Tips for writing a winning CV

Your CV is your selling tool, it is the first thing prospective employers and agencies look at and it is the best way to make yourself stand out from the crowd.  It is so important to invest time in making it as good as possible and this includes modifying it to suit each application.

The objective of your CV is to get you to interview. Recruitment agencies and some employers use key word searches to electronically select a ‘long list’ of candidates. If your CV does not contain those key words, it does not make this long list. Of course, at some point someone will read your CV and if it reads like a key word list then it will go no further so make sure you include key words, but don’t overdo it.

1. CV layout

Prospective employers probably look at hundreds of CVs and a clear, concise CV which shows your skills and experience is going to be noticed a lot faster than an over-worded jumble.

Make it look professional, adding colours and exotic fonts might make it look pretty but this is a professional document and an insight into you as a person – and a project management professional. Organised, structured, disciplined, professional - these words do not scream blue and pink with italic font and pretty pictures.

Keep to a decent font size and do not vary font types or sizes.

With regards to literary narrations there are lots of opinions on how to write a CV. We recommend writing in the 1st person, i.e. “I am an APM-qualified project manager”, rather than the 3rd person, i.e. “John is an APM-qualified project manager. If nothing else it suggests someone else has written your CV for you, which is not a good sign.

2. Contact details

Without wanting to sound condescending, name, address and contact details please – you’ll be surprised at the number of people who forget contact details or forget to update them. There is no need to include these at the top, just somewhere easily visible.

Recruiters want to be able to get hold of you quickly and without too much effort so make it easy for them. If you are difficult to get hold of or do not return calls a recruiter will move on to the next candidate.

3. Your profile

This is a paragraph or two at the top of your CV which provides a summary of your skills and relevance to the role being recruited. It is possibly the only text a recruiter might read on your CV. Your profile needs to entice the reader to want to learn more so it needs to be snappy and to the point.

Update this section for every role. Review the job description. What are they looking for? What can you state in your profile that supports your application and aligns with the requirements listed in the job description?

4. Education or career highlights first?

Less experienced candidates might start with their education, particularly if this is strong. For those of you with lots of experience then start with a bullet point summary of your career highlights. Include success stories of projects managed. Employers want to know figures; they want to see information on size of budget, scale of team, length of projects, complexity and importance to the organisation.

5. Detailed career history

In reverse chronological order (i.e. start with the most recent).

Similar to career highlights employers want facts. They want to know what you do/did, who you manage (numbers), what is your budget responsibility, methodology used, types of project managed. You must include company name, job title, date started and date finished. It is not enough to put in just the year. Employers need to know months too – they like to see your career path and see if there are any gaps in your CV. Give brief explanations for periods of not working.

It can also be helpful to give sound reasons for why you left a position. This is particularly true if you have moved around quite a bit or have taken on a number of short term contracting roles. It stops the client asking the question: “Why did they leave, what went wrong?”

6. Technical knowledge

This section is for all you engineering/ IT/technical project managers who should highlight technical knowledge. Make this section short but key word rich. However, don’t overdo it as a CV that lists every software possible suggests the person knows little in-depth. Only list an item if you are happy to answer a question on it otherwise you might get to interview but certainly no further.

7. Education

If you didn’t put it at the top of your CV then here is a good place. List all qualifications in reverse chronological order and include dates and  institutions. You should bring certificates of all qualifications with you to interview, whether asked or not. 

8. Hobbies/interests

Do not feel obliged to include this section by default – many people no longer include this type of information at all. If you are going to include something here make sure it is of interest and ideally a topic of conversation for interview. Please don’t include anything if you are just going to say “socialising with friends, travel and films”.  If you do have an interesting hobby or past time then include it to show there is more to you than other candidates. You might just get lucky and have the same interests as your interviewers and people like interesting people!

9. Length of CV

It is often said that a CV should be no more than two pages long, but three pages is absolutely fine. Any candidate should be able to communicate enough information in three pages, however experienced they are. Any longer and you’re really in danger of losing the interest of the recruiter.  Don’t reduce the font size as small as possible and don’t include wordy paragraphs of text. Recruiters will not read through paragraphs. Always use bullet points and short brief sentences. 

Remember that your CV has to be easy to read and clearly laid out as it might initially get no more than a ten second scan. Bullets and short sentences work, paragraphs don’t.

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