Whether you’re a graduate or a high school drop-out, you’re going to need a C.V., and no matter where you are in life right now there are seven things you can do to make your C.V. stand out from the crowd, thereby giving you an edge.
Tailor your Layout
For the majority of jobs, especially retail work or work within large companies with a high volume of staff, a simple, thematic structure will do quite nicely. It should be easy to understand, draw the eye, and not too ostentatious; two pages should be more than enough.
For positions within small companies, or paid positions within charitable organisations you may want to be a little more creative; these are the companies which look for dynamic, creative people who can fulfil many roles. Plus, there’s a hell of a lot more people per position when it comes to these jobs; you need to stand out. Why not lay out your C.V. like a Wikipedia page, or include a relevant (key: it must be valuable to your pitch) anecdote which you feel illustrates how you would be a benefit to the company/charity.
Graduate and post graduate positions may require an academic c.v. (which is a whole different kettle of fish).
The three C’s
Clear, concise, and clean; your c.v. needs to be readable above and beyond all else. In fact a 2010 study found that 25% of surveyed employers thought it was most important that C.V.s were easy to read. If you want your C.V. to stand out make sure that your meaning is clear on the first read-through, that it’s concise and to the point (don’t overemphasis, employers are not stupid), and clean of non-valuable information.
Fit the job description
Of course you may not always have everything that an employer wants to fill the position, but that should not stop you from applying. The key is to lead with skills, qualifications, and experiences that are directly related to what the employer wants and need for this role. It will be very rare, if you follow this guide, to reuse a C.V. without making some tweaks to the order and content of your skills etc. For example, a graduate position will place the heaviest emphasis upon your grades so lead with these, and then any relevant work experience, followed by useful skills and qualifications (distinct from grades in that this means things like First Aid certificates, driving license etc), and then relevant personal attributes.
You should also provide a cover letter for each role as this allows you to add more detail, and show that you have done some research upon the company/job in question. (You can find out more about writing a cover letter here.)
Start with the present
Don’t be tempted to give a rundown of your entire work and educational history; generally speaking employers want to know about the last three to five years. So your focus should be on how the jobs, courses, and qualifications you have taken in this period have made you a good fit for the role. Your performance in your latest job/most recent class will outweigh the grades and weekends jobs you had at 16.
Account for “dead” time
If you have gaps in your employment history you should account for and mitigate them, especially if they were extended periods (over 6 months). Instead of letting this “dead” time lie you should emphasis what you were doing during that period; were you volunteering? Learning new skills? In education? It can be hard to find work, and most employers will understand that, but you need to give the picture of someone who is not happy to merely sit in front of the TV until opportunity lands in their lap.
Avoid platitudes and cliches
If there are three phrases which kill your C.V. quicker than “I’m good at multi-tasking”, “I’m a perfectionist”, and “I’m a team player, but I can also work alone” then I really couldn’t tell you what they are. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these phrases, so to speak, it’s that they are regurgitated and thrown out everywhere even in job adverts. If you think that these things are a) true, and b) relevant to the job in question here’s what to do; illustrate your point.
“I’m a perfectionist!”
“I believe that things should be done right, and to the highest possible standard; when working with (X) I worked on a project which required (Y), and though we did not have it, I arranged for (Y) to be sent from another store/I ordered it in so that our project could be completed correctly.”
You can be experienced, educated, and a good fit for the role but according the 2010 survey 14% of prospective employers will still be turned off by poor spelling and grammar. It’s very easy to quickly proofread your C.V. before you hit send, or you can ask someone else to do it for you.
No doubt you’ll be forgiven for more complex grammatical matters (the use of a semicolon in the wrong place may be my pet peeve, but many people aren’t even sure what they’re for!), but basic spelling and punctuation must be executed to a high standard.