How to Prepare a Knock-Out CV

Sep 6, 2010 by

How to Prepare a Knock-Out CV

It’s easy isn’t it? Just get the last one you did, polish up the format and add the details from your latest job. That’s it, ‘job’s a good ‘un’ as they say. 

Or of course, just send it to one of the many companies who claim they can write ‘brilliant’ or ‘dazzling’ CVs for you.  Then sit back and wait for all the interviews…

Or maybe not…

Last Friday, Richard gave us some insight into the reasons why many CVs fail.  Today, I want to talk about the preparation required to produce a CV that won’t. 

A recap on Richard’s observations from last week:

The purpose of a CV is simple: to get face-to-face time with an employer. Competition for interview time is fierce. Recruiting managers will only look at a CV for approximately 17 seconds before they decide whether to put it on the ‘Yes’ pile. To get on the ‘Yes’ pile, you need to stand out from the crowd. That requires you to communicate a message to the employer – very quickly. 

Start with a blank piece of paper.

This is the first thing I would recommend when talking to people about writing CVs.  It is so tempting to simply add to, change or manipulate what you’ve done previously but I would strongly urge you not to do this. 

Gather all your information together.

Before you commit to anything in writing, you need to do your homework.  There is no substitute for good preparation, so don’t skimp on it. Top things to gather before you even start to think about putting pen to paper are: 

  • All notes and thoughts you have gathered from personal analysis.
  • All your personal information, such as address and telephone numbers.
  • A list of your educational achievements.
  • A full summary of your work history.
  • Any other relevant information that you believe may be of use while writing your CV.

Focus on the two key areas.

Don’t get side-tracked looking for advice about how to improve the layout of your CV or polish up the content. In terms of preparation, the key is to ensure that you are able to provide the best, most appropriate content for the job that you are applying for. There are two key areas that we suggest you prepare to help you do so… 

1. Your personal profile.

How important is your personal profile? Are employers really that interested in it? You may find that views within the recruitment industry differ, but I would suggest that employers are in fact very interested in this, not least because it’s usually the first thing they encounter on your CV. 

The personal profile often follows the contact details.   A really well thought-out, concise personal profile at the start of the CV can make all the difference. If done well, it acts as that attention-grabbing headline that can be read within that crucial 17 second period and spark sufficient interest to prompt a potential employer to read on.  Achieve this and you will be one step closer to winning some interview time. Don’t achieve this and you’re back to square one, looking for another job. 

Remember, you have to stand out from the crowd. Sure, some of your experience may help you to do so, but your experience isn’t usually the first thing that appears on your CV. 

Who are you? What makes you tick? What drives and motivates you? What brings out the passion in your life? Spend time thinking about these questions and your answers. Try and get to a point where you can summarise in 3-5 lines exactly who you are, where you are professionally, what your experience is and where you want to go. 

2.  Your skills and experience. 

Gather information about the role you are applying for.  

Get the job advert, job description or whatever else you have managed to find from your research. Think about the information provided, what it tells you about the role and, specifically, what the employer is looking for.  See if you can answer the following questions: 

  • What core challenges does the job entail?
  • What key skills must the applicant possess?
  • What experience would the employer prefer that the candidates have?

Write down no more than 4 or 5 of these key elements – skills or challenges. 

Match what you offer to the employer’s needs.  

Take your blank piece of paper and draw a table like the one below, 5 columns across and 5 rows down. 

In the ‘Key Challenges’ column: List those key elements that you wrote down before. 

Example:  Let’s say you are sales manager within the renewable energy sector.  You might list ‘the ability to sell capital equipment into the construction industry’ as one of the key challenges.

In the ‘Experience’ column: Put a specific example of your experience that demonstrates that you have the skill or have delivered on a similar challenge to that in the left hand column. 

Example: Following on from the example above, relevant experience may be, ‘4-years selling commercial-scale boilers to contractors, consultants and local authorities in the UK commercial construction sector.’ 

In the ‘Achievements’ column: List any relevant achievements made during or as a result of any experience listed in the previous column.  Remember that achievements should be quantified wherever possible, true and demonstrable.  

Example: Meeting a sales target could be quantified by expressing it like this: ‘Increased sales in my region from £1,200,000 to £3,250,000 in 4 years. Also increased average margins by 7% and market share by 17%.‘ It is also acceptable to put some selected qualitative evidence in here such as,  ‘Won best salesperson award (out of 24) for 3 consecutive years.’ 

In the ‘Competencies’ column:  Describe the specific competencies that your example has demonstrated you possess.

Example: In our example, relevant competencies might be: ‘Generating leads, relationship building, negotiation skills and ability to close deals.’ 

In the ‘How’ column: In this column you should tell the story about how you brought about your achievements.  Limit yourself to writing just a couple of lines that give a powerful anecdote as to how you actually achieved the success that you claim. 

Example: ‘Every new project win was a chance to develop much greater relationships throughout the wider customer organisation. I made sure that my prime contact introduced me favourably to his colleagues responsible for different projects and by doing so, I was able to be in prime position for future projects, thus winning a far greater number of projects with each customer.’ 

What does this achieve and what should I do next? 

Make sure you complete your EACH matrix.  It makes a great starting point for your CV and also terrific preparation for interviews. With your data, your profile and your EACH matrix, you will find yourself well set to start work on a CV that will stand out from the crowd.

For more help on building a great CV, download Jobswot Module 3 or stay tuned for further blogs that will help you take this material and turn it into a great document.

1 Comment

  1. julia paradine

    Thanks Stewart, first podcast I’ve accessed via my phone! and as usual useful practical suggestions.


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