Your number one priority when writing a CV and a covering letter is to imagine what the reader wants to know and hear. And what the recruiter wants to hear is about you.
They are not looking for gimmicks and chattiness, they’re looking for clarity. That means not listing everything in overwhelming detail but expressing the essence of your themes. It’s fine to leave recruiters with further questions to ask at interview, so don’t kill the CV stone dead by doing too much.
Buzzwords, used in moderation, are useful signposts that help the reader recognise the complex picture you are painting. But avoid yesterday’s buzzwords like proactive and business process re-engineering.
Grammar can have a stunning effect on readers if it is done properly. But throw away the Word grammar checker. CVs don’t follow proper English grammar. There are no sentences and no paragraphs, or there shouldn’t be. The CV has its own conventions, based on creating impact and saving space, based on making a few words do a great deal of work. Aim to concentrate what you say and then further edit it down to the absolute minimum. Brevity is the soul of wit – it makes you look intelligent.
There are no rules in writing a CV (though cover letters are grammatical and follow fairly precise rules). Start by realising that you are freed from convention. The document you are creating has a series of goals and a number of inputs.
Think about your role as an author and have questions like these in the back of your mind, the kind of questions I use myself when writing a CV for someone professionally:
The Applicant Side Of Things
– How did you approach your role?
– What scenario did you encounter and what did you do about it?
– How were your methods superior to other ways of handling things?
– What legacy did you leave behind when you left that job?
– What more did you go on to achieve in the next job?
The Recruiter Perspective
Your job applications live in a context that goes beyond what you want, what you have done and what you are good at. This is the marketing side of the task and these are the kind of questions to be asking.
- What is my next career goal? Am I ready for it? Do I need further training? What issues are involved in making this change?
- What do I need to say in order to convince recruiters that I am ready for this particular goal?
- How will that sound convincing to the kind of people I expect to read it? What specific qualities and themes need to be prominent in the application?
- How will it fit the brief in this industry and at this level of professional role?
The Text Itself
- What information can I leave out or just use a trace of?
- What information will make me (my client) look stupid if I do include it?
- What can be implied over and above the actual facts?
- What innovations in CV design and content are likely to hit home in this commercial sector? (for example, in civil engineering, going beyond the traditional list of contracts and getting inside the way a project manager has actually shaped the latest contract, change the methodology, achieved commercial targets, etc.)
There are many ways of embarking upon the process of becoming a superior communicator, but if you start to get a feel for these questions you will start to understand what makes an effective written job application. The other superb thing about being creative in this way is that it helps clarify your career strategy and begins your preparation for performing confidently at interview.