A CV is a summation of who you are: your background, your work experience, educational gains, personal qualities and ambitions; and it must not amount to more than two sides of A4. Nobody wants a burdensome life story.
Feel free to consider the following advice from a professional CV advisor:
“The general layout would benefit from a space under each heading so that the reader can skip easily to the section they require and further bolding of heading and key information”
(Source: Richard Hamer cf. The Guardian CV Clinic; Saturday 31st March 2007)
Unfortunately, people really are that petty, small-minded and captious.
Nuances and type-setting can mean the difference between you landing a position in a discipline you’ve long deeply cared about, would work conscientiously and sedulously at, and would be willing to make personal sacrifices for; and the same position going to someone who knows the manager’s son.
There are, therefore, several key elements of a modern CV which are a standard must.
If you’re conceited you should have no problem writing a brief outline of your own greatness. If you have any sense of personal dignity or shame and feel embarrassed by the prospect of overemphasising your accomplishments, it can prove more problematic. Modesty is an insult to prospective employers who may well lose interest before they’ve even thought about what you are saying. But never exaggerate either – this can be literally fatal.
For example: are you content to start low and work upwards? Cordial and generous? You never take anything for granted, and you have determination, guts and passion? Perseverance, patience and personal integrity?
This does not look good on a job application. Have you ever seen a job advert requesting such things?
Instead, say that you’re ‘vibrant’, ‘dynamic’ and ‘fresh’; and that you have ‘successability’. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, all told.
Moreover, if meaningful information undermines your self-aggrandisement, exchange it carefully for something more peppy. Instead of long and impressive words that reveal you – perhaps inadvertently – have been educated and possess a mind of reasonable calibre and working order, use words that are meaningless and, if not quite impressive, at least create an impression of some kind.
– Instead of resilient and hard-working: use ‘pro-active’.
– Don’t say ‘energetic’ – say ‘ubiquitous‘.
– Don’t say ‘ruthlessly venal’ and ‘corrupt’: say ‘motivated’.
– You actually listen to people when they’re talking to you? You have ‘Listening skills’.
– You answer when they’ve asked you a question? You have ‘Explanatory prowess’.
– The same is applicable to past positions held, especially mediocre ones.
– Instead of ‘Check-out operator’, say ‘Financial transaction facilitator’.
– Sandwich maker? No: ‘Professional nourishment artist’.
– In place of ‘general dogsbody at the beck and call of incompetent superiors who don’t explain things properly and waste your time repeatedly’ say ‘Inter-departmental multi-disciplined intermediary’.
It says nothing, and yet it says everything.
In other words, writing a short summary on a not particularly interesting matter is an art form in which one must – with utmost delicacy and care – create a small masterpiece of intrigue and excitement, which must pique interest and satisfy curiosity – and without straying beyond two pages in length.
So here are some do’s and don’ts:
Don’t: never ever – under any circumstances whatsoever – tell lies.
Do: avoid telling the truth in its entirety. Instead, gently massage it.
You didn’t graduate from school? You have life experience.
You can’t read or write? You have life experience.
You served twenty years imprisonment for arson and armed robbery? You have life-term experience.
Don’t: never bemoan former employers. It makes you look petty and cavilling.
Do: invert the experience. For example ‘I learned a lot about the value of team-work and how conducive it can be in terms of establishing good working practices within a business’. That is, instead of saying ‘My last employer was a selfish, ruthless, venal bastard claiming credit for other people’s ideas, and being backed up on that by treacherous colleagues of mine while I was away on holiday, all of whom were angling for a three percent pay-rise which they duly received and I didn’t. Twats’.
Or: ‘I learned how to deal effectively with hostile and aggressive customers’; as opposed to ‘I got sick to death of having to suppress my seething resentment at the sheer number of gormless students who thought they were funny buggering about with stock, pretending that baguettes were prosthetic phalluses – or using bunches of grapes in a similar fashion – coupled with middle-aged men who thought they were egregiously charming and who kept telling me I was ‘fit for my position’; and I may or may not have regrettably lost my temper with a child who didn’t have the correct amount of money for a chocolate bar, and felt really bad about this for a long time afterwards, and anonymously donated a box of biscuits to a local primary school at my own expense as a form of recompense’.
Obviously this latter sentence would simply be too long to put in a succinct and efficient personal statement. Instead, consider the way a politician or a Public Relations ‘professional’ may ‘describe’ something to suit their own interests or agenda. For example:
Your husband had procured ‘adult entertainment’ while you were away on business, and you claimed these and several boxes of tissues on your professional expenses?
You shouldn’t be accountable – people are simply too prudish these days. People should mind their own business.
You had procured girls for visiting Saudi envoys and lied about it?
You shouldn’t be accountable – the morals of juries are simply too lax these days when it comes to matters of national interest. People should mind their own business.
That is, if facts are inconvenient, simply leave them aside.
A good deal of skills are non-accredited; or, in other words, are gained from experiences outside of standardised, formal education. These are ‘key skills’. To make the most of these on your CV, you will have to turn useless talents into useful attributes.
For example, you may be able to find all kinds of obscure gems in the bargain bins at your local music store. This is not attractive to an employer, and it does not enhance your CV. ‘Implementing best practice initiatives in procuring resources and adhering to independent judgement while minimising expenditure and maximising long-term gain’ has a more appealing tone. There are many others that one could consider here:
Blogging: self-importance and dishonesty may seem like ideal attributes for employment in any number of industries – law, politics, finance, or media, for instance. But saying that you can ‘hold your own in heated and trenchant debates’, and can make ‘best practice uses of resource initiatives’ (i.e. you know how to cut and paste) has a perkier nuance more applicable to everyday situations like deciding mission statements for sporting goods stores.
Juggling: ‘project management’.
Innuendo: ‘head-hunting’ (not to be confused with witch-hunting).
Vindictiveness: ‘human resources management’.
Writing threatening letters to irritating but harmless celebrities:
You can present information in a clear and persuasive manner.
Computer games: You’re willing to sacrifice you’re personal time and commit to achieving goals, however minimal the rewards.
That is, a cheapening of all the small accomplishments that you hold most dear.
These are slightly different to key skills, in as much as these are actual skills that are usually best left unmentioned, and yet – if given enough of a twist, or just a bit of gloss (use a harsh abrasive) – can prove extremely useful.
If you know when somebody is homosexual even though they haven’t publicly acknowledged it, and may not even know it themselves – you have empathy skills (see ‘Prejudice’ elsewhere). This is ideal for a role in the police force.
If you can talk for hours about nothing in particular, remain unperturbed even when people appear not to be interested in what you’re saying, and secretly believe all the while that what you’re discussing is important enough to deserve their attention despite their own inclinations – you have commentary skills. Perfect for a career in the media.
If you smile politely and bear with a high degree of personal obnoxiousness from unpleasantly-minded people, while pretending to find their ‘jokes’ amusing: you have interpersonal skills. This has universal application.
If you find yourself being pessimistic, bitter at all and sundry, churlish, bumptious and quite frankly boorish even though you know your targets are undeserving and your objects are illegitimate – you have supervisory skills. (See above).
Though it may appear self-defeating at first glance, being over-qualified can hamper attempts to gain employment. When applying for jobs, you don’t want to appear too intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working or well educated. None of these would benefit a work place. You want to come across as the opposite – but even then, not too much the opposite. If in doubt, simply remember a simple instructive rhyme: ‘Port, starboard, stern, bow? No – aim for middle-brow’ .
So what do you do if you have been well educated, but you don‘t want to let on? And what do you say to prove that you’re not unintelligent, yet not too far off?
– claim an interest in business.
Others want to write great novels – or don’t know what a novel is – you want to market them at a favourable price to an ‘optimal demographic’ and take a handsome commission.
Some people want to work at developing a cure for cancer, or for other similarly ravaging and misery-inducing illnesses. Some people believe that beetroot juice is a cure for Aids (It’s not, incidentally. But it is an essential ingredient of Bortsch which is very good for those recovering from minor colds). You, however, wish to levy sanctions against countries attempting to develop cheap copies of medicines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies who happen to be very friendly towards the personal expenses of politicians. These may assist those wishing to continue living a while longer and provide a small measure of solace to the afflicted; but they also make a small chip in the otherwise highly profitable enterprise of pharmacy (The Nobel commission seemed to forget this small matter when they gave Al Gore the peace prize).
It’s a fraying tight-rope upon which one must tread with the utmost care, lest it become positively fraught. The danger, as ever, is that by attaining your personal ambitions you fall short of your own ideals:
‘Well, I had hoped to work with children who struggle in mainstream education and teach them about books, music, and maybe odds and ends that they could find beneficial in their free-time, like learning to cook or how to grow their own fruit, vegetables and herbs. They were only small things, but they might have a made the world a slightly better place for kids. Now I’m determined: nothing’s going to stand in the way of my dream – my own business enterprise – designing, producing and selling plastic tree-ties in an array of colours and sizes’.
These are designed to test your suitability for a position you’ve never been in before. They are much more efficient than discernment based on empirical evidence. For example:
You’ve just started a new job, and somebody asks you for advice on a subject you have no expertise in. Do you:
a) Explain that you don’t really have the capabilities to deal with their query yourself, but you’ll speak to somebody who does and who is equipped to deal with it. They’ll get in touch as soon as possible and resolve the problem aptly and incisively – even though technically this is not mandatory for you within the schema of your job responsibilities, and you know you’re going to get no thanks for it, you do it anyway.
b) Pretend you know what you’re doing and blag your way through in the hope that it will impress your manager; make a mess – possibly resulting in a loss of livelihood, or even life, for someone else – and then throw your hands in the air, declaim responsibility, point to other colleagues doing the same thing, blame a lack of adequate managerial supervision, blame the person who came to you with the problem in the first place, and then finally huff: ‘Fine. If this is the thanks I get then I won’t bother in future’.
c) Simply say ‘Sorry. Can’t help’. Even though you can; and resolutely refuse to point them in the right direction even though it’s an implicit responsibility of yours?
A house has fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair – it is a threat to life and limb. Local children playing truant have begun to use it as a hide-out even though it’s possible that exposure to asbestos may occur; and exposure to discarded syringes already has occurred. Your employer states that you must sell this property to ‘the next tosser who walks in’ before it is condemned, otherwise they will lose money and you will lose your job. Do you:
a) Resign quietly anyway as a point of ethical principle?
b) Put an advert together describing it as ‘a handy-man’s dream’ and mark the price up five percent with one eye on your commission, and the other eye on an address book of your friends, focusing on a young couple with a new-born child desperate to move out of their bed-sit flat?
c) Advertise it as a place ideally suited to ‘the poor, or other excessively privileged social groups’ to ‘luxuriate’ in on the condition that they must ‘look for work’, even though there‘s a recession on and your city has a 40% unemployment level in even the best circumstances?
Complete the following sentence: ‘I am…’
a) …not always entirely sure about things, but I give people my all. I’m honest about my mistakes, and I assist my more inept colleagues in amending theirs, albeit begrudgingly at times.
b) …motivated and pro-active.
c) …brilliant. In fact, so brilliant that I am actually excessively modest. What precisely is worthy of my talents? Nothing – and yet do I not accept humble positions as long as the pay is high enough and I meet with enough praise?
Mostly A’s: unfortunately you’re not suited for much in the job market. You remember the house from question two? Do you consider even that a step up from living with your parents given your advancing years? Good – it’s your own fault. It’s called meritocracy. Deal with it, quite frankly.
Mostly B’s: Congratulations – you’re ideally suited for a career in estate agency, small-scale business enterprises, academia, or in the charity sector. You should have no problem finding a position as rich in self-satisfaction as it is high in income.
Mostly C’s: Very, very well done – you are ideally suited to a position either in the media, or within large-scale business enterprises. Never feel like you have to choose: instead, feel free to prosper by drawing from the wealth of both pools equally. Writing ‘sceptical’ pieces about global warming, for instance, is an efficient and fiscally advisable means of achieving this segue. Public relations is similarly lucrative and requires very little effort or integrity. You’re never accountable for your mistakes or your falsehoods when you work for the media, or when you hold conveniently anonymous positions in enormous companies. Make the most of it.