Tailor your CV

A well thought-out CV is your key to making a positive first impression on a potential employer

"I always look at the CV first. If the candidate's education and experience are not relevant for us, there’s no real reason to invest time in reading the application." This statement comes from a manager at a Norwegian company, and attests to the outsized role the CV plays in filtering out applicants during the recruitment process. It does not take long to form an image of who an applicant is through their CV, and when it is well thought-out and neatly presented, it can be the very thing that snags an employer—hook, line, and sinker.

What should you include in your CV?

CV, or Curriculum Vitae, means "course of life." Your CV should provide an employer with an easy-to-follow, reverse chronological overview of your background to date that. A CV should not exceed two pages and should contain sections that present your personal information, education, work experience and other kinds of experience, language and computer skills, and references.

Given this fixed format, the challenge is to put together a CV that effectively communicates how your skills are relevant match for the position. Each time you apply for a job, you should tailor your CV to the position you are applying for. You may find that it helps to start by constructing a "master CV" where you include everything under the sun. Then, when you apply for a specific job, first make a copy of your master CV before you set about making changes and adjustments based on what you would like to convey to that particular employer. It can be useful to put yourself in your prospective employer’s shoes, and ask: What kind of information does this person need to know about me? What qualities and experiences can I bring to the table that are particularly relevant for this job? What makes me an especially attractive candidate? Turning the tables in this way can help you hone in on what qualities and experiences you will want to emphasize when you tailor your CV for this particular position.

Your education: your greatest asset

As a recent graduate, your greatest asset is the degree you have just completed or are about to complete. For this reason, your educational background belongs at the top of your CV. In addition to specifying your field of study, include the subject of your master’s thesis and any relevant coursework, including methodology training, that you think an employer would see as relevant for the position you are applying for. Be careful to avoid course codes and acronyms, and make sure to elaborate on what you studied in layman’s terms; not all employers are equally familiar with all fields of study.

Presenting your experience the smart way

Most people choose to present their work experience just below their academic background. In addition to paid work experience, however, many recent graduates have accumulated other relevant experience through their involvement in student organizations, as volunteers, or in local or student politics. For this reason, we recommend that you group your experiences into two categories. Under the heading “Relevant Experience,” include all work and non-work experiences you have had that are most directly relevant to the position you are applying for. Be judicious about what qualifies as “directly” relevant experience for the position in question; this is the time to make use of the background research you’ve been busy conducting. Next, include any other work and non-work experience under the heading “Other Experience.”

In order for the reader of your CV to understand the logic behind how you have put together your CV, it is essential that you demonstrate why the experiences you have chosen to highlight are relevant to the position. One way you can do this is by expanding on the individual experiences you include in this section using bullet-points. By including additional information about the duties you performed, the level of responsibility you had, and the results you achieved, you can draw a link between your past experience and the open position. Some people also include a bullet-point in which they identify the skills as part of that particular job or experience. If you decide to go this route, make sure to demonstrate clearly that the skill in question is transferable to the position you are applying for.

Organizing your CV in this way allows you to draw on a broader range of experiences that you think strengthen your candidacy for the position. At the end of the day, most employers are more interested in the experiences you have had than whether you had them in a work or non-work setting. To take two examples: if you were applying for a position as a case worker, your experience holding an elected position in a student organization is more important to emphasize than the part-time job you had in retail. If, on the other hand, you were applying for a job that involved a great deal of interaction with people, your summer job as a waiter suddenly becomes more relevant.

Making yourself an attractive candidate

By putting together your CV in this way, you not only come across as a more attractive candidate—you demonstrate self-awareness and an understanding of how you can contribute at your new workplace. Now that you’ve mastered your approach to the CV, you can turn to the other half of your application that stands between you and an interview—the cover letter.

Published Feb. 19, 2018 9:36 AM - Last modified May 7, 2018 1:15 PM