How to write a CV (Curriculum Vitae)

Tom O’Neil, a career consultant, explains how to craft a compelling curriculum vitae. Tom has also agreed to answer readers’ questions
over the course of the week. So if you have anything you’d like to ask, call in or email your question to us at: 555-1111 or before July
A Curriculum
Vitae is a brief
account of a
and previous
typically sent
with a job
Remember to be poised and dress appropriately for an interview
The best starting point for writing a curriculum vitae is to think of yourself
as a product. Your goal is to convince the buyer—whether that is an employer or
a college admissions officer—that you are the best product for the position they
have available. If you can grasp this concept early on, it will fundamentally
change how you write your CV and give you the best chance of success. Think of
your CV as a brochure, highlighting the reasons why the recruiter should part
with one hour and interview you. It’s critical to get it right first time.
If you are a recent graduate, a 2-3 page CV is fine. It needs to be brief
enough to read through quickly, but not so brief you cannot sell yourself in it.
People believe human resources staff read a CV for ten seconds and then
decide whether to interview the candidate or not. This is not true. They look at a
CV for ten seconds and then decide whether or not to continue reading. If they
do, they read for another 20 seconds, before deciding again whether to press on,
until there is either enough interest to justify an interview or to toss you into the
“no” pile.
When an organisation advertises a vacant role, it is saying to the market:
“We have a problem: we don't have someone who can fill this position.”
Therefore it is important that both your CV and cover letter prove that you are the
solution to its quandary. This is where "mirroring" the advertisement or job
description is key.
In most job descriptions there is a section highlighting the specific skills
and abilities the employer is seeking. Read through this information and highlight
the most important aspects, then mirror these in your CV and cover letter,
highlighting how your skills, achievements, qualifications and experiences can
meet these requirements.
Highlighting your achievements
When most people write a CV, they usually just list their experience,
education, responsibilities and the like. However, the second key to an effective
CV is showing how you excelled in these areas. As a graduate, there are many
ways to do this. For example:
Have you gained any high level grades?
Were you awarded any responsibility (class rep. or committee member, for
Did you receive any awards or scholarships?
As well as this, if you have had any practical work experience, highlight this to
show your ability to work in teams, relate professionally to customers and
demonstrate your work ethic. Any voluntary experience can be of value early on
in your career too. Many large accounting and banking firms take a positive view
of community or voluntary work as this suggests a person of character, not just
If you have solid career experience, you may also want to look at
achievements such as meeting/exceeding sales targets, systems and processes
you developed, as well as special projects you may have been involved in.
Always make contact details the first thing an employer sees. If they want
to contact you, it’s easy and they won’t have to hunt through the CV, finding them
buried at the end in a tiny font. It sounds obvious, but make sure they are correct.
I know of a chef who circulated a stunning CV around all the top restaurants.
Sadly all his contact details were wrong, so he got no call backs.
For a specific role, a tailored objective section is pivotal. Ensure you mirror what
the firm is seeking, as well as highlight the job title.
For example:
Seeking the role of graduate lawyer, where strong qualifications,
combined with a passion for commercial and banking law can be used.
This will immediately draw the eye of the reader, and start to show you as the
solution to his problem.
A personal summary is where the majority of the mirroring takes place.
Assess and highlight the keywords from the job description, making sure they are
included in the personal summary. You need to be careful not to plagiarize the
employer’s content. However, you want them to be assured you have what they
are seeking. Generally this section is around 6-8 bullet points, concentrating on
the specifics of the role, team orientation, software knowledge and personal traits
such as being proactive and having a high attention to detail.
Once you have solid career experience, this section tends to go after the
career history section (see below). However, if you are a recent graduate, this is
your main achievement, so it should come first. Generally you will highlight each
qualification, with the university and year attained. After this, add a section
entitled "Major Achievements". Here you will want to highlight the key aspects
mentioned earlier, showing why you are a strong candidate for the role.
Almost any work experience is relevant when you are starting your career.
Recruiters at the early stages are looking for reasons not to interview you, so a
candidate with some part-time customer services experience may have that extra
edge when applying for a banking role. Of course, if you have a solid career
background you should look to capitalise on your professional knowledge and
experience, ensuring it is in line with the role you are seeking.
After each position have another "Major Achievements" section,
highlighting any commendations you may have received, any further
responsibilities you may have been awarded or any targets you may have
achieved or exceeded. Again, these small positive examples all build up during
the evaluation of your CV, keeping the recruiter interested enough to keep
If you have any IT knowledge, this is where that information goes. Unless
you are an IT graduate, this section should be a brief account of the main
software packages you know how to use. Again this is important, as if a specific
program is not listed it will be assumed you do not have any experience using it.
It is important to be seen as a rounded person, not just an accounting or
legal machine who is only interested in work 24/7. Therefore briefly list 4-8 of
your interests, remembering that these may become important when the
company starts to talk about its culture later on in the recruitment process. In this
section, you can also talk about any voluntary or community support
activities you may be involved with.
For a first time
position the
Academic Section
lets the employer
see what kind of a
student you are.
This may help the
employer decide if
you are a
responsible future
employee. Be sure
to include
activities you
excelled in. This
provides more
insight into the
type of person you
are as well.
Eventually this
section will drop
off and be
replaced by
Again, for your first position, the education section is important and
should highlight your main secondary school, as well as any
achievements you may have had, such as academic awards or being a
prefect or committee member. However, after your second or third
position this section becomes less important and, later in your career,
should drop off altogether.
As job hunting becomes more digital, it is vital you lay down a
positive cyber profile to ensure your future career success. Developing a
good looking and easy to read LinkedIn profile is important, as many
recruiters browse these to scout for talent. Also be proactive in your
industry and start writing a regular blog or podcast relating to a
professional topic you find interesting. After a period of time, you will start
to develop a solid presence online which will increase your influence
overall. Imagine a recruiter with two candidates: one with good grades
and the other with good grades and 32 informative and insightful blog
posts on market economics. Which one would you choose to employ?
Use Twitter as a professional tool too, providing knowledgeable content that
dovetails with your blogs or podcasts. Remember that most employers use
social media to screen candidates prior to recruitment. Make sure your Facebook
settings are on private, and any naked, drunk or embarrassing pictures are gone
forever from the cyber world. You don’t want that one Bacchanalian holiday in
Ibiza to ruin your chances of gaining employment at a top international firm.
Tom O'Neil is CEO of CV.CO.NZ Ltd, a careers consultancy, and the author of “Selling Yourself to Employers”. Tom is available to answer any before
July 27th.