Never has a good CV been more important. If you've lost your job recently, you will probably need to re-brand yourself to get back into the job market, as an exact vacancy similar to the one you've left is unlikely to exist elsewhere.
Your personal sales brochure
Your CV, or résumé, is the vehicle through which you market yourself and gain interviews - it is your sales brochure. In a tight job market, you need more than a good CV. You need a great CV.
There are some fundamental guidelines you need to follow to make sure your CV does its job:
· It needs to be a suitable length. In the UK/Europe, aim to have a two-page CV/résumé, with three pages at the very most. In the US and Canada, the aim should be one page (two at the most).
· Ensure that the CV is free from any spelling or grammatical errors. This may sound very basic but is critical.
· Keep it simple - no fancy borders or colours. If you're sending hard copies, use simple black ink on good-quality white or cream paper.
· Use bullet points with short sentences instead of long sentences and paragraphs. Your CV should be easy to read and to extract information from.
Once you have the look and feel right, you need to know what to include.
· Ensure you have sections for 'Education & Professional qualifications' and 'Career History'.
· It is customary for career history to be detailed in reverse chronological order so that you start with your most recent employment.
· Include sections where you detail your computer and any language skills.
· Have a short and simple section that lists your hobbies and interests.
· Ensure any gaps on your CV are explained.
Overall, the CV must provide an accurate history of what you have done in your career to date, laid out in a logical and coherent manner.
What makes a great CV
A great CV has all of the above as standard, but goes much further to make it stand out from the rest.
A great CV depends on giving the reader a high-level overview of what you were accountable for in each job. It is heavily focused on what you delivered in terms of results rather than simply what you were responsible for.
Anyone reading your CV should be see at once the value and benefits you can offer a future employer and so see the benefit in meeting with you.
The meat of the story
In practical terms, a great CV:
· Opens with a series of key achievements which are relevant to the job you are applying for.
· Uses achievements that are not generalisations, but fact-based statements demonstrating what you have achieved in your career and showing clearly what you have delivered in terms of results.
· These results should show how you helped previous employers "save time", "increase revenue", "reduce costs", "implement new systems", "improve service levels", "reduce staff turnover", "close sales", etc.
· Where possible, you should seek to quantify these statements with measurable, tangible outcomes or figures.
· Your CV should give the reader an indication of the size and scale of the jobs you have done - size of company, team, number of clients you've dealt with, number of transactions, clients from x different countries.
· Make sure the words and language you use are powerful: instead of just saying 'I was responsible for...', use action-phrases such as 'initiated', 'challenged', 'instigated', 'suggested', 'pioneered' - words that show you in a better (but still accurate) light.
· Your CV should be tailored and adjusted to the requirements of each individual job application. Within five seconds, the reader should be able to see how you match their key criteria.
· Your CV should effectively promote the soft skills you have gained: instead of just saying "strong communicator, great team-player, excellent project management skills", a great CV backs these up with examples that show where you have demonstrated these qualities.
A unique individual
Fundamentally, a great CV shows you to be unique and different from other people.
Admittedly, if your background is nowhere near what an employer is looking for, then even a great CV won't get you an interview. But if you are applying for roles that are relevant, taking the time to introduce some of these elements into your CV will make a difference.
Like anything to do with your job search, producing a great CV is an evolving process where you try things, learn and see what happens and adapt as you go along, based on feedback. So don't look at the above and be overly perfectionist; just make some immediate changes and then get out and test it.
Sital Ruparelia is a career counsellor with 6 Figure Career Management.