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Avoiding rookie mistakes on your CV

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Writing a CV is a frequently daunting task. It’s hard to think of what to include, what format to use, what layout, in what order and so much more to consider.

As someone who’s shortlisted for countless roles – reading them is just as daunting. Over my years of experience in recruitment and in shortlisting candidates, I found the same mistakes on CVs time and time again.

I wanted to share them with you, so you can be smart when you apply for roles, and avoid these errors.

  1. Grammar

I cannot tell you how any CVs I’ve put in the ‘No’ pile due to some very ba
sic grammar mistakes. Some wonderful examples of mistakes that myself and my colleagues collected over the years:

  • I’m an accurate and rabid typist
  • Responsible for ruining my own project during my placement year
  • My hobbits include …
  • I hope to hear from you shorty
  • Work: Chinese restaurant, Skills: severing customers

These, and many more, are reasons for you to be rejected for a position. So please spend the time making sure your grammar is up top scratch. Sometimes, getting someone else to read through your CV is a great idea, as when you’re too close to it – you may not spot the errors.

  1. Colours

It’s perfectly okay and even encouraged to personalise your CV and make it stand out from the crowd. However, you should not be tempted to do so using colours. There are 2 reasons for it. Reason 1: if an employer prints off your CV, it’s likely to be in black and white (because it’s cheaper), so your colouring will therefore be lost. Reason 2: your choice of colours (say electric pink) is your taste, but may not be the employer’s – so they could reject you based on that.

This principle does not apply as much if you’re creating say an artistic CV or a graphic design one- this is more general guidelines for standard CVs.

  1. Irrelevant information

It’s tempting to include the whole of your life story on your CV but you have to remember that the document should be concise, to the point and professional. 100% attendance at Nursery school when you’re a final year at University may not be as relevant as you hope.

Make sure you think about your audience and therefore only mention facts about your relevant to that audience. If you’re a football captain now, and have been since 11, applying for a coaching role – yes, include it, it’s relevant. If you have an amazing postcard collection of cute cats and you’re applying for a position of an accounts executive – perhaps it’s less relevant.

Also, remember not to include personal information, such as National Insurance number, date of birth, race, marital status, nationality, and more. A CV should contain your contact details to enable the employer to come back to you and should state your skills and what you’ve got to offer. Your race or age have nothing to do with your ability to do a job – your experience and skills do, focus on them.

  1. Space

A CV should be no more than 2 A4 pages. I’ve seen CVs which range from 1 line and to 16 pages in Calibri 60.

  • Be smart with your space. Make sure your first page is super eye catching and makes the employer want to carry on reading.
  • Use bullet points and smart layouts to showcase your experience. Huge blocks of essay text are less likely to be read than concise bullet points.
  • Allocate your space according to importance. Expand more on experience relevant to the job and allow less space for activities less relevant. Make sure those 2 pages tell the employer all they need to know to want to select you.
  • Use smart headings that tell the reader exactly what is in that section, such as ‘Work Experience’ or ‘Key Skills’.

Final thought: think of your audience when you create/change your CV. They are busy, they want to know if you are that solution to their ‘missing staff member’ problem – show them you are, in a clear and concise way. Do not give the employer any reasons to say no to you – give them every reason to say yes!

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Kristina Tamane is the Careers Adviser for the School of Life and Medical Sciences and the Joint Honours Programme. You’re welcome to follow her on Twitter or Pinterest for varied job posts and general advice and updates.

Mind the gap – presenting gaps in employment on your CV

 

The function of your CV is to make a fantastic first impression and help you secure a role. Therefore, it’s vital that your document is well presented and formatted and is showing the very best side of you – highlighting your skills and what you can add to the company.

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Often, an employer would look for a flowing story of your employment, education and experiences and wherever possible you should avoid having gaps in your employment.

Typical reasons for employment gaps include, and more:

  • Maternity leave
  • Travel
  • Study/work break
  • Being dismissed from a role/made redundant and the associated psychological and personal issues of getting back into employment
  • Change of career path
  • Health issues

A gap in your history needs to acknowledged, if not through your CV, then cover letter or application form. Please remember that a gap in your employment is not a gap if you’re studying.

How to present gaps – a guide

Now that you’ve decided on that perfect job of Fortune Cookie Writer, you need to make sure your CV is up to scratch, showing your best sides only and convincing your employer that you’re the one for them.  How do you explain a year out or any gap in your education/employment? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Starting a degree/course and not completing it – what do I put on the CV?

If you started a degree course and decided it was not for you – you can disclose it on your CV but you do not have to – this depends on your situation and where you’re applying. It would be advisable to try and not have any large gaps on your CV. Say you started a degree at one university and then transferred to UH – simply state each university as a separate educational entry.

  1. Date formatting

If you have a gap in employment and is only very small, consider how you state dates. Rather than giving the full date, day of the week and starting time to the second – just leave it at month and year, such as May 2015 – June 2015. That way you could have started the role on 29/05/2015 and finished on 1/06/2015 but it does look slightly more whole on your CV.

Do not lie about the length of your employment to cover up a gap as the recruiting company could call your previous employer and check the information you provided, which may be problematic for you and could mean you will not be selected.

  1. Formatting magic

Make sure your CV is strategically formatted – showing your significant achievements, education and experience early on, on the first page.  Your front page could contain:

  • Your full name and contact details – phone number and e-mail
  • Your key skills
  • Your relevant education
  • Your relevant employment/work experience if you hold any (do not forget about volunteering!)

This way the first page of your CV then states all the employer is looking for and hopefully has intrigued them enough to want to interview you. Make it your aim to engage the employer with that Page 1.

  1. Keeping busy

If you did have time away from education or work, there is a good chance you would have kept busy somehow. Whilst travelling, you could have worked, which you would state on your CV. If the gap is due to maternity leave than you would have had your hands full with raising a family. State this, whatever it may have been, so the employer sees your progress.

If you’ve done any volunteering or undertaken courses (even self-taught) – mention that on your CV as well. A volunteering position can be stated as a role if your employment is described under the sub title Work Experience. You would simply state the organisation you were volunteering with, length of your time there and your job title would be ‘Volunteer’.

Finally, if you struggle with disclosing gaps on your CV and need someone’s input – book an appointment with us through CareerHub and we will gladly advise you on your formatting and content.

Kristina Tamane is the Careers Adviser for the School of Life and Medical Sciences and the Joint Honours Programme. You’re welcome to follow her on LinkedIn or Twitter or Pinterest for varied job posts and general careers advice.

Should you put your address on a CV?

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It might seem like the answer to this is obvious. Of course your address should appear on your CV and why not?

But there are some reasons to consider leaving it out.

The first is that it’s no longer strictly necessary. When was the last time an organisation sent you a letter by post? This is becoming increasingly rare. All a potential employer needs these days is a reliable means of contacting you. So you must include an email address (of an account that you monitor regularly) plus a mobile or landline phone number.

Secondly, do you live a long way from your prospective employer? You can bet that when you send in your CV someone will notice this and wonder how long you will have to spend commuting. Then they will wonder if you are going to be punctual or if you will be tired and distracted at work. They might also consider if you will be able to be flexible if a job requires staying late or starting early.

Finally you may also run the risk of being judged. Employers are human beings and they have their ideas about which neighbourhoods and districts produce the sort of people they think make good employees. This may be unfair or unreasonable but you can avoid the risk by not telling them where you live. They are then forced to consider you on the basis of your qualifications, skills and experience and the way you have presented your case for employment via your CV.

If you would like to find out more about writing a CV and what should be included, check the CV resources on CareerHub.

Your cover letter – headlining cover story or forgotten footnote?

04/08/2015 1 comment

“To apply for this job send your CV to …” is a familiar line on many job ads and you’d be forgiven for thinking that to apply you only need to polish your CV and send it off with a one line email. However your CV is, in fact, a two part document and the second part, your cover letter, will almost always be expected even if this isn’t specified in the advertisement.  As cover letters aren’t always mentioned in job ads applicants often overlook their importance, however your cover letter needs to be given the same amount of care and attention as your CV.

So what is a cover letter?

A cover letter is where you tell the recruiter what you’re applying for, explain what it is about the content of your CV that should interest them and highlight how you meet the job requirements. It’s also an opportunity to tell the employer why you want to do the job you’re applying for and why you want to work for their organisation.  If you think of your CV and cover letter as two halves of one application this can help you work out what information to include where.  As a general rule you should keep your CV brief and factual and save the explanations and analysis for your cover letter.  For more information on how to structure and write your cover letter see our cover letter guide.

If a job ad just tells me to send my CV, should I include a cover letter too?

Yes, it’s almost always expected that you should send a cover letter (unless explicitly told not to).

What’s the difference between a cover letter and a cover email?

Not much!  If you’re emailing your CV to an employer then you can either attach your cover letter as a PDF or Word document or you can submit the contents in your email.  Always follow instructions – if the employer has asked you to email a CV and cover letter then it’s safer to send your letter as an additional attachment rather than write a cover email.  On the other hand, if you’re emailing an employer speculatively to ask for a job or work experience it might make more sense to write a cover email as there’s more chance that the recipient (who hasn’t asked for your application) will actually read it.  When sending your CV and cover letter as attachments you only need to write a very short email – a couple of lines stating which job you’re applying for and telling the reader that your CV and cover letter are attached.

Can I use a standard cover letter?

It’s never a good idea to use a standard cover letter.  Your letter needs to be rewritten for each job application and employers will be able to tell if you’re using a generic cover letter (particularly if you’re applying for more than one job at the same company).  Of course, if you’re applying for similar roles, you can cut and paste from one letter to another although be careful to change any employer or job-specific information.

 Are there any times when I’d just need a CV?

Sometimes you won’t need a cover letter – usually when you’re handing your CV to employers in person.  This could be when you’re attending events such as recruitment fairs or degree shows or if you’re calling into local businesses or recruitment agencies looking for part-time or full-time work.

 Want to know more about how to write a winning cover letter? Check out our resources on Careerhub and sign up for our webinar Cover Letters Demystified on Friday 7 August at 12.00.

Suzanne Ball is Careers Adviser for the Schools of Creative Arts and Health & Social Work at the University of Hertfordshire. She regularly tweets about all things creative via @careerview.

Getting mixed messages about CVs? Here’s how to write a CV that will (almost) always work

There’s a huge amount of CV-writing advice available online and everyone you know will have an opinion about what should and shouldn’t be included in your CV.  But what do you do when the advice appears to be contradictory?  Suzanne Ball, from our Careers Adviser team, clears up some common sources of confusion to help you make your CV appeal to (almost) every employer.

  • Accept that there is more than one right way to structure your CV

Many people assume that there’s a compulsory CV formula out there and then worry that they can’t work out what it is.  Being bombarded with contradictory information about issues such as bullet points, headings or profiles doesn’t help but the reason that advice varies so much is that employers are individuals and, like everyone else, they will have their own CV likes and dislikes. On the positive side, what this variation of opinion tells you is that there’s more than one way to present your skills and experience. So don’t worry about what’s right or wrong and instead put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes.  Imagine you have a spare 30 minutes in a busy day; the phone keeps ringing, you’re trying to eat your lunch and you have 50 CVs to sift through. The CV that will stand out is one that’s well laid out, easy to read at a glance and clearly targeted to show that the applicant has the skills, knowledge and personal qualities needed to do the job.  If your CV can do this it will please any selector regardless of their personal CV likes and dislikes.

  • There are no compulsory CV headings

A common CV myth is that you must use standard headings or present sections in a set order.  It’s always a good idea to present information in reverse chronological order within each section but it’s perfectly OK to change the order of sections on your CV or split sections up if you want to draw the recruiter’s attention to the most relevant items.  For example, an Engineering graduate who has done a placement year could use the headings “Engineering Experience” and “Other Experience” rather than having one generic “Employment History” section.

  • Personal profiles are optional

This is one of the most divisive CV issues – partly because a good profile is very hard to write. Some employers love them and some employers hate them so if you do decide to include a profile then make sure it’s focused on the job you’re applying for and that it doesn’t contain a meaningless list of adjectives or bland, generic statements.

  • One page or two – it’s up to you

In the UK it’s common practice for a CV to be up to two pages long. A CV should be concise so if you can get your CV onto one page that’s great but don’t worry if your CV spills onto a second page (unless the job ad specifies a one-page CV).  If you structure your CV so that your key selling points are on the first page then you’ll keep the employers who prefers one-page CVs happy too.

  • You can use colour but proceed with caution

There are many stories of candidates who successfully used a dayglow background or purple font to make their CV stand out. Some employers may respond well to this approach but others will immediately bin a purple CV.  As you’re unlikely to know how the selector will react you’re taking a big risk if you adopt this strategy.  Black ink and white background are almost always the safest way to go although there’s not necessarily a problem with using colour to pick out headings (but check what it will look like if the employer prints your CV on a black and white printer). Of course if you’re applying for a job in the creative industries then you will need to take a completely different approach to using colour and images in your CV.

There are only a few hard and fast CV rules and many variables. To find out more about how to present yourself on a CV in the most effective way, join our webinar, CVs That Work, on Friday 31 July at 12.00.

 

Suzanne Ball is Careers Adviser for the Schools of Creative Arts and Health & Social Work at the University of Hertfordshire. She regularly tweets on all things creative via @careerview

n00b to 1337 – Power up your career!

01/04/2014 2 comments

Man chased by InvaderI heard a great bit of advice last week – from the hip hop artist Joey Bada$$ – which lent itself really well to when you think about your career search. In an interview with Radio 1’s Alice Levine, Joey mentioned that he takes every opportunity to gain ‘experience points’ in order to help him advance in his life and career. I think you can take it further and look at the whole career journey this way…

Level 1 Begin
HeartWhen you first set out to job hunt or look at your career you will be a beginner. Just like on the first level of a game, you’re not sure what’s going to come next. But you don’t head into a game expecting to win it first time, do you? Cautiously you head into the game world expecting to be surprised and probably having to re-start at some point. So what can you do to continue? Read some reviews of the game to see what you can expect and use that to help you get started.

Training Mode
In games like Call of Duty, where you play online against lots of different people, you can practice first in a training mode. Here you can get an understanding of how the game works and what you need to do. Work experience, like internships and volunteering, is a great way to build your skills in training mode. You’ll gain experience points which you can use when you get into the game properly.

level Up
MedalLike all games, you need to up your game at some point; you can’t stay a n00b for ever. The next levels of the game you need to refine your skills and start learning how the game works. The world of work is the same thing; knowing that you need a magic scroll (CV) before you can ask the gatekeeper (employer) for entrance to the silver castle (…you get the idea). These are your experience points, start racking them up now.

Read more…

Your CV: Bin or Win?

02/02/2013 3 comments

Student writer Esinam Akpalu-Mark enters the minefield of CV writing and finds out actually what is important to include on your CV.

 

Since those dreaded and mundane PHSE lessons in secondary school, we’ve been taught that one thing we absolutely need to get a job is a good CV. Name, educational history, work experience… We’ve all been there. Desperately trying to remember that French GCSE grade or figuring out if that week in your corner shop counts as work experience. Not to mention the ‘interests and hobbies’ section. What else can be shared beyond ‘socialising with friends’ or ‘watching football’?

It turns out that this typical list of things that have been crammed onto CVs over the years are, in fact, unnecessary. Taking a look at my own curriculum vitae I spotted a few things that, in retrospect, didn’t need to be on there at all. For example, an assistant coach position at a nursery one summer wasn’t necessary to include. I don’t plan to work in with young children or in education at any point, it was just there to make it seem like I had a wide range of experience. However, after booking myself into a CV Workshop on CareerHub, it became clear what factors build a good CV.

CV Wordle

The workshop intended to help us understand what employers were looking for and have a good understand of what makes a successful CV. Read more…

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