Skip links

How to Write A Powerful CV

How to Write A Powerful CV

A successful Curriculum Vitae (CV) not only gets you the interview but also creates a confirmation bias in the interviewer’s mind before you enter the interview room. If your CV doesn’t do this, then it isn’t doing its job.

Most people approach CV writing with a mix of trepidation, resistance and, occasionally, a dollop of apathy. They set aside maybe 2 hours and think that what is done in that time will suffice; this is the amount of time they are willing to give it, full stop! This of course means that the game is over before it has even begun. Tens, hundreds or maybe even 1000+ may apply for any particular role: if only 10 of them make a proper effort with their CV then all the less-than-enthusiastic efforts will automatically land in the Reject Bin.

In reality, the amount of time and effort required to write a powerful CV is commensurate with the effort that you made for your very best college essays, way (way!) back in the day. Of course you don’t need to read 10-20 books in advance but it would be wise to spend a significant amount of time reflecting on what you have done to date, why you have done what you have done, the impact of what you have done and what you want to do in the future.

Next, you need to get inside the Hiring Manager’s head: why is she hiring someone, what pain point does she need addressed and why might she care about the individual achievements that you plan to mention; how will they translate into solutions to her pain point?

The jury is out on the ‘Personal Statement’ at the top of the CV. I can understand why: if the ‘Personal Statement’ is generic and could apply to just about anyone then it most definitely is a waste of time and space; and it is worth remembering that the first person in the process to read your CV will read it for approximately 6 seconds.

I do use a Personal Statement but, I spend anything up to a day making this, the most critical of all elements of the CV – it is the opening paragraph after all – deliver the greatest punch it possibly can. The reader needs to see stars! This means writing, rewriting, editing, turning it upside down and inside out and doing it all again and again until it delivers.

It is advisable to tweak your Personal Statement, when applying for different roles, to answer the needs of each Hiring Manager. This is one of the advantages of the Personal Statement: when you tweak the Personal Statement it is often possible to leave the rest of your CV pretty much unchanged.

An approach used by some is to have an ‘Achievements’ section next but I would suggest that this is redundant for a few reasons. Firstly, you can summarise your most significant achievements in your ‘Personal Statement’, the first paragraph. Secondly, having this section means that either 1) there will be repetition – a definite no no – further down the CV and-or 2) the rest of your CV will comprise a list of duties and responsibilities which can quickly trigger the yawn reflex in even the most persevering of readers.

The most important thing when tackling the body of the CV is that you only make statements that you can back up with quantifiable, provable facts; facts that you are happy to discuss and elaborate on in the interview. Also, it is important to include all keywords – applicable to you – that an Applicant Tracking System or HR administrator may be looking for. Lastly, remember that it is critical that you zoom in to the critical details of the story you are telling: don’t approach your CV from a 10,000ft-foot vantage point, giving a brief overview of what you have done without getting into the meat of the story. Reading CVs written in this manner is akin to death by 1000 cuts!

Oh, and a wee tip for a very common CV issue: “lead” is a heavy metal; “led” is what someone did when they were delivering a project, leading a team etc.

Leave a comment