CV – Story of Your Career Life

laptop and hands typing reduced

Covid-19 brought to us some sudden realizations. One of them is that our safe jobs may be not so safe in fact, some of us are now back in the job market looking for “new opportunities.” This is not an easy place to be and especially if you have not been in this position for a long time. Certain things have changed since you last applied for a job (of this I am sure, otherwise you would not be reading this article). One of the things that change all the time is what a proper CV should look like. Therefore, I would like to suggest some ground rules that will help you understand what you are really doing this for.

Before we start, I would like to emphasize several things – I went through several courses of how to create a good CV, but I am still far from being sure what the model or ideal CV should look like. I have 30 different versions of my CV and I did much more than 30 iterations of my resume over the last 1.5 years – none of my CVs I consider perfect. On the contrary, they are far from perfect. There are, however, certain things I learned while iterating my CV and I would like to share them with you. If they help even one person, I will be incredibly happy.  I also would like to point out that this…let’s call it ‘guide’ will not help you trick the so called “applicant tracking systems” (I mentioned how they work in one of my other articles) but rather to help you make a good impression on a person reading your CV.

Let me tell you a story

“How hard can it be to write a CV?” This question often pops into our minds when we start work on our resume. The answer is…it is awfully hard. Not because it is a sophisticated linguistic work (it is not) or because it should be a piece of art (it should not), but because we usually have a wrong mindset when we set about to write it (me included). We usually think of a CV as a list of things we did in our life and in our careers – education, previous work experience, etc. and this is all very well. These things should be included in our resume, but what we miss in most cases is how we package these pieces of information. We forget that a resume is, in essence, a story of our lives. Brief and focused on a career, but nevertheless a story. This thought should be accompanying you always when you work on your resume. A well written story keeps a reader engaged and interested from the very first sentence to the ending dot. This is also valid for your CV. A good resume keeps a recruiter interested and hungry for even more information. Easier said than done, but there are a few tricks that will help you achieve that.

Job application or tinder?

The first thing you have to realize when starting to work on your new CV is, who will be reading it and what state of mind will he/she be in when looking at it? These days, recruiters and headhunters get thousands and thousands of CVs for any job opening in the finance industry. We are now in a globalized world (COVID notwithstanding) and everyone can apply for jobs all around the world, so if you are looking for one in a country like Switzerland – you will get a lot of competition and the headhunter/recruiter will get a big pile of applications that she/he needs to go through. Obviously, they will not have too much time for each application.

While going through the big (likely virtual) pile of CVs they will not spend more than 5 to 10 seconds scanning a resume unless it strikes them as interesting from the very first second. That is why your CV needs to stand out and you need to be very aware of what a recruiter is looking for. You need to layout your CV in a way that will draw the recruiter’s attention to certain places on the CV and then put in this space relevant items that will make the reader interested enough to look at the rest.

How do I know where the recruiter will look first?

The clear answer to this question is, “well, I don’t know,” but I can give some advice that will help you answer this question yourself. Where the recruiter will be looking is very much dependent on the layout of your CV. This is good and bad news at the same time. Let’s start with why it is good news – you can guide the recruiter where to look. The way you design your CV is very important and through the layout you can turn the reader’s attention to what you think is important. Play around with putting things in capital letters or in bold, or with bigger font and see how the point of attention changes (remember do not overdo it , people hate when everything is in capital letters or in bold). However, you should not forget that people read from top to bottom and from left to right. The top left corner of your CV is, therefore, your starting point. This is the place where the eyes of the reader will go first. Be aware of that and use it to your advantage. Good practice is to give your resume to someone for a review. There will always be some good feedback. You can even go one step further, print out your CV, show it to your friend or relative for 5 seconds, then take it away and ask what they remembered from it. This will tell you where the layout of your resume is taking the reader and, in this way, you will be able to find a sweet spot for the most relevant pieces of information. The worst outcome from this exercise is when the response after 5 seconds is “I can’t remember anything.” There can be multiple reasons for such an outcome- you may have put too much in your CV and you may have used too long sentences. This tells you that you should probably start from scratch. But this time be short, be brief and have a section that describes your skills or key focus areas with 3 or 4 separate words. With the proper layout, the reader will be guided to these key elements and you will make it easier for her/him to decide whether or not to continue reading.

What is relevant?  

Now when we know a bit more about how to guide the reader through our CV, we may start thinking “what we should be pointing to?” Generally, the answer to this question is “it depends.” When setting up our CV, try to avoid placing in crucial spots information that will only be important after a recruiter decides you are a good fit. This means- do not put labels like ‘name’, ‘date of birth’ or ‘address’ in the top left corner. A good photo will do a better job or some key skills relevant to the position you are applying for. The same is true for the rest of the content of the CV. List dates on the right and your positions on the left. This will ensure that the reader will first see who you are instead of whether you spent 3, 5 or 15 years in one position and this information is definitely more relevant to him or her.

Another common issue with CVs is that too often, people write only what they did. In extreme cases, it just becomes a list of positions and responsibilities. If you are competing with hundreds of other candidates for a job, you need to appear unique, extraordinary and a list of responsibilities is heavily underselling yourself. You will make a much better impression if you write what you achieved and what impact you had on the business. Maybe you landed a 100m CHF client for your firm or maybe, thanks to you, your company saved 80m. Make sure to include it and do not forget about the numbers. They are really important. In the end, you will make a much better impression on a recruiter than if you wrote “responsible for maintaining relations with clients” or “performed cost optimization activities in the compliance department.”

It is not a list!

I am definitely repeating myself, but this is crucial. Your CV is your unique story, the story of your professional life. This simple fact cannot be overemphasized. Making it into a list of responsibilities will, in the best case, bore the recruiter to death and in the worst, result in it being placed in an incredibly special place for every recruiter – trash bin. Thus, you should forget about all the templates that you can find on the internet and you should build your own story that will show only the best of you and will point the recruiter exactly to the place on the paper where you want them to look. Stop underselling yourself by pointing just to what you did and start showcasing what you achieved and why you are an extraordinary individual.

I hope that you managed to get to the end of this short guide on CV writing and that you found some of the information above helpful. I wish you all the best in your job search!

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