A CV is a key component of an individual’s market proposition, providing insight into experience, expertise, approach and personality, and yet candidates often seem uncertain of the best way to tailor their CV to an opportunity. If done comprehensively, customising a CV for an application can be hugely time-consuming, and so tailoring a CV not only effectively but also quickly, becomes a vital skill to master. My colleague Lizzy Caselton in her blog, ‘CV Writing – Get the basics right’, expounds the benefits of crafting the perfect CV, and the importance of keeping it up-to-date. I would suggest a further step still, to always maintain a ‘master’ CV, which contains the entirety of your experience and expertise in a format which can be easily altered and aligned to the specific opportunity you are applying for. This is perhaps most critical for individuals looking for permanent opportunities in the market, but many of the guidelines below have relevance for interim contractors also.
Create your master document
In my experience most people concur that it is quicker to remove irrelevant content than it is to generate new, and that is the general idea here. After taking the initial time to compile your master document, subsequent customising becomes an efficient and straightforward activity.
First, perfect your ‘master’ CV: include the job titles, company name and start and finish dates of your entire employment history. The finished article will likely be long, but the advantage of this technique is that it serves as a quick reminder of all those roles from which you can draw and highlight relevant experience for a given application.
Underneath each role perhaps include 4-6 bullet points detailing your key Responsibilities, and 4-6 bullets of your key Achievements while in that position. To be truly impactful, Achievements should be measurable, quantifiable benefits or capabilities you helped deliver – for example:
- Delivered £X cost savings in Z months
- Created X% reduction in waste in Z months
- Increased employee engagement scores by X% in Z months
Tailor your CV
With your master template in place, you can now turn to tailoring it for a role. For any previous experience which is not directly relevant to the role you are applying for, I would suggest removing the ‘Responsibilities’ and ‘Achievements’ sections entirely, and retaining only job title, company and employment dates. Removing achievements is always a difficult exercise, but information not of immediate significance is likely to damage your prospects, making it harder for a potential employer to pinpoint those areas where synergies exist. Save the space instead for information immediately relevant to the application.
Working through each of your previous roles, under each heading retain the most pertinent Responsibilities and Achievements – perhaps 3 bullet points against each heading. The aim here is to focus in on the relevant skills, experience and personality traits needed for the opportunity. Working from the master template, with practice removing the less applicable detail becomes a brief and simple exercise. In essence, the task is to make it easy for the reader to see exactly how your experience aligns to the brief.
Fine-tune your tailored CV by revising your opening ‘Profile’ paragraph. You might consider having two or three different versions of this in your master template to choose between. For instance, you may have one version focused on the depth of your knowledge in a one sector, while another might emphasise the breadth of your experience. Ensure that your opening paragraph reflects the expertise and skills specified in the job description or advert. Above all, although it is important to ensure that your CV aligns with the opportunity, it must always serve as a true and accurate reflection of you, and your experience and skills.
One area open to debate is whether you should list your location on your CV. I would suggest that if your location is within commuting distance of the role, you should do so. If you live at some further distance and would be willing to live-away or re-locate for the role, you could omit this from your CV and include this detail in your covering note.
Another question often asked is the advisable length of a CV. Rather than focus on length, I would recommend concentrating instead on the relevance of the details you include. A shorter CV that shows clear alignment of skills and expertise can be as successful, if not more so, than a longer one – a concise CV is in fact one way to ‘stand out’ from the competition.
Review your CV alongside the advert or job description. You might take a pen and tick off each element from the advert. This exercise will immediately highlight how many of the ‘minimum’ and ‘desired’ criteria you meet, and give a realistic expectation of the success of your application. Such an exercise can also highlight any gaps in your experience necessary to fulfil your career aspirations and land your ideal next role, and you can then set out to develop those areas accordingly.
Finally, I would suggest it is a valuable exercise to re-read your CV just prior to attending an interview. Re-familiarising yourself with the tailored version will remind you of those areas where your experience aligns to the brief, and you can enter the room with those examples front of mind.
Continually review and revise
You may find it useful to track your success rate for a particular version of your CV. Perhaps one CV is less successful in gaining you an invitation to interview than another. If so, why? Perhaps the phrasing is not as clear and concise; perhaps a section is too wordy; perhaps the entire CV is too long. If you can, ask for feedback on your application and continue to review, revise and refine accordingly.
Viewpoints on the dos and don’ts of the ideal CV are always going to be highly subjective. However, during my time working as a Researcher at Eton Bridge Partners, the primary theme I have noticed is the tendency to be overly-broad and expansive. Sweeping statements, while ostensibly broadening your experience to encompass more opportunities, also dilutes the core of your offering. Your experience, skillset, personality and approach are distinct and individual. Above all then, ensure that you use this to your advantage, allowing these exclusive and specific details to shine out in your CV, and truly showcase your unique market proposition.
Keep in touch
We’d love to stay in touch, please register to receive topical insights and exclusive event invitations.