3 Key Tips to Writing The Perfect CV
Studies have proven that employers attach a great deal of weight to how well a CV is put together, often forming strong and hard-to-change opinions about your capabilities as a result. There are some obvious elements to get right, such as spelling, grammar and consistency of format. However, beyond proofing and making sure your CV looks good, here are 3 key imperatives to uphold:
- Keep it Concise – 2 pages in total.
Having personally sat in hundreds of shortlist meetings with hiring managers/teams, ranging from newly qualified finance roles (c.£40k) to Directors for sizeable government departments (c.£150k), I promise that I have never heard a complaint about a CV being 2 pages in length. If a CV is longer than 3 pages, it is simply too long. A single-page summary CV is too short at any level (perhaps bar graduate-level) and you would be missing an important opportunity to impress (despite seemingly being the accepted practice in the States and France).
- Keep it Relevant
The less irrelevant detail you have, the more relevant you appear. Tailor your CV for each application whenever possible – this approach becomes increasingly important the more senior the role. Make sure you manage to get across why you are good for the role – start by reviewing the key requirements and desirables outlined in a job description and then matching these up to your skills/experience. Ensure that you make your motives clear, incorporate an opening summary at the top of your CV. Weight your CV in favour of achievements and relevant responsibilities.
- Keep it Pronoun-Free
Never use ‘I’, ‘he,’ ‘she’ or ‘they’. Also, avoid 3rd person references at all costs. Some recent articles have suggested that writing a CV in 1st person (for example, “I led a team of over 100..”) helps to engage hiring managers, but I would recommend only using 1st person during the personal statement/summary and hobbies segments and simply removing the pronouns (i.e. “Successfully planned and set up Project Management team”).
There is a plethora of do’s and don’ts when it comes to CV writing, but in my experience the vast majority of these are utterly subjective and often the result of overly opinionated recruiters (…being an overly opinionated recruiter myself, I would add here that putting a photo on your CV is sacrilege; and also, make sure you send your CV to a recruiter in word not PDF and in PDF and not word directly to a company/hiring manager).
My advice would be to ask someone working in the type of organisation you are applying to for their view/listen to the expertise of the sector-specific recruiter – it is in their benefit to get you an interview and they will have reviewed thousands of CV’s before.
You can find many different template CV formats to use online (here is one link: CV templates), but I would recommend following the below format for applying to roles in not for profit and public sectors.
Our Suggested CV Format
Opening summary: This is even more important for those looking to transition from the commercial sector – those hiring will want to explore motivations and you have an immediate hurdle to overcome versus those already possessing sector relevance and a reassuring commitment to the sector. In two or three sentences, outline your key skills and what you are looking for and why – keep it simple and honest.
An example: I am an experienced FTSE Finance Director seeking a transition into the public sector during this exciting but challenging time of change. Having led teams of over 100 during steep transitional periods and delivered large scale capital projects in the retail sector, I am now passionately pursuing a role with meaning. After volunteering for over a decade at one charity and acting as Trustee for another, it has been a matter of when not if this move would take place.
Education: This needs to outline school, university and PhD/Masters – filter according to your level – i.e. if you are an executive candidate then it isn’t as important to state O levels, GCSE’s and A levels – or at least refrain from detailing the subjects and modules taken etc.
Qualifications: be precise and detail year of qualification and status of membership. Not the time to be modest, so if you passed first time or won a prize/ranked particularly highly in the exams, state this here.
Security clearance: outline duration and type – if you have this
Volunteering experience: really important you highlight anything like this if you apply for a charity, for example
Board/NED experience: whether this is Trustee for a school or Chair of Audit Committee for a charity, you need to make this obvious on first page
Employment History: DO NOT simply create a literal list of all of your duties without filtering their importance and relevance to the role(s) you are applying to. DO focus on: achievements, impact, specifics on scale of teams led/budget overseen/savings found.
- Name of company – worth also outlining in short the scale of turnover, sub-sector and number of employees
- title of role(s), and dates in role(s)
- one sentence summary or overarching duties in role – including size of team led, areas overseen and core oversight of role
- in one sentence outline who your key stakeholders were by title
- key achievements – it is important to give this priority in weighting. Be specific: what did you impact/what were the changes you made and what were the results?
Charitable Organisation – £140m annual turnover – children services charity; 170 employees
Director of Resources – January 2016 – present
Leading a team of 100 across Finance, Strategy, Project Management, HR, IT and Procurement and setting organisational strategy during a period of steep transformation and growth of commercial income.
Reporting directly to the CEO , working with the Board as a key member of the Executive Team, the role acts as point of contact with key external stakeholders, negotiating terms with banks, suppliers and HMRC.
Successfully planned and set up Project Management team, streamlining head count by 25 FTE’s, generating £800k annual savings and increasing stakeholder satisfaction by 40%
Planned and delivered office move in 2018, generating £12m annual savings and completing within budget and prior to anticipated deadline
Partnered with the Director of Fundraising to design and launch an online stream of income providing an additional £3.4m in year one and £5m in 2019.
Hobbies: it helps to personalise matters and has a positive impact on hiring managers – often it makes you memorable and humanises a CV; this is important when there may be over 100 applications made for a single role. Clearly there are some hobbies to avoid listing, no matter how passionate you are – anything mundane or offensive is a good start!
References: provide two, ideally covering most recent roles and give: name, title, organisation, work email and contact number. OR state that ‘references are available upon request’.