What does your CV say about you?

Your CV is one of the most important documents that you will ever have to create in your life.  And yet, many people spend no more than an hour creating their CV!

Perhaps their CVs are accurate then?  Maybe their entire work history can be hastily written in an hour - all their skills, knowledge, qualifications, interests and experience!  Or are they just underselling themselves?

Take a step back from your CV

Think about it for a minute.  You are giving these few sheets of paper to a complete stranger and hope they will help you change your life!  Sure, you know what you meant in that summary you wrote....but do they?

Often, people miss out certain important aspects of their capabilities because they assume that the person reading the CV will know what they meant.  But is this the case?  Not always.

Try to step back from your CV and think about what you have wrote.  Pretend a complete stranger handed it to you and have a think about what your CV really says about you.  Consider even passing it to a friend or relative and ask them to read over it.

This is particularly effective with people who don't know much about your profession - chances are the recruiter will know just as little!  Well, that usually isn't true, but if you assume it is, then you cover yourself!

Split it up

Take each section of your CV and write in on a separate document and have a look at it on its own.  Remember - recruiters will be focusing on individual parts of your CV more than the CV as a whole (it's all new to them - they are reading it and learning about you for the first time).

Another benefit of doing this is that it lets you refine areas of your CV one by one - I don't know about you, but my tendency used to be to jump from section to section, doing little bits here and there.  This can lead to your CV having an inconsistent feel.

Do you like what you read?

Having read your CV as if it weren't your own, can you honestly say you liked what you read?  Is the person you describe on your CV the kind of person you would hire for the job you are applying for?

Common resume mistakes: ^top

1. Meaningless Acronyms
If you are going to use acronyms within your resume, be sure that you only use common ones that everyone is aware of.

For example, it is safe to assume that all employers will recognize VP as the short form of Vice President . However, not everyone will know SVP stands for "Senior Vice President", RM stands for "Regional Manager", and CCS stands for "Customer Care Specialist". It's best not to take chances -- when in doubt, just write out the full title of your position.

2. Using Superlatives
Never, never, never use superlatives in your resume. Regardless of how outstanding your performance at a job was, don't say you were the "Best Support Engineer" or a "Great Manager". Instead, illustrate your competency by facts and back up your claims by awards or numbers.

For example, say things like:

  • Consultant of the Year, 1999

  • Exceeded Sales Quota by 50% in Q1 2001.

  • Promoted to Senior Developer within 6 months.

It is perfectly fine to promote yourself in your resume -- just make sure you do so with facts and figures, not claims and appraisals.

3. Repetitiveness
The quickest and surest way to bore your resume reader to death is by using and re-using the same subset of verbs. For example, if you list 5 jobs in your Professional Experience section, make sure that they don't all begin with "Responsible for ..." . On the same note, they shouldn't all begin with "Designed and Developed..." either! As simple as this advice sounds, many resumes tend to stick with a handful of overused verbs. Be creative, but...

4. Don't Be Too Creative
There is no need to go overboard. Using words like "ameliorated" and "edification" in your resume is overkill. Simplicity and conciseness are keys to building powerful resumes. By using too many big words you risk coming across as supercilious, patronizing, and flippant (kind of like this sentence). No employer will want to pull out a dictionary just to find out what you did at your last job.

Cover letters - make sure you have them covered! ^top

Like icing on a cake, a shining cover letter can compliment a stellar resume and open almost any door, no matter how tightly it may be locked.  But what is this elusive and often misunderstood document?  More importantly, how can it be strategically used to leverage your skills?

First and foremost, a one-size-fits-most concept to your cover letter is a sure fire way to end up in Mediocre Ville.  Companies want to know what specific skills you bring to the table; unfortunately, they also want you to spell out for them how you are a good fit for the specific job they are advertising.

Having a generic cover letter that never changes cannot begin to paint a picture of you as an ideal candidate for a particular, unique position.

But how does one even begin to write a cover letter?  What should be included and what are the basic parts of a cover letter?  Let's examine the answers to these questions.

Step 1 – Preparation ^top

As with writing any letter, the first step is to consider the purpose.  That's pretty obvious, to introduce yourself to the company, to let them know which position you are applying for, and to entice them to read your resume and ultimately to invite you for an interview.

The next step in letter writing is to consider your audience. 

You will be writing to a business professional so the letter must be in a professional tone, free of spelling and grammatical errors.  Even one misspelling can knock you out of the running!  Avoid using gender-specific introductions such as “Dear Sirs” or generic terms such as “To whom it may concern.”

Instead, do as much research as possible to find out the hiring manager's name or at least the HR representative or recruiter's name and address the letter directly to them.  If that is not possible then an opening such as “Dear Hiring Manager” will do.

Finally, look at the job lead or job description carefully to determine the most important requirements.  Look for the things you think are most important to the hiring manager.  Remember, read between the lines.  Sometimes the things that may be most important to the company are not directly listed in the job lead. 

If the need for some type of transferable skill or trait is inherent to that type of position, listing it in your cover letter can be a good marketing tool.

Step 2 – “Why Are You Writing Me?” The Introduction ^top

The first part of your cover letter is your introduction.  This first paragraph should list the reason you are writing (responding to an ad for example).  The title of the job along with the publication you saw the lead appear in and a job code if one is supplied should also be included in the first paragraph.  The last sentence should iterate your interest in the position and your confidence that you would excel in this role.

If you were referred by an employee or some other person associated with the hiring manager, this first paragraph is the paragraph to drop that name in.  Let them know that you were referred by Mr. Jones in XYZ department. 

Be certain to include the rest of the information above as well so there is no question which position you are applying for.  This establishes an immediate familiarity and can greatly boost your chances for an interview.

Step 3 – The Body “What Can You Do For Me?” ^top

One of the most important questions for the body of your cover letter to answer is “How do you meet or exceed the requirements I have spelled out in my job ad?”  The company has a need for specific skills. 

They have advertised these skills and have told the recruiter to be on the look out for the requirements the job lead spells out.  Now it's up to you to “lead the horse to water!”

One of the most effective ways to do this is to parallel the job requirements with your skills and experience, side by side. 

If using MS Word you can insert a 2 columned table with the left column labelled “Your Requirements” and the right side labelled “My Qualifications.”

Take a requirement, whether directly stated or implied, from the job lead and put it in the left column (bulleted ideally).  Then in the right column, create a bullet that lists how you meet or exceed that requirement. 

Remember to quantify your responses as much as possible stating how much, how many, which one, what kind and to what extent.  This will make your statements power-packed.  An example of this would be:

Your Requirements

My Qualifications

  • A Bachelor's Degree (Master's preferred) with 8 years XYZ industry experience (at least 3 in a management role)

  • Master's Degree in Business Administration with 10 years experience in XYZ industry, the last 4 of which managing 45 employees and a budget of $5MM.

Continue until you have 4 or 5 requirements listed.  You probably won't be able to capture every requirement in this way, but if you hit the most important ones the recruiter or hiring manager can't help but see what a good fit you are.

A good introductory sentence to this method is “My resume goes into greater detail regarding my job history and skills; however, I have listed some of my qualifications to parallel your job requirements.”

Note that this method works best for cover letters that will be faxed or mailed.  For emailed cover letters you can dispense with the table and simply list those important skills, one after the other as bullets.

Step 4 – The Conclusion “Don't Call Me, I'll Call You” ^top

Keep your conclusion simple.  Express your interest in the position and reiterate that you are confident that you are a good match for this job.  State that there are other accomplishments in your job history that may be of interest. 

Finish by indicating that you will contact the person at a later date (usually next week) to determine next steps.  End with a professional closure such as Best regards.  Then follow up the letter with a call at the appropriate time.