For many jobseekers, your CV is the first point of contact with a potential employer. It is the first opportunity to sell yourself, to get yourself noticed and, above all, to make sure any potential door is not closed to you. First impressions do count, so make this one work for you.
As an environmental recruitment agency, we have worked with hundreds of graduates to kick-start their career in sustainability or the environment. But the tips for improving your CV apply whatever industry or sector you are looking to work in:
- It’s a good idea to have your CV prepared well in advance of spotting any job opportunities, and certainly well ahead of any closing date, so that it is not undertaken in a rush. This ensures that the basics will be there to build on, and you can tailor the CV for each specific opportunity without too much additional work.
- You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth repeating because there are far too many examples of people who ignore the advice – do make sure you check it through (better still, get someone else to check it through) for clarity, spelling and grammar. Mistakes will send your CV into the waste paper basket (metaphorically if it’s electronic).
- Given that your CV needs to be tailored for each job opportunity, double check it through to make sure that you are have the right version for that particular company or organisation – there’s nothing worse than focusing on your people management skills, for instance, when the company in question is actually looking for someone to work on their own as a self-starter.
- Make your CV easy to read and interesting – employers will have many CVs to look at, so don’t make it difficult for them – instead, make it a pleasure; think about the font (and please don’t be tempted to go for a quirky choice!), size of type and density of text; avoid colours other than black.
- Short blocks of text work well, and bullet points are fine provided the list isn’t too long – again, use the ‘pleasure principle’ as your overarching guide.
- Tables are also OK for small amounts of text, but don’t overdo it.
- Use the selection criteria where possible to align the skills and experience on your CV with the job description – wherever you can, give examples of how you match the criteria (approach it like marking criteria – how high can you score?).
- A profile (or personal statement) can work well, but only if you have some relevant points to make. This could be used to demonstrate your enthusiasm and creativity (to compensate for lack of experience perhaps) or to show your passion and commitment – but it is important to avoid clichés and buzzwords.
- Don’t include a photo – unless it’s a modelling job you’re after!
- Aim for 2 pages of A4 max, and remember you don’t have to detail every qualification and piece of work experience – if you have a degree or higher, the grades you got for GCSE are probably not too important, so just list the number of passes and subjects.
- References at this stage aren’t essential and they will take up too much space – just say ‘references are available on request’ – recruiters won’t be needing references at the CV filtering stage.
- Remember that life experience can be just as relevant as job experience when it comes to many key skills – project management, budgeting, communication skills, for example, can be demonstrated in different ways – so be creative
- Don’t forget to highlight professional qualifications and any relevant Continuing Professional Development (CPD) – what training have you undergone recently that shows that your skills are up to date? This is particularly important if you have been unemployed for a while and the employer is concerned that you could be out of touch in a fast-moving industry.
- Don’t be afraid to ask friends and colleagues what they think your strengths are – and if they have any other comments or advice on your CV.
- Finally, don’t think of your CV as set in stone. If you progress to the next stage, ask for feedback on your CV – what worked, what jumped out, what was irrelevant to the potential employer – and hone your CV accordingly. And do share your experiences with others – blogs and websites are a great community resource; if you give to others, they will give back to you.
Remember, your CV is about bringing you and your experience to life, so give examples wherever possible, to help the potential employer quickly build a picture of you.
Written by Karl McGrory, Head of Change Partnerships – ChangeAgents.org.uk. Change Agents is a charity that specialises in recruitment, training and support for a wide range of sustainability projects. Follow on Twitter @changeagentsuk