Get CV Savvy

A knock-em-dead CV is the best weapon for outsmarting your opponents and scooping the perfect job

You see an ad for your dream job. You have all the necessary qualifications and experience, which is great – but 10 other applicants are likely to have the same credentials and you probably won’t get a chance to show your unique attributes if your CV is so bland that you don’t even get short-listed.

‘Some candidates spend more time planning an interview outfit than writing their CV,’ says Sarah Berry, author of Finding A Job: How To Write A Perfect CV In A Weekend (Cassell Illustrated). ‘Yet without the right approach, an excellent CV and sales tactics, you won’t need that new outfit anyway!’

Hit the bull’s-eye!

The first step to writing a great CV is to decide which format works best for you.

‘Ten years ago it was acceptable to have a one-size-fits-all approach to your CV,’ says Berry. ‘But with today’s competitive job market, what’s needed is a “couture” CV that you can adjust to highlight the ways you can benefit a particular company.’

Instead of merely listing your work experience in the traditional chronological format, a tailored or targeted CV focuses on your skills and experience, backed up by examples, to show that you are suitably qualified and capable of taking on the new challenge. Like Amanda Reekie, director of marketing-strategy company ImagiNATION Alliance, many employers today prefer a targeted CV. ‘I like to see what people have actually achieved, what skills they have acquired and whether their experience builds a pattern towards a focused career path,’ she says.

Then there’s the alternative CV, which breaks all the old rules. But beware: while submitting an alternative CV for a creative position in an advertising, design or media company would score you bonus points, it would be a kamikaze move at a financial-services company.

‘It’s great to see someone who has creativity and different concepts but it must be geared to the appropriate environment,’ says Lisa Sorer, MD of fashion-accessories company Maks and Blaze.

Use it or lose it?

After deciding on the right format, you need to decide what to include. Toss out all details unrelated to the job on offer.

A covering letter is a must, according to Tracy Jean-Pierre, MD of corporate-training company Red Peg. ‘This helps to show the recruiter that you aren’t randomly responding to adverts and that you have a genuine interest in the position,’ she says.

While the first page of the CV should include essential personal information such as your phone numbers and return address, Sorer advises that you leave out unnecessary details such as weight, height and religion.

Valerie Wolmarans, MD of recruitment agency Emakhosini Management, says you should address every criterion listed in the job advertisement. Don’t ignore or lie about a particular skill or qualification the company is looking for if you don’t have it. ‘It’s better to be honest and say you haven’t done that before – but always emphasise you have the potential to gain that skill because companies often recruit on potential,’ she says.

Include your qualifications and employment history but draw attention to key responsibilities, daily tasks and achievements in previous positions, says Zea Fredricks, co-director of transport company Tri Link Logistics. ‘Your core values, goals and ambitions are also important because these often determine whether you will fit in in the working environment,’ she says. A short list of key references should add the finishing touch to the CV.

Choose me, pick me!

‘Wherever you can, add a bit of your unique personality and style,’ says Reekie. ‘Always be professional but let a bit of yourself peep through.’

And don’t be afraid to show too much interest. ‘It’s my company, I’m passionate about it and I want people who are equally passionate about it,’ says Fredricks. ‘Always say what has attracted you to the company and why you really want to be a part of it.’

Sorer agrees but believes the best way to make sure you get noticed among the herd is also the simplest: put in lots of effort. ‘Do a mock-up presentation, pitch to an imaginary client – anything you can think of to make them say, “This person took the time and energy to stand out”,’ she says.