Advice for Writing a Professional CV

The following page will give you all the tips to make an impressive CV

What is a CV?

A curriculum vitae, Latin for “course of life”, often shortened as CV or vita (genitive case, vitae), is a written overview of someone’s life’s work (academic formation, publications, qualifications, etc.). Another name for a CV is a résumé.

A CV is the most flexible and convenient way to make applications. It conveys your personal details in a way that presents you in the best possible light. A CV is a marketing document in which you are marketing yourself. You need to “sell” your skills, abilities, qualifications, and experience to employers. It can be used to make multiple applications to employers in a specific career area. For this reason, many large graduate recruiters will not accept CVs and instead use their own application form.

When should a CV be used?

  1. When an employer asks for applications to be received in this format
  2. When an employer simply states “apply to …” without specifying the format
  3. When making speculative applications (when writing to an employer who has not advertised a vacancy but who you hope my have one)

What information should a CV include? What are the most important aspects of CV that employers look for?

One survey of employers found that the following aspects were most looked for:

  • 45%     Previous related work experience
  • 35%     Qualifications & skills
  • 25%     Easy to read
  • 16%     Accomplishments
  • 14%     Spelling & grammar
  • 9%     Education (these were not just graduate recruiters or this score would be much higher!)
  • 9%     Intangibles: individuality/desire to succeed
  • 3%     Clear objective
  • 2%     Keywords added
  • 1%     Contact information
  • 1%     Personal experiences
  • 1%     Computer skills

What to include in your CV in 2020

Personal details

Normally these would be your name, address, date of birth, telephone number, and email. South African CVs don’t usually include a photograph unless you are an actor. If you do include a photograph it should be a head and shoulders shot, you should be dressed suitably and smiling.

Personal profile

A personal profile is one of the most important aspects of your CV. It’s a short paragraph that sits just underneath your personal details giving prospective employers an overview of who you are and what you’re all about.

You should modify your personal profile to every job you apply for, highlighting specific qualities that match you to the specific role. You need to keep your personal profile short and sweet, and no longer than a few sentences. To make the most of this section, you should try to address the following:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Why should they hire you?
  3. What can you offer the company?
  4. What are your goals?

Work experience

Your employment history section gives you a chance to outline your previous jobs, internships, and work experience. Even work in a shop, bar, or restaurant will involve working in a team, providing a quality service to customers, and dealing tactfully with complaints.

List your experience in reverse chronological order as your recent role is the most relevant to the employer.

When listing each position of employment, state your job title, the employer, the dates you worked, and a line that summarises the role. Then bullet point your key responsibilities, skills, and achievements.

Education and qualifications

Like your experience section, your education should be listed in reverse chronological order. Include the name of the institutions and the dates you were there, followed by the qualifications and grades you achieved.

What mistakes do candidates make on their CV?

One survey of employers found the following mistakes were most common:

  • Spelling and grammar 56%
  • Not tailored to the job 21%
  • Length not right & poor work history 16%
  • Poor format and no use of bullets 11%
  • No accomplishments 9%
  • Contact & email problems 8%
  • Objective/profile was too vague 5%
  • Lying 2%
  • Having a photo 1%

Choose a sensible email address

One survey found that 76% of CVs with unprofessional email addresses are ignored. Here are some (modified) graduate email addresses that you should NOT emulate!

*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
*email protected*
Others 3% (listing all memberships, listing personal hobbies, using abbreviations)

When asked what would make them automatically reject a candidate, employers said:

  • CVs with spelling mistakes or typos 61%
  • CVs that copied large amounts of wording from the job posting 41%
  • CVs with an inappropriate email address 35%
  • CVs that don’t include a list of skills 30%
  • CVs that are more than two pages long 22%
  • CVs printed on decorative paper 20%
  • CVs that detail more tasks than results for previous positions 16%
  • CVs that include a photo 13%
  • CVs that have large blocks of text with little white space 13%

How long should a CV be?

A good CV is clear, concise, and makes every point necessary. You don’t need pages and pages of paper, just keep things short and sweet. A CV is a reassurance to a potential employer, it’s a chance to tick the right boxes. And if everything is satisfied, there’s a better chance of a job interview. Remember that employers receive a lot of CVs all the time so it’s unlikely they’ll read each one cover to cover. Most employers will make a judgment about a CV within sections, so stick to a maximum of two pages of A4 paper.

Include a cover letter

When you are applying for a job, a cover letter lets the prospective employer know why hiring you is a smart decision. It gives you an opportunity to distinguish yourself. Cover letters should be around three paragraphs long and include specific examples from your past experience that make you qualified for the position.

Read this article for Cover Letter Tips & Advice is a free online job posting website for employers to post jobs for free. Job seekers using the site can find all the current jobs in South Africa. If you’re still looking for your dream job, search through all the current employment opportunities in South Africa.

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You may also find these articles useful:

7 Mistakes First Time Job Seekers Make

Graduate CV Template

How to make a good impression during a job interview

Articles for Job Seekers

Tips for Candidates Applying for Jobs

4 tips to get your job application noticed

What To Do If You Get Retrenched

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