One thing that all recruiters agree on is your CV is primarily a passport to interview, the main weapon you have in the struggle to get in front of potential employers. It isn’t your life story but a clear, concise explanation of why an employer should want to talk to you in person. Without dedicating time and effort to producing a stand-out CV, you can’t expect to impress anyone. Surveys show that your CV has between 10 and 20 seconds to make an impact, not unlike the first impressions at interview, so it needs to be very well thought out.
If you’re applying for a range of jobs, don’t expect that a ‘one size fits all’ CV will produce a positive result in every case. If you’re targeting a specific job, then your CV should major on the experiences and achievements that are most relevant to that position and make sure that they are emphasised to the full. This is true also for CVs you may post to internet job sites. Make sure you post a CV that is suited to the theme of the site. For employers, using job sites can be like going fishing with dynamite – the results are indiscriminate unless you fine tune searches. Thus candidates must be sure to research the keywords that will get them singled out.
How long should it be?
You will hear some insist on no more than 2 pages. Not so. Provided you have the first page right, then you can stretch to 3 pages but this should be the maximum.
What do I put in?
The front page is critical and should contain your full contact details, profile, expertise list and achievements. There’s no need to put Curriculum Vitae at the top! Your profile should be written in the third person and be no more than 5 or 6 lines long.
It should target the position you are seeking and use words or phrases that appear in the vacancy. Use bold letters to emphasise the position. Your expertise list should be a series of about 10 bullet points, laid out as such, that reflect the abilities and experience that you have that is relevant to the job and should contain both technical and personal skills. Achievements are the final and most crucial element of your CV’s front page. How have you translated your skills and experience into results for previous employers? Future employers want to know what they can expect for their money if they give you the job so show them!
Once again, these achievements should be relevant and listed as bullet points.
If your employment history is less than ten years, this is the point at which you should list your academic qualifications and education history. For those with over ten years work experience, page 2 of your CV should list your work history in reverse chronological order, concentrating particularly on those positions you have held in the last five years. Give details of roles, responsibilities, promotions and other achievements not highlighted on page 1. This again can be done in the form of bullet points. Anything older than that, unless it has specific bearing upon the job you are seeking, should be dealt with by stating dates, company name and position held. However long you’ve been working, always explain any gaps in the timeline of your career and keep the dates as accurate as possible.
After your work history, pay special attention to any professional qualifications, training and development you may have completed and give prominence to those that have a specific bearing upon the position you’re applying for. More and more, as FM matures as an industry and as a career, employers are learning to ask for the right qualifications, so make sure you give them the details.
Now you can list your hobbies and interests, including any voluntary or charity work you may be involved in. Employers do want to know that you have a life outside of work but don’t waste all the effort you’ve put in on the first pages by reeling off mundane social activities.
There’s no need to name referees but you can say that their details are available; most employers are only interested in you, the applicant, at this stage. On the question of age, your work history and education will give employers a pretty good clue, so there’s no harm in including your date of birth at the end of your CV. Good employers with effective diversity policies will welcome the information.
What do I leave out?
There’s no need to include reasons for leaving previous jobs. Not all may be positive and the last thing a CV should do is put doubt into an employer’s mind. Likewise, you needn’t attach copies of certificates or references – they may make your CV appear too long at the sifting stage.
Avoid non-essential personal details such as health, height, weight, number of children and their ages, religious or political beliefs and steer clear of humour, however well-intentioned, as it rarely reads the way it’s meant! You also don’t need to include your salary details in the CV – this is one for the covering letter or at interview stage. Most advice will tell you to avoid jargon and abbreviations but every industry has its common language and FM is no different so certain expressions and acronyms are fine but try not to make your CV look like the Caps Lock has got stuck!
- Emphasis your achievements
- Focus on how you match the employer’s requirements
- Accentuate the positive throughout
- Keep it punchy and relevant
- Keep it updated and fresh
- Write your life story!
- Make claims that you can’t support with evidence
- Include a photo, use coloured paper or fancy fonts
- Send your CV till you’ve checked it thoroughly
- Expect last year’s CV to get you interviews this year
So, how do you make your covering letter a ‘must read’? Firstly, make sure that it’s neither an autobiography nor a regurgitation of your CV. This is your chance to personalise your application and highlight why you want the job and what you can bring to the employer’s table. The covering letter is your one page chance (and one page only) to sell yourself and your CV. It needs to be cohesive, concise and persuasive.
The job advert will always indicate how the employer wants to receive applications and the trend is strongly toward email submission. In this case, your CV should be included as an attachment and your covering letter included in the body of the email, remembering the one page rule! If hard copy applications are required, make sure that your covering letter matches the style of your CV – that means an easily readable font in the right size and no coloured paper. Use black ink as it is easier to photocopy and remember to sign your letter by hand rather than insert an electronic signature.
Ensure that it’s addressed to the right person by name and position and that it tells them which role you are applying for and where you found the advert. Don’t be tempted to use one from your old job searches; HR people will know instantly if your letter is a recycled template you’ve used several times over and that’s guaranteed to sideline your CV. If you are sending speculative applications, be aware that up to 60% don’t reach the correct decision maker because the senders have failed to do their homework. So if in doubt, always ask.
Employers are impressed by research so marry what you know about the company and its operations to your skills and strengths and always refer to the keywords you find in the job advert. Tell the reader why their company attracts you but avoid lengthy paragraphs of information as they tend to put the reader to sleep! Try and show the employer, clearly and concisely, that you have obtained the skills appropriate to the job and illustrate the strengths you can bring to the role.
Avoid repeated use of ‘I’, as an egocentric or even an aggressive style will usually make the reader wary but neither should you be uncertain or appear to be grovelling. This will undermine your application and give the impression that you are making up with pleading for what you may lack in skills. Adopt an attitude that shows you want the job but that you believe the employer should also want you.
Additional information should include when you might be unable to attend interview, your willingness to relocate if necessary and the areas you would consider. The subject of salary can be left till the interview stage – if it’s been advertised, then it’s a given that you are interested and, if it hasn’t, there will be an element of negotiation once you’ve clinched the interview. If your application is speculative then you should indicate the salary range you’re looking for.
Try not to end your covering letter on a passive note and maintain the tone of keenness that you have demonstrated in the previous paragraphs. Thank the reader for their attention and say that you will follow up in a number of days to see if they have any questions.
Finally, do not hit the ‘send’ button or seal the envelope without checking and re-checking your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Don’t rely on your computer’s spellcheck, rather get someone else to carefully go through both the covering letter and the CV. All your efforts in putting together a knockout combination that sells you as the perfect candidate could come to nothing if you appear unprofessional.
Step by Step
- State the job you’re applying for, where you found it and when you’re available to start.
- Tell the reader why you’re interested in the job and why their company attracts you.
- Itemise your strengths and indicate how they would be an asset to the company.
- Relate your skills to the requirements of the job as closely as possible.
- Thank the reader and promise to follow up – be positive!