Friday, 18 October 2013

But how hard can it be to write a CV?!

On Wednesday I went to a workshop organised by North East CILIP on CV writing, ran by Donald Lickley from Sue Hill Recruitment. The event took place at Northumbria University.

My current boss suggested the event to me (are they trying to get rid of me already?! Joking...) and since it was free and work would pay for the train travel I thought why not? I realised once I moved back up North and began job hunting in earnest that my CV was in a total mess. I'd gotten so adept at application forms and working on how to make them perfect that I'd neglected my CV for a long time. It's very rare that organisations ask for CVs these days, but when I did come across a job that asked for a CV I was completely stuck as to how I would tailor it to their requirements in the advertisement.

When I ran my session at Library Camp North East, somebody said that they use a skills based CV rather than a career based CV and I really wanted to know how I would go about making one of these. Donald's session was very informative and worthwhile and I'm glad I attended. Despite taking loads of advice from my uni careers office and taking advantage of examples and templates they had, Donald's session made me realise that I was making a lot of common mistakes that people make on CVs. For example, particularly in the library profession, we tend to focus a lot on the day-to-day processes at work and our CVs can end up looking like quite a mundane list of small jobs we do, rather than selling our skills to a potential employer.

With a skills based CV, it is easier to tailor your CV to a job application because you can link your skills and experience to a particular person specification. This obviously means that you may have to edit your CV considerably every time you apply for a job that asks for a CV, but from a personal perspective I would much rather do this and send off an excellent application rather than run the risk of not getting shortlisted because my CV is too generic. Another advantage of a skills-based CV is that your chronological list of jobs is kept very short and comes underneath the section where you list all of your skills. One of the reasons I thought my CV was messy is because up to now, there are three periods in my life when I have had two jobs at the same time. This made my CV quite lengthy and anybody just glancing at it and not paying any attention to the dates could make the assumption that I am a job-hopper or cannot hold down a job for very long.

The way you structure your information on a skills based CV would look something like this:

  • Name and contact information at the top
  • Short, personal profile. Think of it as an 'abstract' of the rest of the information on your CV. About 4-5 lines to keep it concise. I really struggle with writing these and find it's best to write it at the end once you have completed your CV.
  • Skills - if I were tailoring this to a particular specification for a particular job, I would probably borrow the terminology and headings from the employer's specification to make it as easy as possible for them to read. Be sure to give names of specific software/systems you use but avoid 'in house' jargon that only your workplace uses. Also, be aware that some of the people involved in the shortlisting process (such as HR professionals) may have no idea about libraries or about the particular skills you have so try not to assume that the employer will know all of the terminology you use.
  • Career/employment history - short, bullet points just detailing the organisation and your job title. It's recommended that you only list the jobs from the last 5-10 years of your career. Your skills section will be the part that proves you are right for the job, you don't have to say that you worked in a sweet shop when you were 16! (Unless you're only 18 and that is the last job you had, in which case carry on!)
  • Education/qualifications - most recent first. If you're a graduate or postgraduate there is no real reason to list all of your A Levels or GCSEs unless specified on the job advert. E.g. certain places may need you to prove you have a C or above in GCSE Maths and English. If anything like this is specified in the person spec, put it down!
  • Further information/hobbies/interests - Be careful with this section: only mention things that might be relevant to the job. E.g. perhaps you are involved in the running of a local choir/theatre group/morris dancing group etc. so have experience of managing the finances or something that has given you skills and experience that fit the job description you are applying for.

Another advantage of a skills-based CV is that you could even forego putting in dates that you got your qualifications so as to avoid potential age discrimination if people think you are 'too old' or perhaps even 'too young'. Of course this is not supposed to happen, and we never put our exact ages on CVs or application forms because of the equality act, but I've spoken to a few people that worry about the fact that the dates they were at school or university gives their age away. People's subconscious bias are at work when they are shortlisting and if you feel uncomfortable putting that you left school in 1978 or that you got your GCSEs in 2007 and you are worried they may think you're inexperienced because of your age, just leave the dates out. In some cases this is not always possible, particularly if you are applying for jobs that require safeguarding measures and need to know what you were doing and when, but for your CV you are well within your rights to be selective with the information you provide. If a potential employer did ask for this information further down the line though, you would have to provide it. The skills based approach may not work for everyone and you may prefer to stick to an original career based CV, but I am happy that there is another option out there that will suit my circumstances better.

Donald also advised that, with CVs, we are tempted to put full details about where we live etc. but this is not always necessary. As long as there is an email address and phone number this is sufficient for potential employers to be able to contact you. If they need a postal address they can phone you to ask for one. Again, this is not supposed to happen, but Donald mentioned that he has known of people not being shortlisted for jobs because employers have assumed that the applicant lives too far away and therefore might not be willing to travel. You would think that someone applying for a job in a different town or city from where they live would mean they are extra keen, but who knows what goes through the mind of those people shortlisting.

And that's half of the problem...if employers receive 100 CVs for one post and only have half a day to shortlist, how much attention do you think your CV is going to get? Probably less than 30 seconds according to Donald. For this reason, it has never been more crucial to fill your CV with the most relevant and up to date information about yourself and ensure that it is easy to read and that the key 'selling points' will stand out. Some further key tips:

  • Keep it concise - no more than two pages of A4. Three at an absolute push if you've had a particularly glittering career.
  • Font - use the same one throughout and don't go smaller than 10 or bigger than 12 when it comes to size. Use a font such as Arial or Times New Roman. NO COMIC SANS.
  • Format - keep it very simple and try not to mess on too much with margins or other fancy formatting in Word. It may mess up if you send it to somebody using a different version of Word or if you're on a Mac and they're on a PC. 
  • Don't include information such as date of birth, marital status or a photograph of yourself. Apparently the latter is common practice in a lot of countries in mainland Europe but it's not necessary in the UK.

It can be tempting to think: 'how hard is it to do a CV?' and up until I went to university, I would have been the same. However, since I started seeking help from various career advisers and attending CPD events through work, I've realised how crucial it is to stay up to date with things like this and ensure you're always learning from best practices when it comes to job hunting. In my lifetime the job market has never been more competitive and I always pick up at least one new tip or piece of advice when I attend sessions such as the one the other day. A big thank you to North East CILIP and Donald Lickley for running the session.


  1. so you're going to show us your revamped on once you've got it worked up?

    1. Of course! Although, may have to edit it considerably to get rid of personal information. Here's an example of what one could look like from I suppose with this type of CV, you could end up creating different ones depending on the jobs you are applying for.

    2. I also forgot to mention in the post. Skills based CVs are excellent for people trying to move sectors as it focuses on your skills and experience rather than places you've actually worked.

  2. Very interesting and useful! I especially agree with your point about tailoring the CV to the job--you want to make the recruiter's life as easy as possible. I think it also reflects well as it shows you have put some effort into the job application.

    Were there any tips on how a skills based CV fits with the covering letter--I usually use that to highlight skills required in the job advert, but I wouldn't want to duplicate the CV.

    Victoria (Parkinson)

    1. Yes, it was mentioned that your covering letter can almost be seen as a summary of the key points on your CV.

      I have a standard format that I use for covering letters and after the introductory paragraph I usually say something like:

      I have enclosed my CV and would like to draw your attention to the following points, which I believe to be particularly relevant to my application. And then I tend to list maybe three or four points that I think are the 'best' points or that feature as essential specifications in the advert.

      It can feel a bit like repeating yourself, but I think if you keep it concise and constantly relate it back to the job description it makes you look like you've really thought about your application and what the employer is looking for.

      I hope that makes sense!

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