some explanations that’ll help you craft a better personal sales document for yourself.

  1. Is it longer than 2 pages?
    Keeping it short is a great idea. CVs are not read. They’re scanned. Make it concise, fresh, crisp. Not long winded or so detailed that important points are totally missed. A short CV also says something about you – you get to the point, you’re confident. More information can always be supplied later. And if you go to 3 or even 4 at a stretch – that’s fine. Don’t obsess about 2 pages. When an advert says “2 pages” what it really means is “don’t send us a 10 page CV, okay?”
  2. Do you have a front/cover page with “CV of Your Name” in large print?
    Don’t waste time and space with this kind of cover page. What’s important is what’s in your CV. On page 1. Why you’re going to be of benefit to the reader. Get there as soon as you can! Don’t cover it up. Don’t irritate the reader with superfluous bits of paper trying to make you look impressive.
  3. Have you named your CV document, that you send as an e-mail attachment, something like CV2003.doc – a name totally unconnected with you or what you do?
    How many CV2008’s do you think recruiters get? How many “Joan Strong – Sales Superstar.doc”s do they get? Which is likely to make the bigger impression? You guessed right! “Joan Strong – Sales Rep” is also better than “CV2008”.
  4. Have you included comments about your health, or family anywhere in the opening pages?
    Are these details really relevant? Will you get more attention when the reader knows you wife’s name is Mildred and you have 2 brats called Jim and June? Seriously! And is anyone really going to say with respect to their health – “yeah, well actually, I’m quite sickly and need 56 days off sick every year. Oh, and I’ve got a weak bladder.” No. These details are really not important at this stage of the job hunting process. They may become more important later (well not the weak bladder bit, but your overall well being). But for now, leave them out.
  5. Do you write your CV anew for each application or at least edit it carefully for each new application?
    Don’t think your generic, one-size-fits-all CV is going to have the penetrating power you need. Tailor it to match as closely as possible the position/department/division/company you’re targeting. You may want to be careful with making your target too narrow or too obviously aimed at one particular position (recruiters hate the idea that you’re trying to ‘sell’ them) – and you want to be open to positions similar to what you’re looking for, even though perhaps not exactly what you’re looking for.
  6. Have you included an “Objective” section in your CV?
    Does the reader immediately know what kind of role/position you’re interested in? Do you state it right upfront? And know this: this section isn’t meant for some meaningless (to the reader) comment like “I’m looking for a challenging position in a dynamic company with opportunity to learn and advance to my full potential”. This kind of comment is just rubbish. Your objective should be focussed on 1) The title of the position you’re looking for; and 2) How you can provide the reader/employer with immediate benefits in that role if you’re hired. In other words your “objective” is to help the employer solve their problem, increase efficiency, or whatever. It’s focussed on how you’re going to help them.
  7. Is your “Objective” section longer than 3 lines?
    Make it short and sharp. It’s always better and it gets more attention. As it is it’s only going to get passing attention. So don’t make it difficult for the reader.
  8. Have you given your schooling as much space on the page as your Degree/Diploma?
    Give more weight to what’s more important throughout your CV! Highlight your most desirable facets. Don’t risk your most desirable facets getting lost in the crowd – amidst information which is of no real significance.
  9. Do you have more than 5 or 6 points in your “Duties” section?
    This is a hard principle to adhere to – and it’s not a hard and fast rule. But the essence of it is this – don’t get too technical about your duties. Use simple language. Make things simple. Provide an easily understandable summary (2 lines) of what your basic job function is, followed up by 5 or 6 bullet points providing more detail no the key elements. Too much complex detail and you’re going to lose your reader.
  10. Have you included a section named “Achievements”?
    A key purpose of your CV is to establish your credibility, to convince the reader that you can do the job – and do it well. So by including relevant achievements – in each of the different jobs you’ve done – you’re showing that you get the kind of results the future employer is looking for. And if you include specific details (monetary values, time frames, names, etc) it makes it all the more believable – and likely to persuade the reader that you’re the ‘real-deal’.

    Eg. “Sold computers” just will not be as powerful as “Sold computers to clients such as Discovery Health, exceeded annual targets by an average of 150% and led the extending of market share from 5% to 8% in the space of 2 years through fearless cold calling.”

  11. Have you focussed more space and attention to your “Duties” than to your “Achievements”?
    This is not a hard and fast rule – but you want more attention to be given to your achievements. If there are say 75 applicants for a position like “Bookkeeper”. You can be sure that all the ‘duties’ sections in the applicant’s CVs are going to look pretty much the same. The one that focuses attention on his/her achievements (saving the company on tax, implementing a more efficient system, reducing staff, providing valuable reports to management, etc) is likely the one who’ll get more positive attention. They’ve focussed on how they can practically be of help. Not on a generic list of boring duties – the same as everyone else.
  12. Have you placed your “Achievements” section toward the end of your CV?
    Highlight them. Showcase them. Put them upfront! Don’t hide them away at the end.
  13. Are there any paragraphs longer than 4 lines anywhere in your CV?
    Long paragraphs won’t be read. Simple. Also keep the line spacing above 1pt or 100% if possible – it’s easier on the eye. In fact I try never to have a paragraph longer than 2 lines in a CV. Keep it short and easy on the eye.
  14. Have you stated clearly and specifically, anywhere, in your CV or covering letter, how you would help the reader make more money or save more money, or run a better operation in any way?
    I mean, do you ever get to the point?! This is what it’s all about. YOU helping THEM. So do you ever come out and say it? Show some definite intention. Perhaps in your ‘objective’ section. State how you’re going to tackle the task. What’s your aim in the position? Make it clear. No-one does this. But if you do you’re likely to be taken more seriously. Employers like people who are willing to make their intentions clear.
  15. Have you included any quotes regarding your past work performance – from references or any letters/e-mails of commendation?
    Let’s just say that if on one of your references a previous MD said about you “Joe leaving is a real loss to us. His ability to get things done, to motivate his team to brilliant performance levels, and to provide expert technical knowledge that has made our company millions in the last few years will leave a gap that will be hard to fill any time soon” – then somehow one wants to include it! Why wouldn’t one? Why would anyone leave it out?
  16. Have you had your CV checked by a professional word processor (secretary, PA etc.)?
    This point is a real problem. Most of us aren’t expert word processors. We know the basics of MS Word perhaps. But when it comes to getting alignments right, using tabs, including enough white space, making the CV pleasing to look at – we’re terrible. So get a pro to look it over and make a few layout/format changes to tighten it up a little.
  17. Have you given more than ¼ of a page of space to jobs you did more than 15 years ago?
    Old experience is relevant in varying degrees. But the point is that a junior level job you had 16 years ago in a different industry is of very little consequence to your future prospects. So rather just summarise it in a line or 2. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule – some older positions can have strong influence – so you have to be discerning and smart about it. So, the principle is: the older the experience, the less space you should give it.
  18. Have you used industry buzzwords and jargon to impress the reader?
    Think of who reads your CV first. Often it’s not someone who understands what you do. Often it’s a recruiter or junior HR person – so keep it simple. But also really intelligent people are able to make complex things sound simple, make them easy to understand. No-one is impressed by big words. It’s just more clutter, more detail, more nonsense. Simple words. Easy to understand – that’s the key to good writing.
  19. Have you made any spelling mistakes?
    I actually believe that if you’re a good candidate, you’re a good candidate, whether you made a spelling mistake or not. But in a competitive market in which recruiters are looking for any excuse to exclude you from their short list, you better get cross your t’s and dot your i’s and spell correctly.
  20. Does your covering letter basically say “Here’s my CV for the position you advertised?”
    Your covering letter needs more. It should identify the position you’re applying for. And it should briefly, clearly (using bullets is good), state why you’re a good person for the job. It’s best to give the hard stuff (your qualifications, years of experience, kind of experience, companies worked for, etc) in the letter as opposed to the soft stuff (I’m a hard worker, loyal, dynamic, etc). BUT remember include it only if it’s relevant. You want the employer to read your covering letter and say – “hey this looks like a match with what I need”.

Right, so there are some ideas. See more, dealing with specific issues in the articles below. Oh, and see here about how you can get me to write your CV for you – click here.

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