How to write a CV
There’s three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and that Tank smoothies are really expensive.
To be able to pay for two of those things until the third inevitably happens, you’ll probably need a job. That’s where your CV, or curriculum vitae (in the original Latin) and resumé (in the original American) comes in.
Your CV is effectively the self-advertisement counter to the company’s job advertisement. It’s like a report card, except you put in all the good stuff yourself and try to make it as relevant as possible. In all seriousness, writing a good CV is an art – when employers are choosing who to interview, they’re doing it solely off of a piece of paper and deciding who they like the most from them.
Your CV is effectively the self-advertisement counter to the company’s job advertisement.
You shouldn’t just wing a CV, or think that any bullet pointed list will do.
Carefully crafting a strategic CV to knock your future employer’s stockings off is a key skill in life, one that school unfortunately doesn’t teach us.
Luckily, StudyTime, as always, is here to fill that gap in education and your hearts.
Most of this information has come from articles and university careers guides over the years, so we can’t take full credit for all of these tips.
In fact, visiting a careers guide and going to workshops at uni is a super valuable tool for personalising your CV and getting an expert ex-HR mind to read over it (highly recommend).
As such, this article will give you some first-hand strategies taught to me that have stuck in my mind.
So take out the pen and paper, open up a fresh new Word Doc, and let’s get you the entry-level job of your dreams.
*If a StudyTime article doesn’t use “structure” as a headline – is it even a StudyTime article at all?
Like a great essay, the first thing we want to think about is structure. An incoherent, waffle-ly CV will do you no favours, and signals to the person reading it that you haven’t put in the most effort. That’s not an ideal start.
Instead, your CV should clearly walk the employer through all the amazing things about you in a nice, digestible, orderly fashion. Your employer has probably rifled through too many CVs in his or her time, their kid probably kept them up last night, and they’re almost definitely checking the clock for when they can stop reading CVs.
“Your CV should clearly walk the employer through all the amazing things about you in a nice, digestible, orderly fashion.”
We want out CV to start off with a header, giving our name (important), email, mobile, and address. In fact, your name is so important that we’ll put it in bold. Maybe even a bolded underline.
Next, make a header titled Personal Statement. This was a strategy given to me by the careers guide at Vic, and trust them, it makes a difference.
Here, you want to give a paragraph (rather than a list), explaining who you are, what you’re doing, what you’re good at, and why you want the job. Employers want to see someone who’s passionate about what they want to do and where they want to go, so a personal statement is how you showcase that.
After that, we’ve got your first bullet pointed list. People call it different names: skills and attributes, achievements, strengths – we’ll call it an Overview. Here’s where you list all the interesting and relevant things about yourself. What do you study? What are you good at? What achievements have you been given? What skills has previous work experience given you? Are you sick at Microsoft Word? Have you been to any workshops recently? Are you deeply passionate about zoos?
Now, we’re on to our Work Experience. This will flesh out over time, but make sure you’re telling your employer about any times where you’ve demonstrated responsibility, leadership, and/or professionalism. If you can, make sure to highlight things relevant to your desired job. If this is your first job, it’s all good – we all start somewhere.
Education and Achievements
Education and Achievements – where you can use NZQA to help you make money. Like it says in the header, list all the awards, achievements, and qualifications from your time at school or university (even what you’re studying and how you’re going). If you’ve had any trainings in anything, chuck that in too.
Your last list is your Interests. This isn’t “Cole Sprouse in Riverdale” kind of interests, but things that you’ve done or are into that are relevant to the career path you want to take. For example, perhaps you’ve done debating in high school, or went on an exchange. Maybe you speak another language, or you’re in a club at uni. Maybe you run a social media page.
Finally, your Referees. You want to give the names, emails, phone numbers, and explanations of one or two people who can vouch for you. Unfortunately, they can’t be your mum. They can, however, be a past employer, a teacher, a coach, or a professor.
The last, but definitely not the least, tip under structure is actually about the length. Your CV should be a max of three pages, and two is completely fine. Otherwise, your employer will think you’re that guy.
2. Prioritise your strengths
Remember before, when we said that it’s okay if you don’t have the most work experience ever? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses in your CV. Maybe you haven’t had a proper job before, but you did mean at school; maybe it’s vice-versa. Maybe you’ve had other experience and received other achievements, and you want to highlight those.
Your structure can be flexible. If you want your education and achievements to be your biggest factor, put those first. If you want to explain things more, use more of the page to do that. In a bullet pointed list, make sure you start with the things that you’re most proud of, or that are the most relevant.
“If you want your education and achievements to be your biggest factor, put those first.”
For example, my CV switched heaps structurally after my first few years at uni – NZQA stuff went way down the bottom, uni marks were at the top, and work experience became the first list.
There are two things to discuss here, both equally important in making sure that your CV stands out, and both relating to personalisation.
One of the biggest things that the careers guide said at a workshop held at uni was that your CV should try to engage the reader at a personal, human level first. Everyone has a unique story, that can’t always be fully done justice in a list of marks or achievements. So, make sure that you spend some time telling the reader about you.
“Your CV should try to engage the reader at a personal, human level first.”
This goes back to the Personal Statement, which is the main way that you do this. You want to make sure that you’re telling a story in this part of the CV, as well as throughout. If you have an interesting reason for studying what you’re studying or doing what you’re doing, explain it. If you have particular goals or ambitions, write them in. If you just really love shoes, talk about how much.
Your employer is a person with their own personality, and it’s a powerful thing to engage with them on that personal level. Get them interested in who you are, get them sympathising, get them nodding along, and they’ll actually want to meet you.
It’s also a great idea to talk about you in relation to your experience, not just the experience itself. If you had x job before, what did you do? How did you do it? What responsibilities did you have? Were you great at it? Why? How did it fit your personality or strengths? What did you learn?
The second big thing is making sure it’s unique, because after all, you are. No matter how many applicants you’re going up against, you’ll have skills that they don’t, and you’ll have experiences that they haven’t had.
“No matter how many applicants you’re going up against, you’ll have skills that they don’t and you’ll have experiences that they haven’t had.”
I’ll give you a personal example: in my draft CV, I had a whole bunch of “professional” stuff – communication skills, etc. However, I hadn’t put anything in about social media, which companies love. I had included what I study at Uni, but I hadn’t included that this meant I’ve had a lot of practice with online research. I had written that I had a job as an assistant, but I hadn’t said that this meant I was good at organising.
If you think really hard, you’ll be able to extrapolate a whole bunch of skills and interesting facts about yourself, and this is golden for making a CV stand out from the pile.
4. Tick all of their boxes
This one involves some prior research and some more personalising – not in regards to yourself, but in regards to your employer. If you’re sending your CV after reading a job description or the careers section of the company’s website, you should know what they want.
So, make sure you’re in the know about exactly what they want. Instead of writing a template CV and sending it to everyone, shape and craft it around the particular job you want. If the job description talks a lot about oral communication, include how good you were at speeches or that your debating team went to the semi-finals.
“Instead of writing a template CV and sending it to everyone, shape and craft it around the particular job you want.”
If the job demands heaps of organisation, emphasise that you’ve always considered organisation a huge strength of yours, and how your mum has never had to tell you to clean your room (or something along those lines). If the job is in a particular field, talk about how that field is your aspiration since you were a wee one.
A bit of creative license is granted here, though don’t go overboard.
You want to strike a balance between fakely enthusiastic (“Working in the fast-food industry has been a personal aspiration of mine since I came out of the womb”) and brutally honest (“I’m just here to make some damn money sis”).
Instead, try somewhere in between: “I love helping people, and am always looking for opportunities to connect positively with others”
5. Be professional
You do want your CV to be professional; after all, they’re inviting you to join their organisation. More than that, you want to give a great impression, and one that says that you know what you’re doing. A professionally-written CV exudes care, attention to detail, and, you guessed it, professionalism.
This means making sure your font is appropriate – you can’t go wrong with Times New Roman in 12. Your headers should be a font size up, and consistently bolded with the same size, spacing, and capitalisation. The spacing and margins should all be consistent, just as if you were writing a report.
Grammar and spelling is key. Mistakes will be noticed, and it’s not a good look. Check everything, make sure your bullet pointed lists are all nice and orderly, and you haven’t left out punctuation.
Then, after you’ve checked it twice, get someone else to check it as well.
6. Get help
Even though you may think your CV is sussed, chances are someone else with more experience and a better eye may rip it to shreds. There are two ways you can make sure your CV is appropriate and as perfectly optimised as possible.
Firstly, as previously mentioned, go to your careers guide at school or at Uni. Universities often have drop-in hours to see someone and give them your CV, and they also host workshops. I can’t emphasise enough how valuable these are.
Secondly, there are some resources online to help you write a CV, along with templates and examples. The government has one: check out the Careers NZ website.
You’ll absolutely smash it. Our final hot tip is to google “common interview questions” in the field you’re applying for – and prepare some answers for each. Don’t be too generic, try and still remain honest (just with a little professional embellishment). Like you did in all your NCEA external essays, tweak your answers on the spot to fit the required questions.
Now go get that bread.