How To Write A Winning CV

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Knowing how to write a CV is a powerful skill

If you are in the workforce, then at some point you will have to write a CV (also known as a resume). This isn’t just the case for highly-skilled jobs in IT, marketing, banking, and the like. These days you’ll find CVs in job application requirements for positions like a barista, nanny, company driver, and even housekeeper.

So why exactly are CVs so important?

Well, your CV gives potential employers and recruiters a history lesson about your professional life. Employers use the job experiences, skills, past responsibilities, and personality traits indicated in your CV to decide whether you may be a good fit for the job. Simply put, your CV is the most important part of your job application as it is the deciding factor of whether you get an interview or not.

So how exactly do you make sure you represent yourself in the best light?

According to research conducted by The Ladders , a mobile career network for professionals, most recruiters spend 6 seconds on your resume. And if you know exactly what recruiters are looking for in your CV in that short timeframe, you will be able to create a CV that gets you the job interview.

 

  1. Focus on keywords

 

In addition to your job title and company names, recruiters quickly scan for words related to the skills and experience required for the new job.

Therefore, you should use the job description to find keywords related to skills the company is looking for. So for example, if you are applying for a graphic design position, then a lot of keywords will be skilled based like:

  • Photoshop, InDesign
  • Visual thinker
  • Digital and traditional media campaigns

You can, in turn, insert these keywords into different parts of your CV where they are relevant, so for instance, if you were part of the design team for an agency you can say:

‘Planned and executed all the visual content for both digital and traditional media campaigns for 5 clients.’

Also, if the company has a website, you should analyze it to learn what their key values and objectives are. As, if a company values innovation and creativity, then you should use these words or indicate that you possess these qualities by having sentences like:

“Tasked with ideation of creative animated video for the brand’s Christmas campaign. This was the first of its kind in Tanzania.”  

  1. Highlight accomplishments not just responsibilities

Your potential employers want to learn what you accomplished in your current and past positions, rather than simply what you did:

So, for example, if you are a sales associate instead of writing “responsible for finding new clients for business”, you should say, “connected and closed deals with 10 new clients for business”.

  1. Take grammar seriously

This seems obvious, but grammar and spelling mistakes are not uncommon in resumes. Not only do you need to proofread your CV, you should also get someone else to read it for you. Things to take note of include:

  • Consistency with what type of English you use – British or American
  • Typos, as these are an indication to the employer of your ability to pay attention to details
  • Grammar rules, for instance, sentences in bullet points don’t have periods
  1. Keep it short

For some reason, a lot of job seekers think that the longer their resume is, the more accomplished they will appear to the employer. Well, this is simply not true. Employers usually have dozens of resumes to read for a single position, and on average spend 6 to 30 secs looking at your CV. So, if it’s too long, wordy, and not easily digestible – they will move on.

Therefore, you need to be concise and direct by:

  • Only adding positions relevant to the job you are applying for, instead of every job you’ve ever had
  • Getting rid-off useless information like primary and high school education when you are applying for a non-entry level position
  • Highlighting the most important responsibilities and impressive accomplishments that have prepared you for the position you want
  1. How long do you stay at a company

Most employers want to hire people who will be loyal and dedicated to their company for a long time because continuously hiring and training new people is costly. So if they see that you have a pattern of staying at companies for short periods of time (less than a year), then they may be concerned about the potential for you to also leave their company quickly.

So, if you do have more than one instance of a short-term stay at a company, briefly add a sentence in your resume as to why you left. This will help clear the recruiter’s doubts. For example, you can say:

“I left Driver Recruitment after only 7 months as a result of the company merging with another HR and Recruitment service whose values and business model did not align with what I initially signed up for.”

The CV format

Ok, so now that you know what key things employers will look for in your resume. How exactly do you write and structure your CV?

The general CV format is as follows:

  • Name
  • Contact information (email, telephone number, address)
  • Current job title/Company name
  • Past experiences
  • Education

But before you start writing there are certain steps you need to take to ensure that your CV represents you well:

 

  1. Understand what the employer is looking for

 

While you may have a standard CV that you use for all your job applications, it’s important to customize it for each job position you are applying for. A place to start is to perform some background research on the company, what are their values, goals, and vision? What do you think are their biggest pain points? How would you solve a problem for them?

Also, research the key people that may be looking at your resume or that you will be reporting to if you got the job. What experiences do you have in common? What are some of their interests?

After you’ve researched the company, mine the job description for keywords to use in your resume. Is there anything in particular that the employer is looking for, for instance, if the employer mentions that they want someone with “extensive knowledge of the business sector in Tanzania’ then this is something you should bring up in one of the positions you mention in your resume.

The whole point of doing this, in addition to the keyword research, is to get in the minds of the employer and figure out what qualities and skills are most important to them for the position you want. Once you have an idea of this, you can tailor your CV to meet these expectations.

  1. Compile your job history

Write down all the jobs you’ve had including, the titles, dates (month and year), general responsibilities, and accomplishments.

Then narrow down to the positions that you think best prepared you for the job you are applying for. Contrary to popular practice, you don’t have to put every job you’ve ever had on your resume, instead focus on the ones that indicate you are ready for this next job. Also, this will help narrow down your resume and make it more concise.

  1. Write

Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to write. Make sure you:

  • Use action verbs to describe your responsibilities at different jobs, these include, executed, assigned, created, wrote, managed, planned, strategised, monitored etc.
  • The sub-headlines (work experience, education) and the job titles are in bold
  • Use bullet points rather than paragraphs when writing about responsibilities and accomplishments
  1. Review

It is such a wasted opportunity to invest a significant amount of time creating a resume, and then having it thrown out because of typos. So:

  • Use spellcheck
  • Read the resume from top to bottom, then repeat from bottom to top
  • Print it out and read it again
  • Get someone else to review it.

CV sample

To give you a better understanding of the resume format, we have an example of what your resume should look like. Let’s say you are applying for a graphic design position; this is the format you should follow:

NAME

Email:                      Address: Phone Number:

SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS

With over 3 years of experience in graphic designing for corporate clients like Tigo, Zantel,.. I’m confident in my abilities to visually communicate brand identities to multiple audiences in Tanzania, and East Africa as a whole.

WORK EXPERIENCE

Graphic Designer at PinPoint Africa, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania                   June, 2014 – Present                                                  

  • Collaborate with social media manager to create infographics, photos, and videos for use on brand’s social media channels
  • Design online and offline artwork for all company clients, like, Tigo, Serengeti, Equity Bank
  • Develop and manage a database of Tanzania-centric stock photos, currently with over 200 original photos representing industries like Recruitment, Banking, Hospitality, Medical, and more
  • Work with strategist to come up with visual approach to campaigns

2nd most recent and relevant position and company, location, date range

  • Responsibility 1
  • Responsibility 2
  • Responsibility 3
  • Responsibility 4

3rd most recent or relevant position and company, date range

  • Responsibility 1
  • Responsibility 2
  • Responsibility 3
  • Responsibility 4

SKILLS

  • Adobe Creative Suite: InDesign, Photoshop
  • Photography and video techniques
  • Basic HTML and CSS
  • XXX
  • XXX

Make your first impression count

As mentioned before, your CV is often the first introduction that potential employers have to you. If they don’t understand what they are reading in only a couple of seconds, they will move on to the next candidate. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, if you can’t represent your professional history clearly in your CV you will often be passed for an interview. As we all know, it’s usually not the smartest person that wins but the one who knows how to sell themselves best. So use these CV writing tips and become a pro at introducing yourself to potential employers.

Iman Lipumba
A digital storyteller, experienced in creating content that improves website visibility on search engines, enhances the user experience, and nurtures brand loyalty. With a background in the social sciences, an expert in researching complex ideas, and communicating them in engaging language to multiple audiences.