7 Tips On Writing Your CV

16th February 2009 - 8 minutes read time

Working for a number of years in the web industry means that I get to see quite a few CVs, and after a while you get a feel for what makes a good one. Your CV (or resumé) is quite often the very first thing anyone ever hears about you, so it is important to get it right. To that end I thought I would impart some of the things I have learned after years of writing my own and reading other people's CVs.

1. Take Your Time

This is of paramount importance. Writing a CV should take you hours. You should study every word and re-read it over and over again. This is mainly to stop any spelling or grammar mistakes but also to avoid any weak language. I'll come onto weak language later on in this post, but your spelling and grammar should be perfect.

I once read a CV from a person who had just about the most complicated sentence I have ever read in a section about his skills. Once I finally got through it and started the second sentence of the paragraph I realised that I was reading the same thing again. He had managed to copy and paste the same sentence in twice. There is no excuse for this kind of sloppiness.

2. Get Someone Else To Read It

Always, always, always get another pair of eyes to look over it. I am a great believer in the phrase "two minds are better than one" and usually get people to read through my blogs or other important documents to spot any errors or omissions. Get a friend or relative to read through your CV, but specifically ask them to question everything. The important thing here is not to take offence. Writing in a technical language for a technical job is fine, but you should correct anything that clearly doesn't make any sense.

3. Write About Your Achievements, Not Your Responsibilities

When starting out thinking about your current (or previous) job it is common to think about what your day-to-day responsibilities were and write about those. There is nothing wrong with this but if you really want to sell yourself, then a better approach is to talk about what you actually achieved for the company, which will lead you to write in a different way. For example, take the following phrase:

Required to reduce running costs.

Sounds a bit dull doesn't it? It simply conveys that part of your job was to reduce running costs, but writing the same sentence in a different way will not only show what your responsibilities were, but that you achieved them.

Reduces running costs by %30 over 6 weeks.

This not only gives an example but looks a lot better doesn't it? Lets try another one:

Managed development projects to given timescales.

This can be reworded as:

Implemented agile project management techniques to streamline project development.

This ties in quite closely with the next section on examples.

4. Give Examples

When I look at a CV I generally look for evidence of the abilities I am looking for. If, for example, I wanted someone who had experience with WordPress then I would look for phrases like "setup WordPress website" or "created WordPress plugin"'. This gives a lot more credence to that person's abilities than simply saying that they have lots of experience in WordPress, but never talking about where that experience comes from. You can do this in your own CV by writing about your achievements, but also think about giving examples of things you have done outside of work. I have always said that any web designer or developer worth their salt has their own website. So if you have a website that you have been a part of outside of work then include this on your CV.

5. You're A Web Designer, So Design!

Okay, so this doesn't count for everybody, but I am so tired of seeing bits of paper that convey a person with good abilities, but which are either unusable or simply so dull that I don't want to read them. I like to see CVs where it is clear that a little bit of thought has gone into them. This might be something as simple as a different coloured background for the titles, to subtle background image on the page. Don't go over the top and give it a garish colour scheme as this will detract from the content of the document.

If you have never come across the phrase "document usability" before then it basically means that the document structure should be immediately obvious for anybody who reads it. It should be easy to see the employment history or what qualification a person has without having to draw arrows and lines to make sense of it.

6. Rewrite For The Job

The phrase "your CV" is a bit of a misnomer as you should have a CV for every occasion and every job you apply for. When job hunting I am continuously updating and tweaking my CV and even adapting it so it has more of a slant to the job I am applying for. For example, if I read the requirements of a job and it asks for a person with WordPress skills then I will reword or even just move about my CV so that it mentions WordPress more than it did before.

You can have a generic CV that you give to recruitment agents, but don't be afraid of giving them more than one.

7. Stick Your Name At The Top

This is more of a heuristic, but one of the most common expectations of a CV is that the very first thing on the first page will be the person's name.

This leads on to the topic of the sort of things that people expect to appear on CVs, and the sort of things that don't. This depends a lot on who you are and what you have done with your life, but I generally like to see a list of skills with either a level (eg. expert/basic) or number of years experience next to each. Put in the jobs you have had, but leave out the paper round you had when you were 9 as it is not likely to be very relevant. Finally, just use some common sense and include details that you will think are relevant to the position.

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