Having recently organized a successful CV workshop at an international conference for early career scientists, we became aware of the need for an article on writing CVs. This article will highlight some of the key elements of what is important in a CV and also important tips to consider when designing your CV.

A key element of a job application process is the CV. So what exactly is a CV and why is it so important? Careerplanning.about.com describes a CV as ‘a written description of your work experience, educational background and skills.’ Whilst this is a good definition, I prefer to describe the CV in a more personal way as – ‘the reflection of your professional self on paper representing you in front of a potential employer’. Thus, what should be documented on your CV should be what you would be happy to show to a potential employer and also what you can objectively defend if necessary.

So what should be included in your CV? Firstly, generic identifiers such as your name, address, email and phone contact details. In some countries, other identifiers are usually found on the CV such as age, date of birth, state of origin and a photo. In the UK and other countries with strong employment and anti-discriminatory laws, identifiers such as age and place of origin are not required on the CV.

Next, write a short profile that clearly states the objective of your CV. An example of this could be ‘Highly numerate accounting and finance graduate with experience working in an international finance company. I am seeking a career in financial planning.” The profile section should be tailored to suit the job or company you are applying to.

Remember you only have about 2 minutes to make a great impression with your CV! Show you have created this CV specifically for the job role advertised by including the job title and organisation name in your profile!

Another important section of the CV is your professional experience. This should be an outline of your previous employment  and a brief description of the roles you performed and any notable achievements. Voluntary and non-paid work can be included in this section especially if you have not been in paid employment before. However, you will still need to describe what you did in the job. Also remember that your industrial attachment a.k.a IT or placement undertaken during your studies is professional experience. In cases where you have little or no employment experience but you have undertaken an independent project during your degree, then highlight the skills you developed whilst performing the project as employers usually consider this; however this needs to be articulated correctly.

Following on from this is your educational background starting with your most recent qualification. Depending on the type of CV you are creating, this section could be placed immediately below your profile or after your professional experience. Moving on, in several CVs we have received from Nigeria, prospective candidates have displayed ALL their educational history i.e. nursery, primary, secondary and post-secondary.

If you have that much space on your CV to put your nursery, primary and even your secondary school, then you stand very little chance of getting a job especially if you have sound post-secondary education, certifications, training, employment and volunteering experience!

As mentioned earlier with the CV definition, skills are a central aspect and key element of the CV. Identifying and developing your skills profile is a key area in your personal development. A lot of job advertisements now clearly state what skills they are looking for in prospective employees. Make your CV stand out by matching the skills required in the advert to the skills profile of your CV.

Many prospective employees are selected based on what they display on their skills section. There are many examples to give but I will highlight key themes:-

Job content or subject specific skills (the skills required to perform the job you are interested in – for example, if you are applying for the job of a Pilot, then your CV should highlight the skills that suggest you are fit for the job such as – the ability to fly a plane (hopefully you’d have the experience flying a real plane). The other theme, is that of Transferable skills but several skills are transferable such as communication, management etc. these are skills that are applicable in different environments.

Now the key elements of the CV are in place, make your CV presentable by considering things like length of the CV (usually 2 pages), font sizes (use legible font and a formal typescript), and spacing are also important. Remember someone will critically assess your CV and if it difficult to read, too lengthy, too wordy and filled with errors then you will not get the job. Make sure you spell check.

Finally, remember the saying ‘there are many ways to skin a cat’ i.e. there is no one perfect format for a CV. If you are in the habit of sending the same CV to every job advert then your chances of being successful in finding your dream job is very limited. So, be ready to adapt your CV to suit each job you are applying for. Make your CV aesthetically appealing but ensure the key elements are there. Always remember though what your CV represents – YOU.

Your CV is akin to your passport. Just as you require perfect documentation to travel abroad, you also require perfect documentation to get you into a job.

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