Your number one priority when writing a CV and a covering letter is
to imagine what the reader wants to know and hear. And what the recruiter wants
to hear is about you.
They are not looking for gimmicks and chattiness,
they're looking for clarity. That means not listing everything in overwhelming
detail but expressing the essence of your themes. It's fine to leave recruiters
with further questions to ask at interview, so don't kill the CV stone dead by
doing too much.
Buzzwords, used in moderation, are useful signposts that
help the reader recognise the complex picture you are painting. But avoid
yesterday's buzzwords like proactive and business process
Grammar can have a stunning effect on readers if it is
done properly. But throw away the Word grammar checker. CVs don't follow proper
English grammar. There are no sentences and no paragraphs, or there shouldn't
be. The CV has its own conventions, based on creating impact and saving space,
based on making a few words do a great deal of work. Aim to concentrate what you
say and then further edit it down to the absolute minimum. Brevity is the soul
of wit - it makes you look intelligent.
There are no rules in writing a
CV (though cover letters are grammatical and follow fairly precise rules). Start
by realising that you are freed from convention. The document you are creating
has a series of goals and a number of inputs.
Think about your role as
an author and have questions like these in the back of your mind, the kind of
questions I use myself when writing a CV for someone professionally: The Applicant Side Of Things
- How did you
approach your role? - What scenario did you encounter and what did you do
about it? - How were your methods superior to other ways of handling things?
- What legacy did you leave behind when you left that job? - What more
did you go on to achieve in the next job?
Your job applications live in a context
that goes beyond what you want, what you have done and what you are good at.
This is the marketing side of the task and these are the kind of questions to be
What is my next career goal? Am I ready for it? Do I need further training?
What issues are involved in making this change?
What do I need to say in order to convince recruiters that I am ready for
this particular goal?
How will that sound convincing to the kind of people I expect to read it?
What specific qualities and themes need to be prominent in the application?
How will it fit the brief in this industry and at this level of professional
The Text Itself
What information can I leave out or just use a trace of?
What information will make me (my client) look stupid if I do include it?
What can be implied over and above the actual facts?
What innovations in CV design and content are likely to hit home in this
commercial sector? (for example, in civil engineering, going beyond the
traditional list of contracts and getting inside the way a project manager has
actually shaped the latest contract, change the methodology, achieved commercial
There are many ways of embarking upon the process of
becoming a superior communicator, but if you start to get a feel for these
questions you will start to understand what makes an effective written job
application. The other superb thing about being creative in this way is that it
helps clarify your career strategy and begins your preparation for performing
confidently at interview.