Your resume is a marketing document – not your autobiography or a list of job responsibilities.
You know you need a CV in order to get a job. But have you taken the time to step back from the CV-writing process to ask yourself what a CV is and isn’t?
Fundamentally, it is important to recognize that your CV is your marketing document. Its purpose is to garner enough interest in you to get an employer to think: “This person may well have the capacity to do the work associated with the job that needs to be filled.” And once an employer has reviewed your CV and initiated contact with you for a phone or in-person interview, it has successfully fulfilled its purpose.
When you speak with recruiters or others who regularly review CVs, you’ll learn that the vast majority of people have ill-conceived notions of what makes a CV compelling.
To help you evaluate your CV in terms of today’s best practices, bear in mind all the things that a CV is not:
- Your CV is not your autobiography. It is not the story of your whole life. It is a business document that should not include a picture of yourself or personal information about your marital status, children, sexual identity or age. Your political leanings and religious beliefs or affiliations should only be included if they are relevant to the particular job for which you seek consideration.
You need not include every job you ever had or everything you ever did or were responsible for at those jobs. Typically, you don’t need to go back more than 10 to 15 years on a CV and should make a logical cut off depending on your work history. While everything you claim on your CV must be accurate, there is no rule that says it has to be all-inclusive. You can simply state under you earliest listed job: “Details of prior employment history are available upon request.”
- Your CV is not a list of your job descriptions and responsibilities. Perhaps the most common CV mistake is making it the record of the things you were supposed to do in your various roles without including how you went about fulfilling those responsibilities or what results you achieved.
- Your CV is not about your aspirations. Put simply, employers won’t be impressed to read that they hold the key to the job of your dreams. On the other hand, they will be impressed when you show them how and why you are the candidate of their dreams.
Employers care about what you have to offer and the value you can contribute to the company you seek to join. That’s why objective statements are “out” and personal branding statements are “in” at the top of well-crafted CVs.
- Your CV is not an employment application. “What? Of course, it is!” you exclaim. “It’s how I tell an employer that I want to be considered for a job.” You wonder why it isn’t an application.
Many companies will have their own application forms that candidates fill out at or around the time of their first in-person interview. By signing the document, you often consent to background or other checks and attest that all the information you give about prior employment and anything else on the form is truthful. You thereby acknowledge that if unfavourable information is revealed, or if the employer discovers that any information you provide is untruthful, you may be immediately excluded from further consideration, or fired if you have already begun to work at the company.
Your CV may be fairly considered as the grounds for which you seek to be considered. As such, everything you include in it must be entirely accurate. But it doesn’t constitute in and of itself a formal job application document.
- Your CV is not a list of your actions. A functional CV “focuses on your skills and experience, rather than on your chronological work history,” writes Alison Doyle, job search expert for About.com.
The problem with this kind of format, however, is that it muddles what you did, where you did it and when you did it. That makes it difficult for decision-makers to determine your overall career development. Moreover, because people who are fighting age discrimination or returning to the workforce after an extended absence often favor this format, it raises a red flag about what you are trying to mask by not giving a simple, straightforward, chronological story.
Your CV is ultimately your unique story of professional experience including challenges, what you did and what you attained. It tells the story of a discrete set of work activities, the skills you’ve attained and the education and credentials that enable you to perform as a valued employee.
When you choose relevant facts to include and weave them together in a way that shows you’re the answer to an employer’s needs, you’ll stimulate interest in what you have to offer. At that point, you’ll most likely get that all-important invitation to begin a dialogue.