GOKE ILESANMI

Why you need a good CV

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By Goke Ilesanmi

 

Since we stopped discussion on job-search strategies and briefly mentioned types of curriculum vitae in our July 19, 2010 edition, job-seekers have been mounting pressure on me that I should discuss types of curriculum vitae in detail. Well, I do not have a choice but to yield to your requests now.

Explanation

Curriculum vitae (CV) has a persuasive motive. As we once said, it is a tool with the aim of winning an interview. Indeed, it is an advertisement. A great CV does not just tell a prospective employer what you have done but presents you in the best light. It convinces the prospective employer that you have what it takes to be successful in the new position. Nicholas Lore, an international career management expert says it is a mistake to think of your CV as a history of your past, as a personal statement or as some sort of self-expression. Surely, most of the content of any CV is focused on the job history. But, endeavour to write with the intention to create interest, to persuade the prospective employer to call you. If you write with that goal, your final product will be very different from when you are writing to inform or catalogue your job history.

Misconception

Most people write their CV anyhow. If you realise that a great CV can be your gateway to getting your dream job, you will definitely develop real interest in creating an enviable masterpiece, rather than the despicable ones most people compose. Research shows that only one interview is granted for every 200 CVs received by a prospective employer, and that each CV is quickly scanned, rather than read. A period of between ten and twenty seconds is all the time you have to persuade a prospective employer to read further. The implication of this is that the decision to interview a candidate is usually based on an overall first impression that his or her CV is able to create.

Therefore, the top half of the first page of your CV will either make or mar your chances. By the time a prospective employer has read the first few lines, you may or may not arouse his or her interest. This is why it is said that your CV is an advertisement. Ensure that it has the same result as a well-written advert: to get the reader to respond.

To write a CV that is effective, you need to learn the strategy of writing a powerful, but subtle advertising copy. Note that the best-advertised product is often bought more than the best product. If you have a masterpiece of a CV, you will always get a better response from prospective employers than people with better credentials but without a good CV.

However, do not make false claims on your CV just for the sake of getting invited for an interview. Integrity is very important.

Your goal

You should focus on the prospective employers’ needs not yours. Usually, the person who makes the hiring decision is also the person who is responsible for the bottom-line productivity of the project or group you hope to join. This is a person who cares deeply about how well the job will be done. Therefore, you need to write your CV in such a way that will appeal directly to him or her. Ask yourself questions such as What would make someone the best candidate? What does the employer really want? If you are in search of a job in a field you have enough knowledge of, think of what would make someone a superior candidate. If you are not sure, you can ask other people who work for the same company or in the same field. You can even call the prospective employer and ask him or her what he or she wants because if you are not addressing his or her real needs, he or she will not respond to your CV. Putting yourself in the position of the person doing the hiring is the first and most important step in writing a CV that markets you rather than describes your history. Every step in producing a finished document should be part of your overall intention to convey to the prospective employer that you are a truly-exceptional candidate.

Exercise

Therefore, be clear on what the employer is looking for and what you have to offer before you begin your CV. Write your answers to the first question What would make someone the perfect candidate? on a sheet of paper, one answer per page. Prioritise the sheets of paper, based on which qualities or abilities you think would be most important to the person doing the hiring. Then, starting with the top priority page, fill the rest of that page, or as much of it as you can, with brainstorming about why you are the person who best fulfils the employer’s needs. Write down everything you have ever done that demonstrates that you fit perfectly with what is wanted and needed by the prospective employer. The whole idea is to organise your thinking such that you will be able to see some new connections between what you have done and what the employer is looking for. You need not confine yourself to work-related accomplishments. Therefore, base your composition on your entire life accomplishments. The essence of this is to cover all the talents you bring to the market place. If you are making a career change or are a young person and new to the job market, you are going to be especially creative in getting across what makes you stand out.  One important part of the planning process is to decide which CV format fits your needs best. Do not automatically assume that a traditional format will work best for you.

Analysis

There are three types of CVs, and these are chronological, functional and combined chronological functional. The most effective one is the combined chronological functional CV that takes care of the combined deficiencies of chronological and functional CVs. A great CV has two sections. In the first section, you make assertions about your abilities, qualities and achievements. The second section, the evidence section, is where you back up your assertions with evidence that you actually did what you said you did. This is where you list and describe the jobs you have held, your education, etc. Most CVs contain the evidence section without assertions. The assertions section usually has two or three sections. In all of them, your job is to assert that you are the best candidate for the job. You start by naming your intended job. This may be in a separate Objective section, or may be woven into the second section, the Summary. If you are making a change to a new field, or are a young person not fully established in a career, start with a separate Objective section.

ASSERTIONS SECTION

(A) Objective

Targeting your CV requires that you should be completely clear about your career direction. The way to demonstrate your clarity of direction is to make the first major topic of your CV be your objective section.

Suppose the owner of a newspaper house puts an advert in the paper looking for an experienced sales person. Then later, the company receives 400 CVs. The applicants have different backgrounds. The recruiting person has no way of knowing whether any of them is really interested in selling the company’s product. He or she remembers they have all applied for a job they do not really want. He or she knows that many of the CVs received are from people who are just casting their seeds to the winds. Then, he or she comes across a CV in the pile that starts with the following: “OBJECTIVE: To work as a sales person in a reputable media organisation where an extraordinary record of exceeding sales target and excellent customer relations would be needed.”

Attention

This will automatically attract his or her attention. It works well because the prospective employer is smart enough to know that someone who wants to do exactly what he or she is offering will be much more likely to succeed than someone who does not. And, he or she (the applicant) will probably be a lot more pleasant to work with as well. Also, this candidate has done a good job of establishing why he or she is the best candidate in the first sentence.

It is noteworthy that even when people are clever enough to have an objective, they often make the mistake of composing a selfish objective such as, “To work as X in an organisation where I can hone my skills….” The employer is interested in hiring you for what you can do for him or her, not for fulfilling your private goals and agenda.

  To write your objective, therefore, you first of all decide on a specific job title for your objective. Go back to your list of answers to the question, How can I demonstrate that I am the best candidate? as suggested last week. What are the two or three qualities, abilities or achievements that would make a candidate stand out as truly exceptional for that specific job? The person in the above example understands that the prospective employer would be very much interested in candidates having the ability to exceed sales targets, generate new accounts and effectively relate with customers.

Therefore, he or she makes that the very first and convincing point of the CV. Ensure that the objective is to the point. Experts such as Nicholas Lore, an international career management coach say it is better to avoid fluffy phrases which are obvious or do not mean anything, such as, “Allowing the ability to enhance potential and utilise experience in new challenges.” The objective may be broad and still somewhat be vague in some cases, e.g. “A senior-level management position in the banking industry”.

Effectiveness 

Having an objective statement that is really catching is the best.  One format is:

“OBJECTIVE: An X position in an organisation where Y and Z would be needed.” X refers to the name of the position you are looking for. Y and Z are the most unique qualities, abilities or achievements that will really make you stand out from a crowd of applicants. The research previously done, to find out what is most important to the employer will provide the information to fill in Y and Z.

   If you are actually not sure of the type of job you are looking for, adapt your CV to each type of job you apply for. There is nothing wrong with having several different CVs, each with a different objective, specifically composed for a different type of position. You may even want to change some parts of your CV for each job you apply for, have an objective that is perfectly matched with the job you are applying for. This is so because you are only writing an advertising copy, not your life story that is objectively fixed.

   You may or may not need to use a separate Objective section if you are looking for a job in your present field. You may just include your Objective in your Summary section. The point of using an Objective is to create a specific psychological response in the mind of the reader. If you are making a career change or are a young person, you want the employer to immediately focus on where you are going, rather than where you have been. If you are looking for another job in your present field, it is more important to stress your qualities, achievements and abilities first.

The following are a few examples of the separate objective section:

*A mid-level position in the insurance industry where a background in public relations would be needed.

*An English language teaching position where a special ability to motivate and communicate effectively with students would be required.

(B) The Summary segment

The Summary or summary of qualifications segment consists of several concise statements that focus the reader’s attention on the most important qualities, achievements and abilities you have to offer. Those qualities should be the most compelling demonstration of why you should be employed at the expense of other candidates. The summary segment gives you a brief opportunity to list a few of your most striking qualities. It is your one and only chance to attract and hold the prospective employer’s attention, to get across what is most important, and to entice the employer to keep reading. This is the spiciest part of the CV. This may be the only section fully read by the employer. As such, it should be very strong and convincing. The summary is the one place to include professional characteristics such as,  “An Energetic self-starter”; “Exceptional interpersonal skills”, etc. that may be helpful in winning an  interview. Make sure every word in the summary is geared towards your targeted goal. To write a good Summary, you need to be conscious of the question, What would make someone the ideal candidate? Think of the qualities the employer will care about most.

ASSERTIONS SECTION

(C) Accomplishments sub-section

This sub-section is the final part of the assertions section of your CV. Here, you go into detail. In short, you do exactly what you have done in the summary sub-section, except that you go into more detail. In the Summary sub-segment, you focus on your most special highlights. But here, you tell the rest of the best of your story. Let prospective employers know what results you have produced, what positively happened as a result of your efforts, what you are especially gifted or experienced at doing. Elaborate on the most important highlights in your summary.

    By doing this, you are still writing to do what every good advertisement does. That is, communicating the following: “If you buy this product, you will get these direct benefits.” However, if this sub-section does not contribute to effective consolidation of your Summary highlights, you may not bother to include it.

Sometimes the Accomplishments sub-section is a separate entity. In a chronological CV, it becomes the first few phrases of the descriptions of the various jobs you have held.

Structural options

There are a number of different ways to structure the Accomplishments sub-section. In all of these options, put your accomplishments in order of importance for the desired career results. If you are endowed with multiplicity of skills, the last skill paragraph might be called Additional Skills.

Here is how you could structure your accomplishments sub-section:

1. Make a list of your accomplishments with bullets, e.g.

SELECTED ACCOMPLISHMENTS

• Won Most Outstanding Performance award as a reporter at X newspaper in 2008.

• Exceeded sales target by N15 million in one month as a sales officer at Y company in 2005.

EVIDENCE SECTION

This is the second part of an effective CV. This name is only descriptive or suggestive in that there is actually no CV section basically tagged evidence. By evidence, we refer to all the mandatory and optional information you must include on your CV, e.g. chronological work history with dates, education, affiliations, list of software mastered, etc. It is better to place all this information in the second half of the CV. Put the strong part in the beginning, and all the less exciting information afterwards. This allows the prospective employer to have better information about where you have worked, how long, your education, etc.

In short, for your CV to be effective, there must be a striking assertions section, and a well-ordered “evidence” section for the sake of communicating that a great CV is not about just giving information but about advertising. Paradoxically, experts say a great CV does not have the evidence section. It is not that the section is not there at all, but everything is considered one big assertions section. That is, every single word is deliberately framed to have the desired effect because a great CV is one big advert disguised as a history of your working life.

The decisions you make concerning what information to emphasise and what not to emphasise should be based on your consideration of every word of your curriculum vitae as an important part of the assertions section. The evidence includes some or all of the following sub-sections according to experts:

Experience

Here, you make a list of jobs in reverse chronological order. Nicholas Lore, an international career management coach says you do not need to go into detail on the job or jobs done early in your career but focus on the most recent and/or relevant jobs.

Lore adds that you can summarise the earliest jobs in one line or very short paragraph, or list only the bare facts with no position description. Decide which is more impressive: your job titles or the names of the firms you worked for; then consistently begin with the more impressive of the two, perhaps using boldface type.

 You may want to describe the firm in a phrase in parentheses if this will impress the prospective employer. Put dates in italics at the end of the job, to de-emphasise them. Exclude months, unless the jobs were held less than a year. Include industrial attachment and major volunteer roles if desired; because the section is tagged Experience. So it does not mean you can only include jobs you were paid to do.

Education

In this sub-segment, you list education in reverse chronological order, degrees or licences first, followed by certificates and advanced training. Set degrees apart to make them easily visible. Put in boldface whatever will be most impressive. Exclude any details about college except a major one. Include grade point average only if over 3.4. List selected course work if this will help convince the prospective employer of your qualification for the targeted job.

  You can include advanced training, but be selective with the information, summarising the information and including only what will impress the prospective employer.

If you are working on an uncompleted degree, include the degree and, in parentheses, the expected date of completion (expected 200x).

If you did not finish college, start with a phrase describing the field studied, then the school, then the dates (the fact that there was no degree may be missed).

Professional affiliations

Here, you include only those that are current and will be relevant and impressive. This is a good section to include your membership of a group targeted for special consideration by employers, if you belong to one.

EVIDENCE SECTION

Civic/community leadership

This segment can be included if the leadership roles or accomplishments are related to the target job and can show skills acquired. For instance, a treasurer of a community, who has had a lot of achievements in this position, can include such accomplishments in his or her CV if he or she is seeking a job in a corporate organisation as a finance manager. So also can a successful Sunday School teacher in a church include his or her achievements if or when looking for a teaching appointment in a school. However, you need to be careful as far as the inclusion of political affiliations is concerned, as they could be a plus or minus with an employer or company.

Publications: Only published works should be included here and summarised if they are many.

Personal interests/Hobbies

This segment has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages: It can indicate a skill or area of knowledge which is related to the goal, such as “playing football”, for somebody looking for a job as a Physical Education teacher; or “travelling and networking”, for somebody looking for a job as a marketing or sales manager. It can show well-roundedness, good physical health, or knowledge of a subject related to the goal. It can create common ground or spark conversation in an interview.

  Disadvantages: It may be irrelevant to the job goal and curriculum vitae purpose, and therefore may be meaningless. You probably should not include a personal interests segment. Your reason for including it is most likely that you want to tell your prospective employer about yourself. But do not forget that your CV is an advert of a kind. If this segment would powerfully move the prospective employer to understand why you would be the best candidate, include it, otherwise, forget about it.

References

 Put “References available upon request” at the end of your CV. It is not necessary to include references as part of your CV. Instead, prepare a separate reference sheet and bring it to the interview if or when it is requested by the prospective employer.

DETAILS OF OTHER CV FORMATS

Chronological CV

The chronological CV is the more traditional structure for a CV. The Experience section constitutes the major focus. Each job or the last several jobs are described in some detail and there is no major section of skills or accomplishments at the beginning of the CV. This structure is primarily used when you are staying in the same profession, in the same type of work, particularly in very conservative fields such as law and the academia. However, it is recommended that the chronological CV should always have an objective or summary, to guide a prospective employer.

One of the advantages of a typical chronological CV is that it may appeal to older, more traditional prospective employers and be best in very conservative fields. Additionally, it makes it easier to understand what you did in what job. It may help the name of the employer stand out more, if this is impressive. The disadvantage is that it is much more difficult to highlight what you do best. This format is rarely appropriate for someone making a career change.

Functional CV

The functional CV highlights the major skills and accomplishments right from the beginning. It helps the prospective employer to see clearly what the applicant can do for him or her, rather than having to read through the job descriptions to find out. It helps target the CV towards a new direction or field, by lifting up from all past jobs the key skills and qualifications to help prove you will be successful in this new direction or field. Actual company names and positions are in a subordinate position, with no description under each. There are different types of formats for functional CVs. The functional CV is a must for career changers, but is very appropriate for generalists, for those with  divergent careers, for those with a wide range of skills in their given profession, for students and for those who want to make slight shifts in their career direction.

   It is pertinent to note that this type of CV is not without its advantages and disadvantages. As far as advantages are concerned, this type of CV will help you most in reaching for a new goal. It is a very effective type of CV, and is highly recommended. However, one of the disadvantages is that it is hard to know what the applicant did in which job, which may be a negative to some conservative interviewers.

GUIDELINES FOR A BETTER CV PRESENTATION

  Your CV should be visually enticing. It should be simple and clean. It should be very easy-to-read, un-crowded and balanced. Include as much white space between every two sections of writing as possible. The sections of writing should not be longer than six lines. Make maximum use of italics, capital letters, bullets, boldface, and underlining, with uniformity and consistency. Employ total parallelism or uniformity in design decisions. For instance, if a full-stop is at the end of one job’s date, a period should be at the end of all jobs’ dates; if a degree is in boldface, all degrees should be in boldface.

    Remember to think of the CV as an advertisement. Make sure it is error-free. That is, no typographical or spelling errors. No grammatical or punctuation errors. No factual errors. All the basic, expected information is included. A CV must have the following key information: your name, address, and phone number (immediately identifiable and at the very top of the first page), a listing of all jobs held since beginning your career, in reverse chronological order, educational degrees including the highest degree received, in reverse chronological order. Additionally, targeted information will of course accompany this. Much of the information people commonly put on a CV can be omitted but these ones are mandatory.

A CV should be targeted towards your goal, to the ideal next step in your career. Highlight your strengths and de-emphasise your weaknesses. Focus on whatever is most impressive. Make careful and strategic choices as to how to organise, order and convey your skills and background. Make liberal use of words. For every skill, ability or accomplishment described, use the most active and accurate verb you can think of. Keep sentences as short and direct as possible. Eliminate any extraneous information and any repetition.

Do not use four examples when one or two are okay. Say what you want to say in the most direct words possible, instead of trying to impress with bigger words or more complex sentences. You also need to vary long sentences, if necessary, with short and punchy sentences. It is better to employ phrases rather than full sentences when phrases are possible, and start sentences with verbs, eliminating pronouns, e.g. I, You, He, She, They, etc.

Addition

Vary words, do not repeat a verb or adjective in the same paragraph. Use commas liberally, to clarify meaning and make reading easier. Remain consistent in writing decisions, for example, the use of abbreviations and capitalisation.

As far as CV length is concerned, everyone freely offers advice on what it should be. Some say a CV should always be one page, while others say a CV can be as many pages as you want long if you can sustain the prospective employer’s reading interest for so long, and at the same time create excitement that makes him or her pick up his or her phone and call you for an interview.  However, it is better not to follow length rules blindly. Instead, do what works. Sometimes, it is appropriate to have a three-page CV. But, unless your life has been filled with a wide variety of extraordinary achievements, make your CV short.

Length of a consulting CV

 In a consulting CV, you are expected to dig everything as deep as you possibly can. If you are selling your own consulting service, make it sizzle, just like any other CV. Additionally, include a little more detail, such as a list of well-known clients, powerful quotes from former clients about how fantastic you are, etc. If you are seeking a job with a consulting firm that will be packaging you along with others as part of a proposal, include everything that makes up your intellectual strength and profile. You can include a full list of publications, skills, assignments, other experience, and every bit of educational achievements you can, that have something to do with your work. The philosophy here is: the more the better. CVs can be written using either the first- or the third-person verb tense.

Use whichever you choose consistently. Verb tenses are varied and based on accurate reporting.  If the accomplishment is completed, it should be past tense. If the task is still underway, it should be present tense. If the skill is something which has been used and will continue to be used, use present tense. A way of “smoothing out” transitions is to use the present perfect tense.

Be sure the telephone number on the CV will, without exception, be answered by a person or an answering machine. I am sure you do not want to miss an interview just because of lack of response when you are called on phone. Include e-mail and fax numbers, if you have them.

Choosing references

Before you choose a person as one of your references, you need to seek his or her consent. It is very risky to take this for granted. Equally ask whoever volunteers to be your reference about the address and phone number he or she wants you to use for him or her. Thank a reference for the time spared with you in your meeting and for agreeing to act as your reference. Make sure you keep in touch with him or her constantly even after securing the job.

Preparing a reference sheet

At the top of your reference sheet, put your name, address as well as phone number. Additionally, for every reference, include the name, official designation, address and phone number. The reasonable and average number of references you can include is three.

Electronic CV

Apart from the paper form of CV, you can also have your CV in the electronic form. This is therefore called Electronic CV. Nowadays that job-hunt is on the high side, it is good to have both paper and electronic types of CV. The electronic CV is especially concerned with online job application. The way an electronic CV is prepared is different from that of the paper form. This is especially so because the way computers read CVs is different from the way human beings do. In composing your electronic CV, you need to bear the following tips in mind:

Concentrate on keywords: Computers scan CVs for keywords that they have been programmed to check, depending on the position in question. The implication of this is that if your CV does not contain the keywords, you will surely miss the employment opportunity. The more the keywords found on the CV, the better your chances. When you are applying for an advertised job electronically, the keywords are those in the advert.

However, in spite of the fact that nouns are more included as far as an electronic CV is concerned, it does mean verbs are not necessary at all. Use the normal point size and text font. Avoid the use of italics and bold text. Capitalised words are okay.

Do not use brackets, a dash, bullets, a horizontal or vertical line, a hyphen, symbols, etc. They are subject to structural distortion. While sending your CV electronically, include a cover letter with it in one file. Use the job title or your objective in the subject line citing any relevant number. Make sure you follow the necessary instructions. Some employers who advertise online do not accept a CV through e-mail. Therefore, ask if you could be allowed to send the hard copy of your cover letter and CV. Make sure that your phone number and e-mail address are included.

 

GOKE ILESANMI, Editor-in-Chief/CEO of https://www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng and Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is a Certified Public Speaker/Emcee, (Business) Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker, Career Management Coach, Renowned Book Reviewer, Corporate Leadership Expert and Editorial Consultant.

 

Tel: +234(0)8056030424; +234(0)8187499425

Email:  gokeiles2010@gmail.com; info@gokeilesanmi.com.ng

Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng

 

 

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