I find most students looking for internships and jobs blindly fire off their CVs to a particular email address mentioned in the job description. This takes them around 5–10 seconds for each email. Open draft email, insert email address, attach CV, send! Repeat indiscriminately till 30 or more emails have been launched into the internet black hole and sit back with a sense of satisfaction that today was a productive one — just sit back and wait for interviews to pour in.
On the contrary, we all know that other than obligatory email auto-responder, most job applicants are not going to be hearing back from simply tossing their generic, all-purpose hat in the ring.
Ironically, most CVs that actually do land in front of human eyes, assuming they somehow got screened in by the computer, are only deferring their final destination in the bin by 5–10 seconds more. Yes, on average a recruiter or hiring manager only spends 5–10 seconds glancing at the CV. My own review of incoming CVs lasts closer to 5 seconds than 10.
A sloppy CV has all the makings of what I call the “insouciance syndrome.” From poor formatting of font style and size, use of white space and margins to a sea of typos and at times even inappropriate photos and personal information like religious and political affiliations, I have see them all. I surveyed my students in the last 4 years to see how much actual effort has gone into their CV. 70%+ say they take an existing template from a friend and just replace their information, which takes no more than twenty minutes.
And it shows! I recently caught glimpse of a 28-year old man’s CV where in the gender section, it was written “female” and in interests section it was written “baking.” I frankly have no issues with the baking part but given the very masculine name and photo included, I couldn’t connect the heavy beard and mustache with “female.”
Please don’t take this lightly. A CV is a living document that needs to be polished and developed over time to reflect the person and related journey. Spending only 20 minutes to market your 20+ years of accomplishments is unacceptable. Put a ton of thought into every line. You will learn a lot about yourself putting a solid CV together. Do it for yourself, at the very least.
Here are 5 tips that may help you put together your CV from format to narrative building and relationship management. Click here for a sample template of a CV (MS Word).
1. Follow the 10-headlines structure
I typically suggest using the following CV format with reverse chronological order, i.e. last experience first, followed by the second last and then the third last and so on. Keep each unique experience to one line if possible and include dates and locations where applicable.
A CV is short for “Curriculum Vitae” or Latin for “course of life.” In contrast, a resume is French for “summary.” CV is designed for more detailed information around one’s background including work experience, education, affiliations, interests, etc., while resume is more customized to the specific job and typically a page long.
CV structure by Saud Masud, Vector Partners
Use Times New Roman or Arial font, size 10 or 11. Unless you are a creative, avoid colors and unique formats and “margin-magic.” Remember, here we are going for impact, not aesthetics. Its possible, given 10 headlines, your CV spills to 2 full pages. Its OK.
2. Summarize yourself in 2 lines!
A CV should be customized to the job at-hand so a hiring manager or recruiter feels immediately connected and invested to keep reading and in turn improve your chances to be called for an interview. Generic CVs are underwhelming and frankly, like most of us, recruiters are lazy with unraveling mysteries — if they have to work extra hard to connect the dots between your experience and the role at-hand, you’ll lose! Make sure your Professional Summary is a rock solid 2–3 lines. This is also the foundation of your elevator-pitch that includes why someone should be hiring to you.
Here is my Professional Summary:
Management consultant with 20 years of global experience entailing Wall Street, Fortune 500 Companies, Silicon Valley Startups, Middle East and Pakistan-based enterprises.
3. Sell, don’t tell
Action verbs coupled with quantified results deliver a powerful message. Use words like advised, headed, trained, achieved, developed, negotiated, secured, led, operated, oversaw, coached, implemented, etc. Try your best to put a number on the net result of your action.
Don’t write about your work experience or projects as if you are casually informing of specific events in the past. Make your experience into a highlight of a strength you posses. For example, don’t say “Worked on supply chain optimization project.” Instead write “Led supply chain optimization project driving 37% in annual savings and cost avoidance.” The employer should see leadership and goal-oriented action from you and not mere project participation as a fly on the wall.
Similarly, instead of writing “Interested in blockchain technology” say “Wrote article on disruptive potential of blockchain.” Goes without saying that you should write the article yourself and provide related website link. This self-imposed article or project shows the employer your enterprise nature and actual effort to put intangible interests and likes into a tangible reference point. Initiative sells!
4. Have a theme
As the reader moves down from Professional Summary to Career Objective to Work Experience and so on, he or she should experience logical threads connecting every undertaking in your life. In other words, have a theme to your CV where your narrative is constantly reinforced.
If you are applying for a managerial role, for example, then reflect consistently throughout your CV how in the past you stepped up and took on broader responsibility, led a team, planned a strategy, connected the macro vision of management with the micro-level ground execution, dealt with real people with real challenges in real time, etc.
Sticking with the leadership theme, instead of saying “Team lead for finance group” go with “Led an 8-person financial planning team to develop company-wide quarterly forecasts.” In your CV’s skills section, mention leadership and management skills before other skills.
Lets say the theme for your CV is dependability and you are applying for a sales role. Then, instead of mentioning “Achieved budget targets since early 2016” write “Successfully drove sales targets for each of the last nine quarters.” In your CV make a point to show how you are consistent and dependable similar to the example above. Maybe its another role where you were tasked with certain deliverables and you may have achieved or surpassed them in quantum and ahead of time? In your Professional Summary, reflect that you are self-motivated go-getter who values commitment and hence can be relied upon.
5. Virtual presence
Be mindful of your CV in the cloud and not just on your desktop. I strongly suggest everyone to have a LinkedIn profile up and running. Your virtual presence matters immensely and is nowadays more accessible than sometimes a traditional CV submitted via email or in print. Make sure your CV and LinkedIn profiles are current with no discrepancies between them. I have come across significant gaps and errors in candidate's LinkedIn profiles simply because they didn't consider their virtual CV, the LinkedIn profile as relevant. They were wrong. Today, your virtual CV matters and its par for the course!
If you have a personal blog and it has content that would make you proud rather than embarrassed in front of your boss, then share its link on your CV. If instead, it is poorly kept, vulnerable to viruses, full of ads, etc., then either delete it or do some basic housekeeping to make it look presentable.
Similar to email ID, make sure any Facebook or Twitter ID's you choose to share on CV are not profane or silly in anyway. Only share these links if you are actively relying on social media to promote your professional work (journalist, artists, freelancer, market observer, social media influencer, etc.). Otherwise leave personal social media info off the CV altogether. Furthermore, clean up or delete any inappropriate tweets or Facebook comments you may have made that recruiters might google your name and stumble upon. Same goes for any of your unprofessional looking or compromising photos available online.
Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups that reflect your professional interests. Comment often on relevant posts and always be courteous and seek to share substance. If you genuinely add value to certain groups and/or learn from them, network through them, promote professionally helpful insights within them, then you may add their names and even links to the CV’s Interest section.