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CVs, love them or hate them, they're an essential selling tool if you're going to be successful in the job market. So before you pick up the pen or turn on your pc, it's worth thinking carefully about what will you include in your CV, the style you should use, and any finishing touches.
Richard Grace, co-managing director of recruitment agency Gordon Yates, estimates that, on average an employer spends no more than 2 to 3 minutes reading a CV. So ensuring that yours is well presented, without any mistakes in spelling or grammar, is a must to ensure that it receives the reading it deserves.

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What do potential employers want to know about you?

Your CV needs to be relevant to the person you're sending it to. So before you start, consider your skills, experience and achievements and select those which are most relevant to the position you want. Don't forget that this could include voluntary work and other activities you do in your spare time.

"A CV should begin with a short summary of who you are," advises Sam Lumb, regional manager of OfficeTeam . "Pick up on the key features of any job description you're applying for, but use your CV to show that you're a self-starter, a team player and good communicator. Andexpress your skills and qualities in the present tense – you may not be using them right now, but you've still got them."

So, what comes next? "Employers want to know what you've done academically, where you've worked, what experience and skills you've gained, the pattern you've established in job tenure and your career steps over time," explains Richard. "The job tenure gives a potential employer an idea of how long you tend to stay in a job."

"It's not enough to simply state the posts and responsibilities you have held," says Sam. "It's vital to illustrate how well you have carried out this work through a list of achievements. Your positive features need to jump off the page."

If you've had any gaps between jobs, cover them in a positive light. "Gaps raise questions, and potential employers may think you have something to hide," Richard points out. "Time spent travelling or raising a family can add to your skills and experience. But don't make too big a deal of it; just make your point without making it a big issue."

What else will boost your chances of success?

Tailoring your CV to the job you're applying for or the sector you want to work in is always a good idea.

"An employer in the media sector is likely to be impressed by a CV with an original and interesting layout," says Richard. "In contrast, employers in the financial sector may feel more comfortable with a more conventional CV."

Richard has a word of warning, however. "If you tailor your CV for a job in one sector, make sure you update it when you're looking at other areas. I once received a CV in which the personal statement at the top began, 'I am dedicated to building a career in television.' Unfortunately this person was applying for a job in recruitment."

There are different styles of CV, such as the chronological and functional. The former is the most commonly used, whereby you show each appointment you've held (the present one being first) and then do the same for your educational qualifications.

The functional CV involves grouping together your skills and experience under functional headings, and it can be a great way to remind yourself of your strengths before you go for an interview. For example:

  • Team work
  • Problem solving
  • Handling conflict/li>

By identifying situations to show you've got these skills in a functional CV, you will have something to pick up on if asked about them in interview, for example, Tell us about a situation where you've had to solve a problem..

And before you send your CV…

If you consider that the average employer spends two to three minutes reading a CV, you want to ensure that yours is easily read. It's also worth getting at least two people - not friends or family - to check your CV for any errors before you send it out. If you've been refining and re-drafting your CV, it's easy to miss small mistakes that won't impress!

So, what else makes a CV stand out from the crowd?

"Relevance and enthusiasm," says Richard Grace. "The best CVs are very specific and describe the applicant's skills, experience and attributes in a way that's relevant to the employer's needs. Enthusiasm can be conveyed by a covering letter or email that stresses your resolve and commitment to succeed in the employer's field."

Richard has one final piece of advice. "Don't try to be too clever in order to attract attention. This can backfire. I was once sent a CV with a bloodied rubber finger enclosed. The message read: 'Invite me for an interview, or I'll send more bits.' Whilst this is quite amusing, it is unlikely that you'll be taken seriously."

Five Top Tips:
  • Keep your CV to 2 pages, maximum 3
  • Be honest about your language skills. It's unwise to say you're fluent in French if you can't hold a conversation in it. You may find yourself being asked questions in French at an interview!
  • Don't stick lots of interests down – it may look as though you've got no time or energy for work!
  • Refresh your memory to see what you wrote in your CV before you go for an interview
  • If you're studying for additional qualifications or you've undertaken vocational training, say so – it shows you're motivated and that you've got potential.

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