5 Steps to a Perfect CV

Tim Williams, Team Leader of the EU-Eastern Partnership Culture and Creativity Programme, is convinced that before you start to apply for a job, it is important to just gather all the information you can about yourself.

Step 1. Building a Mothership

Use an online format with prompt questions and a good format like LinkedIn or the EU’s Europass, that you can access anywhere in the world and develop a “mothership” CV that includes everything that you have done in your life.

This mothership CV will take about a week to complete, if done comprehensively enough. Don’t write it in one go. As on any online system, focus on one section of information at a time, save the information, close the document and return to the form a few days later and move on to the next page.

As you sift through old documents, photograph the key ones (awards, training certificates, staff newsletter clippings etc) and save those electronically also. Try to have tangible evidence for everything you say or claim in a CV.

If you have worked in one company for a long time in several positions, treat each one separately. Break every role down into separate elements.

Step 2. Past Employment

When you get to the section on past employment it is often quicker to use the words from your old contract/ job description to describe your work rather than invent words of your own. Then add what your main achievement in each post was. In one sentence say what your professional journey was and be concrete. So for example: “As office administrator I was responsible for our company’s Green Office Campaign and managed to reduce paper waste by 50%”.

For some employers you will also need to explain why you left each position, so save time and do it now. Not everyone leaves a job in happy circumstances. The CV is not a place for negativity, so think about what your next step was and see if this can provide the narrative that employers are looking for. For example: “I left in order to develop sales experience in a smaller family business retail environment so I could understand the retailer experience in dealing with wholesale distribution companies”.

When you come to apply for a job, refine this sentence. Either take it out if it is not a requirement, or re-write it to tell the story of your career life. See below.

Dealing with gaps between jobs is a problem. Many people working in the field of arts or consultancy have gaps in their employment history, and large-scale employers do not view this favourably. You may have had some short-term odd jobs, you may have helped your family or friends out for free. In this case you may be able to say you worked freelance as a freelance set designer, freelance costume maker, freelance journalist, etc.

Once completed, then re-read it a week later. Pretend you are an alien. Does it make sense? Will I know that Poltava is in Ukraine? Will I know that the Poltava Ballet is “the largest ballet company in central Ukraine”? Will I know that Vera Melnyka is “the award-winning documentary film producer based in New York”? Probably not.

Step 3. Searching questions

On a second read-through make sure there are no repeated words. Why? Because most recruitment agencies nowadays headhunt for people through word searches.

You will be missed if you are the only Italian eco-architect based in Chisinau with experience of project management in music festival structures, and you forget to use the “eco” term.

Also even if you have not changed jobs, go into your online CV and change a word or two, save the document and log out. What this does is put your CV to the top of the online search files. It increases your chance of being picked out.

Step 4. Now it’s time to apply

So you have seen a job that you really want. How can you guarantee that you get called for an interview? The first step is be honest with yourself. Think of your worst critic. Would you be able to crush their arguments if they questioned you ambition?

If yes, then the next step is to submit a CV.

Don’t give the impression that you are lazy. Tailor every CV and covering letter as closely as possible to the job advertisement.

You are entering an elimination process. You are competing with many others. Do not give the assessor any reason to score you down or eliminate you. Fight with every word.

So go to the job advertisement, and job description (if there is one) and highlight all of the important words. Write them down separately in a “key word” list.

Then go to the mothership CV and only pull out those sections of your career that relate to the key words.

By all means list your whole employment history – but do this briefly. Focus more on describing in greater detail those jobs that show you are the person that the employer wants.

Make sure every one of those key words is in the CV. Where you may have similar but not exact experience - make that point. So you could say: “In this company I was responsible for the office stationery inventory – this task follows the same process and procedures needed in the job advertised, namely running a stock check, completing an order form, raising a purchase order and submitting the order for approval with my line manager.”

The mechanics are important. That is break down your job like an engine into parts. Don’t make the reader have to work on imagining what a job may or could entail. List what you did (again old contracts and job descriptions will help you here.

Step 5. Begin each job description with an “action verb” i.e. Led, Designed, Managed.

Think about the hierarchy of the role you are describing and the role you are applying for. Managers lead - assistants support. Directors that use the verbs “contributed, participated, supported” in their CV do not sound like managers. Conversely if you are looking for your first management role, then in addition to explaining your main supporting duties talk about a project that you “led”. This shows that you have initiative.

Step 6. Use plain language.

Say exactly what you mean, using the simplest words that fit. Consider your target audience to be a non-specialist and aim for the CV to be effortless for someone else to read.

Use short sentences. If sentences are too long or paragraphs too dense, consider breaking them up into shorter sentences and paragraphs. Avoid using brackets. Avoid repetition of points.

Be consistent in your formatting, especially with punctuation and spacing. If presenting a long list, try and structure it so the reader can follow e.g. use bullet points. The first time an abbreviation is used, it must be written out in full.

For English-language CVs: Use spelling and number conventions of the nationality of the organization that you are applying to. So if your CV is in American English adapt it to British English where needed. Avoid the passive mode where possible, e.g. not “change is resisted in the Ministry” but rather “the Ministry resists change”. Pay attention to definite and indefinite articles (‘the’ and ‘a/an’). I know this is hard for many, but it makes a huge difference to the native speaker’s ability to understand text easily.

Step 7. Tell a story

Set the CV aside. Either give it to a person you trust, or come back to it a day later and try to read it like a story. Does it take you through your life to a point where the job you are applying for seems the next logical step? Rewrite it until it does.

There are many versions of all of us. You can be an administrator, a mum, a youth centre volunteer, a trainer, a first aid monitor and a cat lover. Show your prospective employer only the version that’s relevant to them.

Every word counts. Take out any words that don’t contribute to the story. Change or add words that do.

Step 8. Always include a one-page covering letter

My advice? Start by saying what you know about the company, its achievements and why working for them interests you.

Ninety-five percent of the applicants will not do this. They will start by saying why they want the job – also a good thing, but it does not reach out to and engage the reader in the first sentence.

Briefly summarise your skills in the CV by following the logical structure of the job advertisement. So take their headings such as “Self-starter”, and show where in your CV you have had to run projects or manage tasks from start to finish with little initial support.

Keep the letter simple, don’t get personal and conclude it with a hope to discuss this further at an interview.

Other interesting stories: