How to look good on paper

A good CV speaks volumes about a job candidate, so it pays to get it right

Andrea Wren
Thursday 06 October 2005 00:00 BST

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"A good CV is your marketing tool and is effectively a personal advertisement for you, so it's vital that you spend time getting it right," says Marc Lintern, head of learning development and guidance at the University of Plymouth. "The most important advice is to look closely at what the target employer is looking for, then think about how your skills and experience match."

So, what should be in your curriculum vitae? Everything that is relevant to the position you are hoping to secure or the company you are approaching, but nothing more. Your certificate in tent-erecting received from scouts at 12 years old is unlikely to be pertinent, so don't list it unless you're applying for a job on a campsite. Be selective, and gear the CV to the job.

"Allocate space according to the importance of the information," says Lintern. "Your degree should receive more coverage than A-levels, with GCSEs summarised. Start with your recent careers experience (usually most relevant) and work backwards. Focus on the most important aspects and emphasise them. Make sure that particularly relevant information is not hidden in the middle of a paragraph or consigned to page two."

Think carefully about what other aspects of your life might apply, such as involvement in societies or voluntary work. It may come as a surprise, but Linda Jones, director of public relations company Passionate Media, says: "I'm personally not interested in the fact that people like long walks in the country, and to be honest I get fed up reading about what they have done at university. I'm far more interested in what they have done in the real world."

The CV should be concise - two pages is ample - with enough information to give the employer an idea of your competencies. Keep information sectioned appropriately and list other skills and experience that are applicable to the work you're seeking.

A covering letter accompanying a CV or application form helps enhance the overall package you are seeking to present. One page is enough, with an introduction about why you think you're suitable for the post. Importantly, bother to research which person you should address the letter to, and spell their name correctly.

You are aiming for a neatly packaged summary which sells you. Diane Kimberley is Europe, Middle East, and Russia operations manager of Shell Attraction and Recruitment remarks: "It is always important to present your application with as much information about your life experiences as possible, either via your CV or on accompanying covering letter. It goes without saying, of course, that your spelling and grammar should be perfect. Mistakes will not place you in a positive light, and first impressions count."

Perfect presentation, not coloured paper or strange fonts, will help you to stand out from the crowd of other graduate applicants. There may be some industries that call for creativity in application (advertising is one such area) but as a rule, simple and effective is best. Jones adds: "What I want to see shining out from a CV or covering letter is that the applicant understands the world doesn't owe them a living. I do not want to be wowed by anyone's wacky sense of humour - that can be way off the mark when you've a pile of applications to go through."

And finally, although you've worked hard to get your degree, do not think this alone will impress a prospective employer, as Jones stresses. "Say how keen you are and willing to work hard, but don't rely on the fact that you have letters after your name to get your foot in the door."

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