A CV Writing Guide

Have you ever sent in your CV to thousands of organisations with no such luck as a job interview invite? Did you just graduate from school and have no idea of how to start writing your CV or you are an experienced hire looking to change jobs and hoping to update your CV? This article will help you focus on the key elements to include on your CV, so you can stand out from the competition and land your dream job.

So let’s get started.

Key Element 1: Research

One of the mistakes job seekers make is not doing the work before the work. Before you start writing your CV you should have done lots of researches- research what jobs are available in the market, look through job vacancies, research the skills in demand, explore and know YOUR skills because interviewers want to know about you. Doing researches will help you write about yourself in relation to what the companies need.

Key Element 2: Keywords

What are keywords? Keywords are short phrases or words on a CV that tie in to a particular job posting, they can include skills, qualifications, competencies or abilities. They could include technical expertise or other requirements hiring managers are looking for.

Keywords are some of the most important things on any CV because more and more recruiters or hiring managers are using the ATS and the ATS won’t notice a CV without the appropriate keywords.

What is ATS? The ATS is an Applicant Tracking System, according to Wikipedia, it is a software application that enables the electronic handling of recruitment and hiring needs. The ATS software eliminates candidates’ CVs that don’t have keywords matching the particular job description. So having keywords makes your CV stand out against all other candidates.  

Here’s a trick on how to get the right keywords, write your job target, Google 3 job adverts for the roles, you may also search on LinkedIn. Once you have the 3 job ads, look through and highlight the common skills, requirements and education, the idea is to note down the common keywords on those job descriptions and make sure to include them on your CV.

Here are some examples; we put out this job ad and this one for a business development role,  the sample keywords you can pick from these job ads are business development, marketing strategies, entrepreneurial ability, business strategy, new service opportunities, business proposal, business and marketing plans, branding and media communication, customer and market research

Once you have these keywords, note them down and find a clever way to include them on your CV- in your achievement section, skill section or while writing your job history.

3. CV arrangement and template

I always recommend that you do not lead with the career objectives section, because career objectives are focused on you, what you want the reader of the CV to do for you, or what you expect to get out of the relationship. A hiring manager or a potential employer on the other hand wants to read your CV because they want to find out what you can do for them. Even if you have a plan of what you want to get out of the relationship let it not be what comes first, lead with what you bring to the table, start your CV by telling them how you can benefit and help the company.

I recommend you follow this arrangement depending on why you are writing the CV

  • Name and contact details
  • Professional Summary/ Branding Statement/Career Profile
  • Competencies/Skills
  • Highlights/Achievements
  • Professional Experience
  • Education/ Professional Certifications/Professional Affiliations
  • Volunteer Experience
  • Hobbies/Interests (Optional)

The Professional Summary Section or whatever name you choose to call that section should be the first thing after your name and contact details. A summary should be about 1 -3 paragraphs and should give the reader a quick overview of your skills and achievements. A good professional summary is something that will catch their attention from the get-go and if it’s written well, it will compel them to read the rest of the CV.

Answering the following questions will help you come up with a good summary

  1. Who am I?
  2. What is my career target or target job title?
  3. What makes me unique?
  4. How many years of experience do I have?
  5. What skills, experience or knowledge have I gathered in the past that qualifies me for this job?
  6. What industries have I worked in?

These are some of the questions you want to think about before you start writing your summary statement.

Tips to write a professional summary

  • Write your professional summary last. It’s surprisingly easy once you’ve already written other sections of your CV, all you have to do is pick the most impressive facts and summarise them.
  • Tailor your summary to a specific job opening, find the most important keywords in the job ad you are applying for, think about how the requirements intersect with your skills and experiences. This way, you have a higher chance to get through the ATS systems and also have a higher chance of getting the attention of the reader.
  • The first bullet point should describe your professional title, it should include your years of experience. It can look something like this: “A Business Development Manager with 7+ years of experience …”

The Skills /Competencies Section

A well-put-together skills section can help a recruiter figure out whether you have what it takes for the job and it should be focused on hard skills and competencies.

The Achievements /Highlight Section

Achievements are things you did that had a lasting impact on your company or client, typically they are money you saved, things you improved, projects you managed or things that you created, built, designed, sold or initiated. It is not the same as responsibilities, responsibilities come under a job description. Pick the 3-4 most impressive parts of your CV and rephrase them into sharp bullet points. Did you win an award, get a recommendation, saved the company some money or met your sales targets? These are the things that deserve a mention under your achievement or highlight section.

Achievements should be measurable or quantifiable – my recommendation is you use %, numbers, currency or just figures. Instead of writing, “Increased the market share” as a job function, you can write “Increased the post-paid tariff segment market share from 27% in 2019 to 54% in 2020”. Instead of “Grew the gross revenue”, you can write, “Increased the gross revenue by an average of 34% year-on-year from 2018 till date”.

The Education Section

If you have recently graduated and have no work experience, I recommend you put your education first. If you have more experience than education, then let the experience section come before the education section.

I also recommend that you list your educational details from your tertiary education, also list your professional certifications in this section. Feel free to leave out your primary school education and your secondary school education.

The Professional Experience Section

Your professional experience or work history is the most important part of your CV, it should not just list your job functions, it should also list your achievements.

Your CV needs to demonstrate specific instances and examples of accomplishments that show you performing well in your role.  Let your CV include real-life examples so the reader can visualise and picture the work you have done. Do not just add your everyday duties or responsibilities, remember to add measurable accomplishments this shows you are not just ‘task-oriented’ but you are also ‘results oriented’ and ‘outcomes focused’.

The Hobbies or Interest Section

The Hobbies or interests section is a section you can do without on your CV but some organisations prefer to see CVs with interests/hobbies on them as it gives the hiring manager a well-rounded idea of the candidate as a person. If you decide to include a hobbies/interest section, it’s important to consider what this information will convey to potential employers and if that aligns with what the job posting asks for.

Including it may help to highlight transferrable skills that are useful to the role, it could become a conversation starter, it may also demonstrate how you’ll fit into the company’s culture.

Now that we’ve gone through all the sections briefly, it’s time to start writing a CV. Remember you can move around the sections to suit the purpose of the CV. Have fun writing your CV.

Also, you can click here to download a sample template (the template is ATS friendly, it’s also in MS Word, so it’s editable)

Next up: Your cover letter! Wait, is that even required? Learn more about cover letters here.

Career Counseling

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