I have read a lot of CVs over the years and seen various orders and section headings. Here I have collated a format which in my opinion gives maximum impact for the reader. I would suggest structuring your CV with the following sections:
- Personal statement
- Career history
- Other information (Voluntary work, Non-Executive or Trustee positions, Interests, Languages)
- Location and contact details.
Here are my key tips for each section:
- Name. It sounds obvious, but I have heard interesting views from clients on how it comes across when someone uses their title such as Dr (in a non-medical setting) or chooses to list all their qualification letters after their name. You know your industry best, so make an informed decision, but my view for the corporate world would be to keep it simple and don’t appear too “try hard”. So, I would be going with Ellie Rich-Poole at the top of mine, rather than Eleanor Mary Rich-Poole BSc Hons (Dunelm), PG Dip (Oxon), PG Dip, ACC. Your education and qualifications will be included later in the CV.
- Personal statement. People’s views on these vary enormously. You don’t need one but I think they are nice to have because you can briefly summarise your USPs (unique selling points) and your key strengths. It is a good way to set yourself apart. It is absolutely fine for this to include bullet points of your key specialisms. My tip would be to avoid competency speak and describe yourself as you would speak. Imagine you are at a networking event and someone asks what you do – this would be similar. Don’t talk about yourself in the third person.
- Career history. This is the main body of the CV and arguably the most important part.
- List the organisations you have worked for chronologically with the most recent at the top, giving start and end dates for each. Give a brief overview of what they do as a strapline underneath. e.g. One of the world’s leading consumer goods companies, making and selling around 400 brands in more than 190 countries.
- Under each organisation list the roles you have held, with dates, most recent at the top. Give a brief synopsis of the scope of each role as a strapline underneath including reporting line, client group, team size, budget, employee numbers, locations etc. e.g. Reporting to the CEO, I led the HR function globally with a team of 120 and was accountable for the whole people agenda. As a member of the Executive Leadership Team I partnered the Director population and was a member of the Remuneration Committee.
- Achievements not responsibilities. The majority of space should be given to bullet pointed achievements written in the past tense listed under the role you achieved them in. They should be output focused and clearly highlight the business benefit of what you did, supported by metrics. It should not read like a job description. e.g. Instead of Successfully designed and launched new company performance management process, lead with the business benefit i.e. Contributed to an increase in sales of 17% by the design and launch of a new company performance management process, ensuring individual goals were linked to business targets.
- Know your numbers. I know of blue-chip clients who have rejected an individual at application stage if their CV lacks metrics. They look at the process focused statements and say “so what?”. You may be adding value but if you aren’t taking time to review or measure your contribution in terms of its output it is hard to articulate this on your CV or at interview. Check each achievement you have written and see if it answers the “so what” question: does it clearly articulate the value you have added?
- It is better to have five excellent achievements per role, than ten, which includes some weaker ones. This way you can give enough space to each to give a strong example. This also helps you prepare for an interview and steer the interviewer to the things you want to talk about. My earlier blog on how to nail it at interview gives more tips.
- Include relevant qualifications only. Include your qualifications including institution and grade, but leave out training courses, particularly internal ones, where no qualification or accreditation was gained. If you have been working for 25 years there is no need to list your GCSE / O Level grades.
- Other information. Use your judgement about what to include here. Some people are more comfortable sharing a bit of their non-work life than others. My view is that it is good to share some interests and personality, and it can be a good talking point so if you are social secretary for the PTA or a trustee of a charity consider including it. Some people only like to mention “serious” Non-Exec Director roles and have no hobbies. This is your call. Definitely list any languages you speak, or any super earlier career achievements like Olympic Medals, Oscars.
- Location. Even if you are flexible to relocate, travel or stay away, always include a home location rather than leaving it off. Some companies or recruitment consultancies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) with a screen / parse feature and if you leave this out you run the risk of being overlooked because the field will be empty and you won’t come up in any searches.
- Contact details. Use a professional email address. Now is not the time to be firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more details on how to improve your CV so it gets you the interview see my other post here.