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How to write a great CV – the foundation of your personal brand

If you’re job hunting in 2021 you need to stand out – and that means having a CV that works. This article was originally posted on Yellow Eve.


January is usually a time for fresh starts, and for lots of us, that means new career opportunities. This year is a little different of course, but if you’ve got a bit more time on your hands at home, what better way to focus it than by taking a fresh look at your career story?

The fundamental element of your career story is your CV. If you apply for a job on LinkedIn or online, your CV is the first thing an Application Tracking System (ATS) will scan before it even gets to a recruiter, so it’s really important to get it right.


One of the things I do as a Career Consultant is make sure that you’re marketing yourself in the best possible way, packaging up your achievements, personality and ambition to stand out in a difficult job market. Your CV is a key product in enabling this and I’m going to share some of the things that have helped my clients.


Keep it short and simple

A nicely designed PDF CV with a photo might look lovely, but it could be holding you back. ATS systems scan for keywords, and complicated formats mean they won’t necessarily pick up your skills and experience. It’s not as exciting, but a word document, two pages long and in a font like Arial, Times New Roman or Calibri will be easier for an ATS system to read and will be more likely to get in to the hands of the right person.


What’s your USP?


What makes you different from everyone else? How do you deliver value in a way that no-one else can? It’s worth spending some time thinking about this and consider adding a few bullets or a short paragraph at the top of your CV before your professional experience to outline your unique selling points. This should be a high-level summary of experience and expertise, the details will come later.


Tell a story, but stick to the facts


Think of your CV as your career story highlights. What are you most proud of in each role? What in your story is most relevant for the jobs you are applying for? Remember that the most recent roles are the ones prospective employers are going to be most interested in – there’s no need to write a lot about a job you did many years ago, a couple of well-written sentences will suffice. Although it may be tempting to elaborate achievements on your CV, it’s best not to. Keep to the facts, and they will speak for themselves if you position them in the right way.


Focus on outcomes

A list of your responsibilities is not the most interesting way to tell your story. Think about what you achieved in your three or four most recent roles, and focus on the outcome first.


So, for example:

  • “Achieved a 50% increase in client retention”

  • “Implemented a new organisational design”

  • “Delivered business growth of ~40% in 2020”

Then you can outline how you did this in a couple of sentences. Aim to have a four/five achievements for each recent role, or more if you’ve been in one role for a long period of time. Being outcomes-focused will help employers see what value you’ll bring to an organisation, not just that you can do that job.


Tailor your CV for each role


If you’re applying for a specific role, read through it carefully and highlight any keywords that stand out. Tailor your experience and achievements to mirror words in the job description and focus on the experience that’s most relevant. You might want to move things around, change your profile sentences or tweak your USP paragraph.


Only list hobbies and interests that enhance your personal brand


It might sound obvious, but some hobbies and interests are more relevant to employers than others. It’s worth adding them if they demonstrate a particular trait or achievement that might be interesting to prospective employers. For example, if you’re a marathon runner, that will show a future employer that you’re probably pretty dedicated and have good stamina. If you’re not a marathon runner, and let’s face it, most of us aren’t, then find an angle to your hobby that might show something about you. And if there’s nothing to add, don’t worry about filling the gap with something that’s not going to add value.


Wishing you the best for your job search.


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