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When it comes to applying for a position, we cannot do much to change our qualifications and other facts but we can adjust its content to communicate what is most relevant for the position and take care of its layout.

Principles

Who is the CV for? Tailor it for different kinds of employers. Cut out historic information no longer relevant (like what secondary school you went to if you have finished your MSc).

Check everything is up to date.

Are your age, sex, marital status, and good looks relevant to the position, or do you want them to be? If not, then why include your date of birth, sex, marital status, and photograph? Indeed, to include this information suggests you think it is important and may turn off employers who do not want to know these details because they do not want to be accused of bias.

If you are applying for a research position, your degrees, research experience, and publications must be prominent, not buried at the end.

Especially if early in your career, include any extra-curricular activities where you have excelled and/or had leadership roles, such as in sports, societies, volunteering or organizations. This shows you have an active and energetic life. Employers want people who keep themselves busy.

Evidence is stronger than opinion. Avoid clichés.  Better to say, for example: that you got ‘A’ grades in 8 of 10 subjects, or were first in class in a subject one year, than you were ‘excellent’ in college; that you worked in a team, than that you are a ‘team player’. Or, that you used R for all your project’s data analyses and statistics than just to say ‘experienced’ in R. If your exam grades or GPA are not outstanding then mention where you did well.

Soft skills

Has your experience shown initiative, e.g., perhaps ….

…. traveling or living in X countries has increased your global awareness of international issues, understanding of different cultures, appreciation of the diversity of cultures and viewpoints, more self-sufficient, independent;

…. working in different jobs with a variety of people (supervisors, colleagues, customers, clients) made you more understanding or different people’s perspectives and aware of challenges in new roles;

…. role in sports, clubs, societies, or committees given you opportunities to develop and practice leadership, supervision or coordination skills?

Do not invent hobbies to fill space. Saying you enjoy reading and movies suggests that you do so more than the average person. This invites an interviewer to ask about them, e.g., what you are reading?

Of course, be honest because these soft skills are things an interviewer is likely to pick on and ask “can you give an example of when …”. So be prepared with good answers and stories. So do not mention things we feel you can support or defend.

Design

It must be a stand-alone document, with your name, contact details, and anything that is relevant in the one document.

The first page is the most important. What qualifies you for the position should be there. Later pages can provide supporting details, like lists of publications.

When listing anything, like publications or degrees, put the most recent first, not last.

Do include all authors as listed in a publication in the conventional complete referencing style. Otherwise, it may look like you are trying to give the impression that you were the only or first author.

Do not include conference presentations, posters, and abstracts as publications. These are not formal publications and including them dilutes the importance of any true peer-reviewed publications.

Minimize distracting layouts and formatting. Three font styles should be adequate (bold, italic, regular). The text should be 11 or 12 points and in a conventional easy to read quickly format (e.g., Times New Roman, Arial). This is not the place to try to impress with novel fonts, formats, and shaded backgrounds or colours. Do not double space so the reader has to browse many pages. Be concise. Publication lists can be single-spaced and indented (as in science journals).

If you send the CV in text format, like Microsoft Word, make sure you use it properly. When I see spaces used instead of tabs and paragraph indentations, and blank lines inserted instead of page breaks, I know somebody does not know how to use basic editing tools. Yet they said they were skilled or experienced in MS Word!

Do I need to mention the need to check spelling, grammar, and writing carefully? Use spell-checking tools and Grammarly. This may be the first impression you will make on somebody.

 

Further reading

How to write a successful CV   

10 reasons why employers love graduates who have studied abroad

Ten CV no-nos that peeve potential employers

 

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