CV stands for Curriculum Vitae which is Latin for “course of life” and that’s exactly what it is! A record of professional skills, proficiency and experience. It’s an opportunity to put yourself forward in the best possible light to be selected for an interview where you can close the deal on your new job.
One of the key concepts of great CV writing is to be concise and to-the-point. On average, recruiters only spend 6 seconds scanning each CV they look at, as they have so many to go through ordinarily. So you need to make sure your CV is well organised and properly formatted to make it easy for the recruiter to read and above all – make a great impression.
A well-formatted CV can make all the difference – take a look at the examples below taken from zety.com. The one on the right is in an easy-to-read font, is well laid out and has a right-hand column that quickly outlines all the personal info and skills, with the more detailed experience and education in the bigger column on the left.
There are many great CV writing tools online – just google “online CV writer” to find one that works for you. You can visit zety.com for a CV builder, templates and lots of tips and tricks.
There are no hard and fast rules on how to format a CV, but you should cover all of these sections:
- CV Header with Contact Information
- Personal Profile: CV Objective or CV Summary
- Work Experience
- Additional Sections
If you’re fresh out of school, college or university and need to write a student CV with no experience, or if you’ve graduated from a very prestigious institution within the last 5 years, put your education section above your work experience.
From a formatting point of view keep in mind these guidelines:
- Choose clear, legible fonts – the best are Arial, Tahoma and Helvetica at 11 or 12pts, single line spaced.
- Be consistent – make sure your spacing is uniform – your headings are all the same size and you use a consistent date format.
- Don’t use graphics or photos (unless specifically asked for a photo). White space is your friend! Let your CV breathe.
- Make it brief and relevant – you don’t need to include every single detail – just choose the bits that are relevant to the position you are applying for.
Make sure you include the following:
- Full name
- Professional title
- Email address
- Telephone number
- LinkedIn profile
- Home address
Recruiters will often review your Social Media profiles, especially LinkedIn – so make sure everything is up-to-date and matches the details on your CV.
Although it’s not mandatory – it’s a really good idea to include a short, compelling paragraph (+- 100 words) that is tailor-made to the position you are applying for. Make it memorable and include information that will stand out in the recruiter’s mind. It needs to convince them that you are the candidate they have been looking for and that you’ll fit right in! Think about your passions and what makes you really want this job and why you’ll be perfect for it. Include the highlights of your progress and achievements but make sure they’re 100% relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Relevant Work Experience
This is the most important part of your CV and the one that gets the most attention. And it’s not just about listing your previous positions, dates and responsibilities. Recruiters want to know what you did, how well you did it and therefore what you can offer.
- Focus on your measurable, relevant achievements, not just your duties.
- Use action verbs: “created,” “analysed,” “implemented,” not “responsible for creating, analysis and implementation.”
- Tailor your CV to the job posting—read the job description carefully and check what tasks will be expected of you. If you’ve done them before—put them on your CV, even if those weren’t your primary responsibilities.
It’s a good idea to list your main areas of interest and then add one Key Achievement like this:
- Created and maintained lists of media contacts
- Researched opportunities across online media channels
- Produced product pitches and press kits
- Supported event organization
- Responded to media inquiries
Key achievement: Lead a project team (5) in designing and implementing a comprehensive social media relations strategy for a new line of lifestyle products, grew Facebook fan base from 0 to 12,000 in 4 months [LINK to the Facebook fanpage], gained 35,000 Instagram followers [LINK to the Instagram account] in 3 months.
Another great way of doing this is to follow the Problem, Action, Result format – which really grabs the attention as it shows that you are results orientated and can add value:
Problem: Lack of sufficient social media promotion for a new line of lifestyle products
Action: New social media strategy
Result: 12,000 Facebook fans in 4 months, and 35,000 Instagram followers in 3 months.
This is straight forward and simply requires you to list all your qualifications starting with the most recent and working backwards. If you have a lot of Work Experience you can keep this short and sweet, even leaving out your High School if you have a degree or diploma. If you are a first-time job applicant with very little work experience you can flesh this section out and include:
- Your thesis title
- Favourite fields of study
- Relevant coursework
- Your best achievements
- Extracurricular academic activities.
You need to show that you have the skills to do the job, but the most important thing here is relevance. Check each skill before you list it and ensure it is appropriate for the job you are applying for. When you list your skills, add a short description of each to indicate your level of proficiency. For example “Excellent,” “Advanced,” or “Basic.”
What other achievements do you have that will put you in a good light? Think about:
- Industry awards
- Professional certifications
- Professional affiliations
- Conferences attended
- Additional training
As well as:
- Volunteer experience
- Hobbies and interests
- Academic achievements
- Personal blog
Again, relevance is key – don’t put additional information that is not relevant to the position. Use hobbies and interests that paint a positive image. Being the captain of your soccer team, organizing a charity event for an orphanage, secretary of your school’s student-run government and so on. Always try and demonstrate the relevance, for instance, if you are applying for a job at a publishing house, put something like: I enjoy reading contemporary South African books such as The Theory of Flight by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu and The Love Diary of a Zulu Boy by Bhekisisa Mncube because I think their writing gives a unique perspective into the South African experience.
Should you have a cover letter? According to zety.com as many as 45 out of 100 recruiters won’t even get around to reviewing your CV if there’s no cover letter attached. A cover letter is a one-page document you submit in your job application with your CV. It contains an overview of your work experience most relevant to the job posting. Its purpose is to introduce yourself in a personal, compelling way so that the hiring manager wants to review your CV. The purpose of a cover letter should be to prove that you’ll be able to replicate your past success in the new position.
You should use a formal business letter format for the letter. (See our blog post on this here: https://www.penflex.co.za/2019/01/28/how-to-write-a-formal-business-letter/)
Address the hiring manager personally by name if possible. Once the hiring manager sees her name in the greeting of your application letter, she’s going to feel like she’s found something tailored specifically for her. It will feel personal, she’ll know whatever comes next might just be the exact information she’s been looking for.
Go for the three paragraph cover letter format:
- The first paragraph to grab the hiring manager’s attention
- The second to show what you’ve got to offer
- The third to prove that you’ll fit in
For inspiration – Google sample CV cover letters, or visit zety.com for a step-by-step guide.
So now you know how to create a great CV! It’s a tough employment world out there, and a good CV will help open the doors to your career. Here are some key points to remember:
- Begin your CV with a personal profile—either a summary or a CV objective. Write a short and sweet paragraph telling why you’re just the candidate the employer’s been looking for.
- When describing your work experience, focus on your achievements and accomplishments. No recruiter wants to read a dull list of bullet points describing past duties.
- Validate your worth as a candidate by adding a section with your top wins: certifications, awards, publications, or even extracurricular training or attended conferences.
- Finally, attach a cover letter to your job application and double your chances of getting hired.
- All check? Get ready for all those interview call-ins!