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How to write a CV that changes your life
At any stage in your life, stepping into a new role can be truly transformative. You’re exposed again to the full weight of change: at the beginning you’re in catch-up mode, with new tasks, routines and processes to learn.
For those thinking about their own career shift, be it a natural evolution or a shift in direction, the first thought you inherently turn to is updating your CV. You ask yourself, just how should I tell my story? What should I put in or leave out – and how can I make my CV stand out in a sea of paper screaming for the same attention?
Write to the job description
Many of those in the job market, especially those in their mid-career stage, are unaware that what’s cutting-edge in terms of presenting your CV has changed.
As a result, many of those whose CV is simply a basic year-by-year summary of job roles performed, may well be told by a recruitment consultant that this is in fact far too basic a summary of a detailed career.
Most importantly these days is that your CV directly answers the job description, or JD. While it’s true that your recruitment consultant can help you remedy this, for instance via an extensive initial discussion, with additional detail provided by a customised cover letter. But still, the lesson is clear: take your CV more seriously.
These days the best idea seems to be to think of each high-priority job description as providing you with a set of must-haves that you should attempt to tick-off through your CV. And as such, you should therefore try and break your previous roles into key projects and tasks, summarising the most relevant and positive ones.
Plan it well
A common perception is that your CV says a lot about you. And hopefully what it says is “hire me” rather than “run for cover”. Remember that your employer is looking for someone to jump into a role without too much hand-holding: so a key part of your success will come down to how you’ve organised and presented your ideas. Spending the extra time on telling this career story will definitely pay off in the long run.
A common perception is that your CV says a lot about you. And hopefully what it says is “hire me” rather than “run for cover.
One problem many encounter is what to leave in and what to leave out. Prioritise past projects that shout the loudest to your abilities to execute this role. And where there is a repetition of tasks, summarise the important parts, then edit it all thoroughly. Avoid at all costs including a ‘career brain-dump’. In such a case, a longer CV does not equate to a better one.
It’s not just tasks
A major aspect to career success comes down to personality. What is it about you as a person that people appreciate in a working context? Think about successful group projects you’ve been involved in, either during studies or within a job. And what did you bring to this project that contributed to its success? Ultimately, the answer will speak to your value as an employee.
It’s not all about leadership or closing the deal: effective teams need many different personality types. You might be an excellent time-keeper or coach. Finding data insights could be your thing. You may be super-effective at editing and condensing arguments. Or maybe you’re that invaluable person who takes on the least glamourous task – only to deliver it with plenty of time to help others. By describing your wins without necessarily overselling your part in them, you’ll ultimately demonstrate your self-awareness, as well as a passion for team-driven results.
Let’s say for a moment that I’m working in a travel-related industry, reviewing two candidates who on paper have similar strengths. Who will I hire? This is where the social and recreational aspects of your CV come into play in demonstrating who you are as a person.
If I’m hiring in travel, the fact that you travelled to the Amazon with a friend and bought pens and paper to an orphanage might say as much to me as career promotion. Or as a foodie, the fact that you worked for weeks to perfect your own sourdough recipe – then wrote a blog on how to master it – might show that you’re willing to work to get results, and then to share that success. Don’t forget that like everyone, employers crave the seeds of a good story. Here we are now: entertain us.
Amplify strengths and plan for weaknesses
Remember that job searching is a volume game: you need to expect a few rejections. Sometimes a role is advertised simply as an obligation, even where the true replacement has already been chosen. At other times your CV may seem like too much of a stretch compared to the person who came ready-made for the task at hand – or came straight from a rival company.
When you finally do get that interview, think about ways to improve on other presentation aspects other than your CV. The first place I’d go after learning about you is to your LinkedIn profile: it should provide further insights into who you are and who aspire to be – through both your profile and the Pulse pieces you authored in the past.
Questions provide answers
Assuming you’ve landed an interview: now what? Carefully read through your CV and the job description again, and consider what jumps out the most. When you present it in person, you can amplify the CV’s plus-points, and speak to any relative weaknesses you anticipate. Prepare for any major ones in advance: where a specific skill might be missing, consider showing evidence of how you’ve picked up new skills in the past. Or if it’s an area you don’t fully understand, read up on the subject now.
When you present it in person, you can amplify the CV’s plus-points, and speak to any relative weaknesses you anticipate. Prepare for any major issues in advance: where might a specific skill be missing?
Now that I’m in a position to conduct interviews myself, one thing that says a lot to me about candidates are the questions they ask me. Think about what you might like to know on the back of the interview: not only to try to get the job, but also to work out whether you really want it. Find out why the role is open. And ask questions which talk to the motivations of your boss. Assuming the skills match is there, one of the most important factors will be whether the two of you have a good working chemistry – given that, the other gaps are fixable.
Lastly, when you’re doing your final review of all your materials – rechecking spelling and grammar, and making sure you have plenty of evidence of points you raised (links showing finished work can be invaluable) – also try to take a long-term view. A CV won’t necessarily change your life on its own, but it can certainly open up life-changing opportunities. While you’re embarking on this moment of change, think about where you’d like that change to take you. Knowing what you want in life, and the actions that will get you there, can be the secret to making it happen.
Read more about CVs and cover letters, including downloadable templates here.