This weekend a friend asked me if I could take a look at his curriculum vitae (or resumé), which motivated me to write some comments here. Before you ask your English teacher or an American friend to look at your CV, try to improve it as much as you can first at your end. Here are some CV tips which I hope will help you.
There is no ‘perfect’ way to write a CV, as the CV that you ultimately send will depend on so many variables: your work experience, your strengths, your objectives and motivations, the audience (ie who’s going to read it?), and what you’re looking to do in the future. However, I’ve seen quite a few CVs in my time teaching English in Prague, and the following feedback summarises some of the common problems my clients and students have experienced.
Use a variety of specific ‘action words’
One thing you need to communicate in your CV is to describe what role you played at your previous place of employment (assuming you have work experience). In addition to saying what your role was (eg ‘HR Manager’), you should also add some positive words which accurately describe what you did at the company.
Examples of action words include:
- set up, achieved, created, motivated, persuaded, pioneered, examined, evaluated, awarded, documented, produced, liaised with, overhauled, presented, boostered, built, wrote, won, targeted, supervised, supported, surveyed, strengthened, designed.
The second point on this is that you should use a variety of verbs and phrases to describe your successes. Being repetitive may result in your CV being put in the bin!
Be careful of using formal ‘Czenglish’ phrases
This one is a biggie for a few of you out there!
“Added value by maximising cross-cultural communication flows” or “streamlined feedback loops to maximise efficiency” might sound good to you, but to top managers and recruiters out there, this language means nothing. We don’t understand it at best, and at worst it might annoy the pants off the person who decides if you get an interview or not (see the articles from the Financial Times and other publications listed below for more on what I mean here).
So please take care when translating from Czech using your dictionary, especially those small pocket-sized ones! Especially take care when you are trying to translate something and want to sound ‘intelligent’ – what you come up with might not be natural-sounding English.
In addition, you need to know what kind of ‘language’ the organisation you’re writing to speaks and uses. Do they seem more formal or do they like simple, to the point language? In general, I’d recommend that you use a variety of simple action words that you already know rather than trying to find some less common words that you aren’t really familiar with.
Prioritise what information needs to be included
Once I read a student’s CV where it wasn’t until page TWO that he mentioned that he was director of the company! So please remember to put the most important information first.
Personal information like your date of birth and marital status can go at the end of your CV, not in big headings at the start. Be aware as well that in English-speaking countries it is not necessary to include your marital status.
As part of prioritising, you’ll usually write more about your most recent work experience. If you were the director at your last company, then one line is not enough! Take the time to describe what you did as it’s one of your biggest selling points.
I’ve noticed that a few of my students have mentioned all the jobs they have done. If you’ve now been in the workforce for quite a few years, you don’t need to mention that you cleaned your neighbour’s office twice a week when you were still at high school. Use your best judgement but usually you can leave details like this out.
Use a simple attractive layout
Again, this is based on some of the CVs I’ve looked at here. You should use the same formatting of lines, spaces and headings throughout your document. Be consistent with the size of the fonts and margins you use. Use bullet points and white spaces to make your CV easier to read.
HR Managers are looking for a reason to throw your CV away, so this is one time when you can’t have any mistakes, especially for a professional position. Check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and perhaps have it checked for you. I’m sure this is the same for when you write a CV in your native language.
How do I look?
Beyond checking mistakes and having a good layout, your CV has a more global aim: does this resumé sell you and give you the best chance for an invitation to an interview?
Your CV should take into account this important information:
- what positions you’ve held in the past
- the role that you played at your previous places of employment
- what you achieved and learnt from the experience
- your key skills
- how the company you’re applying to now would benefit from employing you
I haven’t mentioned much about your educational background. Of course this is very important, and for people with less work experience this may be more important to mention.
I’d highlight that if you’re applying for a job abroad, be sure to help the recruiter understand what your local qualifications mean. For example, if you say ‘completed Maturita’ and you were applying for a job in Melbourne, you’d add that it’s the equivalent of completing VCE. ‘Final leaving exam’ is also fine, but the person reading your CV will be able to relate to it better if you use their ‘language’. By the way, the final year of education in Melbourne is called VCE but in Sydney it’s HSC!
Don’t forget to highlight other skills which might not appear so readily under ‘education’ or ‘work experience’. In the English-speaking world we usually mention our personal interests. These help add some colour to your CV, give a little more information about you, and could even be used at the start of a job interview for small talk:
“I see you like 15th Century British carpets – how did you get into that?”
A few more notes on your hobbies and interests:
- Try to be specific. Everyone likes ‘travel’ and ‘reading’ – so what countries do you like to visit? What kinds of books do you read?
- Mention interests where you are active rather than passive. For example it’s better to say you play cricket every Saturday rather than watch it at home on the tele.
- If you actively take part in any organisations and clubs, especially those relevant to your career, then put them here. For example, I used to go to a public speaking club while I was at university.
- Some companies in Australia, and I believe it’s the same for the US and UK, like to choose candidates who play in team sports. I have many friends in Prague who like swimming, skiing, jogging and so on, but for some recruiters, taking part in cricket, soccer, volleyball shows that you are a team player and can work well with others. If you’re the captain, even better!
It’s great to show off your computing and language abilities. If you are applying for a position in Europe you can now mention the language level according to the Common European Framework of Languages (CEF). This new system for grading your linguistic level helps employers across Europe get a better idea of what you should be able to do. Levels include:
- Beginner – A1
- Pre-Intermediate – A2
- Intermediate – B1
- Upper Intermediate – B2
- Advanced – C1
- Proficient – C2
If English is very important for your new job, then I’d add any certificates that you’ve got, as well as a short description of what you can do. For example, if you have the Cambridge UCLES FCE or BEC Vantage this means you are able to write generally accurate and well-organised reports and emails, and be able to give generally well-organised short talks and presentations.
Finally, as I hinted above, your CV will need to be adapted and tweaked a little depending on who is reading it. This includes considering the organisation concerned and position you are applying for, as well as the country you are intending to move to. For example, you’ll need to research any small differences between an American style of CV versus what you may find in Britain or Canada or Australia.
This is all a process. See this as a document to continually improve upon, and don’t pressure yourself into thinking you’ll write the perfect CV in 3 hours. It takes time and a little patience but the rewards are more than worth it! Good luck!
Whole books have been written on this topic so I’m sure there are many things which we can cover another time. Is there anything you’d like to add? Please feel free to leave a comment below!
Job Interview Skills – Get into English
Tiptoeing through the job interview minefield – Globe and Mail
Applying online? How to click with employers – Globe and Mail
CVs: a horrible tool to get a job interview – Financial Times
How to write a resume that doesn’t annoy people – Harvard Business Review
http://jobs.guardian.co.uk/cv.html – The Guardian
CV Tips Podcast – The Guardian
Images: courtesy Crestock
English Teacher & Trainer
Engage s.r.o. Prague
david (at) engage.cz