Introduction to CV Writing
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.– Benjamin Franklin
The brutal truth is that most CVs read and look the same. Most people follow the same advice online and use online templates or modify some CV their friend wrote or just write down the basics of their careers without investing a lot of effort. This is natural because of two reasons.
1. When something becomes quite common it feels abnormal to try to put in more effort to differentiate yourself.
2. Writing creatively, especially about your accomplishments, is a difficult task.
Hence, if you are struggling to write your CV, don’t beat yourself up. Millions of job applicants struggle with the same thing every year and if you want to get into the tech industry, it may seem like an even more daunting task. Now we are assuming you already have the basic stuff already done like correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. And also if you stick around to the end of this article, you will get some bonus content that will elevate your CV game to the next level.
Let me ask you a question. Let’s say one day, out of the blue, you get a call.
“Hi, I am Adam, the recruiter from your Dream Job Company. We loved your profile and think you are a great fit. Just send us your CV in the next five minutes and we should be set.”
Would you be ready to send your CV as it is currently?
If you hesitated, that means your CV is nowhere near the state it has to be in and can be radically improved. What does improvement look like? Here are 3 major CV writing tips to keep in mind before you start rewriting your CV.
A typical CV has four main Parts
- Work Experience
- Skills and Interests
The profile section of your CV is akin to the trailer of the movie. It’s the first thing the reviewer looks at before making a snap judgment to then run through your resume. It’s your written elevator pitch. It is the few lines which when written memorably make the recruiter want to read through the rest of your resume. In our last article, we talked about recording yourself and reading out your current profile out loud to see if it sounds smooth and not jerky. Now, you should be aware that there are two types of personal CV statements which you could have in your profile section. The CV Objective and the CV Summary.
CV Objective: This is for people who just graduated from college or have a couple of years of experience. Here you will be just covering your limited previous experience (including internships) and will be talking about your future career aspirations. Let us take a recently graduated graphic designer who wants to become an SEO specialist for a mid-sized tech company called AstroTech.
The four major points to focus on here are:
1. Background: Since you recently graduated, there is no harm in using one sentence about your degree and the industry tools you know. This conveys your current skillsets.
2. Achievements (Including Internships): Even if you have limited work experience there is a great advantage in talking about any internships you did and tying it into quantifiable outcomes. Since you don’t have relevant experience, you can at least demonstrate how good you are at your current profession and how that can translate to a new career.
3. Technical Skills and Certifications: Since you haven’t got much practical experience employers will look positively at the fact that you developed skills expertise whether it’s software or doing a certification. It shows initiative and curiosity towards the new job.
4. Future Goals: Ending the profile statement with a positive value-oriented future goal to how you shall help the company will be a great way to conclude on a positive note.
Here’s the wrong way to go about the same.
CV Summary: This is for people who have a lot of prior experience and hence your CV profile statement will essentially summarize your professional accomplishments and show you off as a well-rounded individual. Let us take a digital marketer with 4 years of experience who graduated with an engineering degree and wants to work for Accenture as an Inbound Marketing Executive.
The four things to focus on here are:
1. Your Background: One sentence should be dedicated to your background and what your past was. This could include your bachelor’s, master’s, and the number of years of experience you have. You only have to mention the years of experience of your current career, not the previous ones.
2. Results achieved: You will be doing a lot more of this in the work experience part of your resume but here just outline one or two huge things you are proud of. If you could express that as a percentage output or tie it to a financial figure, it is even better as it allows the recruiter to quantify the results of your contribution.
3. Skillsets: Outline your skillsets. This could include technical skills, certifications you have taken (one or two important ones will do), tools or software you know, or even abstract skills like written communication, design-thinking, or language mastery. Avoid being generic.
4. Future Plans: Also, briefly write a couple of sentences about how your skills relate to the job description and where you want to take your career in the future.
For extra clarity, here is what the wrong and boring Profile statement looks like for the same job.
The next important section to pay attention to in the CV is the work experience. This is an integral part of the CV and something a lot of candidates get confused about. These are the typical questions candidates have about writing about their work experience.
- How do I describe my job because I am not sure to go too much into detail or just keep it light?
- Do I need to mention my internships or educational achievements? (Short Answer: It depends)
- What if I don’t have relevant experience for the job description?
Now let us drill down into two especially important parts of writing the work experience section of your CV.
- Showing your achievements, instead of describing your job.
- Matching your work experience to the actual job description.
Let us tackle this one by one. Let us take the experience of a waiter, maybe in Spain, who is applying for a cyber-security job in, let’s say Europe. This seems radical right? How does one go from waiting tables to handling computers and anti-viruses? But the reality is this sort of thing happens all the time, you just must know how to reframe your experiences. These are called “Transferable skills”, the skills in your previous job that will help you in your future career. No knowledge goes completely wasted and if you want to change your career, transferable skills are what every worker gains from each career experience, including volunteering, internships, freelance jobs, and more. These are the skills that you can use in any future career or professional setting. This can range for a multitude of skillsets like:
- Problem Solving
- Critical Thinking
- Attention to Detail
- Computer Skills
Now let us apply this in practice. Let us go back to our mythical waiter applying for his fancy cybersecurity job. This is the wrong way to go about applying for this job.
Head Waiter, Restaurant, Palma De Mallorca, Spain
- Worked for two and half years as head waiter. The job involved serving customers, arranging food on the table, helping staff with kitchen responsibilities, occasionally handling the cash registers, and cleaning up duties post restaurant close.
- Was popular with customers and got decent tips. Was on time every day and reported for duty when needed on weekends. Was always good with numbers and never had any lapses of money under my watch.
- Used to look after all the kitchen equipment, the alcohol count, the cutlery, and cleaning supplies and ensured they were secure.
- Started tracking our sales online using google sheets and balanced our budget several times.
Now, think carefully. Does any of that scream ‘potential cybersecurity expert’ to you? Does any of this show off possible skills a cybersecurity team might need, like technical skills, analytical skills, ambition, or drive? This seems to be a very dry description of the everyday job of being a waiter. But if you have been paying attention, I am sure you are also picking up some other things which are lacking. No numbers or achievements. No actual outcomes. Lots of wordy text without brevity. Good, now you are starting to think like a recruiter. Now, let us reword this to make it a stellar job description.
Head Waiter, Restaurant, Palma De Mallorca, Spain
- Worked in a fast-paced environment serving 200+ clients per day, completing extensive cash handling and ensuring the register was balanced with 100% accuracy, leading to increased responsibility as a keyholder.
- Effectively promoted specials and upsold selected menu items to reduce waste and increase profits. Over the last year, we have sold out our specials 126 times. Quickly addressed problems and handled difficult customers by being empathetic, resulting in de-escalating conflict quickly.
- Managed ordering of food supplies and beverages, as well as inventory control and auditing of the stockroom. Used google sheets and Mint.com to run positive forecasts and optimize for profit annually. Since the implementation of the system, improved restaurant profits by 20%.
Doesn’t this sound better? It has more actionable language, is much more precise, and is crystal clear about its achievements. It has achievements and skills outlined clearly. It is not wordy, and the language is direct and to the point. We also understand that he has a computer and analytical skills. Not only that, but he also has communication skills and can handle conflict. This is the level of communication for what you should aspire to for your work experience. So hopefully, our mythical waiter got the job! Also, here are the types of work experience you can include in your CV.
Skills and Interests
The skills and interests tab is the most overlooked and the most underutilized part of a CV. There are all sorts of misconceptions about what this section is for. Let us deconstruct the differences between what a Skills section and an Interests section looks like.
The skills section usually pertains to your employer and maps the relevant skills you have to the job you will be doing. The average CV has a skills section on a resume, but you should be aware that sometimes the skill section may not be as important as you think. Unless you are applying for a highly technical job that requires three certifications and four programming languages, you should strive to include your skills organically within your work – experience. Remember you want to save the recruiter as much time as possible as they scan your CV. You don’t want them to look at repetitive content. If your industry prefers a specific tool or software you can put one line in your CV Profile Statement as well. This further helps show off your skills in context. Here are a few examples of what this looks like in practice.
Graphic Designer: Social Media Manager, Jame’s Retail Shop. Used Adobe Illustrator to design all company collaterals and InDesign for the company brochures. Implemented a content calendar using Hubspot and drove up Instagram from 150 to 1670 Followers over four months.
SEO Specialist: Utilized Ahref’s and SEMRush to do detailed keyword research for developing the blog section of Astrotech. With a content posting schedule, grew their web traffic over 60% over two months. Increased Lead generation by running Google Ads from 12% to 37% in a year.
Also, most times, the skill section can make the candidate appear weak as it is usually filled with generic terms like ‘hard-working’, ‘action-oriented, ‘problem-solver which without context just looks like it is filling space in the resume. Remember CV Writing Tip #3, “Brevity is Appreciated: Good writing is concise, informative and action-oriented.”
Okay, enough with pleasing the employer. Let’s move to something fun.
So, you have your CV Profile statement done, you have written out your work experience with achievements prioritized and results highlighted, and your education section looks good. And then finally, you come to fill out the interest’s section. And you wonder, “Hmm, what could I put on there?”. You are confused because it doesn’t seem like this is very relevant. As a candidate, all you are to the employer is a bag of flesh that puts in forty hours a week and does a good job and then clocks out and goes home to wake up and do it all again the next week, right? So just to not leave that section blank you write something like.
Interests: Reading, watching movies, traveling.
Ah, you think, that should be good. Great, now let’s send out this resume to all the job portals.
Do not do this.
At Ingenio, we had a candidate who wanted to career transition into Tech from a sales job. In the beginning, he did not appear to be a great fit, but we thought he had potential, so we sent his CV to the company hiring manager. Now this candidate had written under the Interests tab “Love to restore old Gibson Flying Vs Guitars.” The hiring manager happened to be a huge follower of rock music and was curious about this candidate and asked him in for an interview. During the interview, the candidate happened to have his restored guitars in the background and the hiring manager picked up on it and they had a great conversation for about 15 minutes before they started the interview. The candidate was hired and legend has it the hiring manager and he still conducts jamming sessions together.
In the entire resume, the interests section is the only place where you get to show off your quirky side. It’s the only place that shows that you are a human being who has a life outside of work. Remember no matter how stressful the job search is, both you and the recruiter are humans who want to connect with each other. We are social animals, and it is ingrained in our nature to be curious about each other. So, make sure you emphasize that in your resume. Here are some examples of how to do the same.
- I love reading about the psychology of the human mind. My favorite authors are Dan Ariely and Daniel Kahneman.
- I love running along old roads in my town while listening to entire Pink Floyd Albums. Favorite one is “Dark Side of the Moon”.
- I love cooking up recipes of food I find in my grandmother’s old diary journal.
- I love listening to podcasts about World War 2 and even take notes of certain time periods.
- I love making short films. Here is a Youtube link to my latest one.
Interests are a fantastic way to stand out and it is sad no one takes advantage of it. Please don’t make that mistake.
How many pages should a CV be?
A typical CV in Ireland and UK, unless you have more than twenty years of experience should not be more than 2 pages. Anything more than 2 pages screams to the recruiter that you do not know how to condense your work experience into a brief and impactful document that is clear, direct, tie in work experience to results and achievements, and what skills and abilities you picked up on the way. When you write a resume this way, and when you write it so that you’re only offering a prospective employer the info he needs to bring you in for an interview, you drastically increase the chances your resume will get read, and the chances of your message getting through to them. Long resumes with extra sections, nonsense soft skills, and excessive detail are killing your chances of success.
Finally, let’s dive into something candidates often gloss over. CV Presentation. You might have the best CV in the world, but if you do not present it well, the recruiter will ignore it. Just as you judge a book by its cover, so will a recruiter judge your CV by its presentation. Now to simplify this, we shall show you three templates that show off how your CV could be arranged, with the four Sections arranged accordingly.
This is good enough to get you started. Have fun customizing your resume to these formats. But these are just examples.
Well, we did promise bonus content. So, if you really want to know what a fully transformed resume looks like, we at Ingenio Learning have the perfect case study for you. The job candidate in question had been looking for a Business Analyst role for a while but even after hundreds of job applications he still wasn’t getting call backs from any recruiters. So we sat with him and analysed his CV and realized it was a matter of presentation. After a couple of days of work, his CV went from this…
to a completely new CV which got him a job in a couple weeks from a dream company he had been targeting. To gain access to this newly designed CV please send us your email and we’ll mail it to you right away!