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Out With the Old, In With the New

Updated: Jan 27, 2023

Getting your CV 2023 Ready

stressed cartoon man

One of the biggest challenges when writing your CV, particularly for those of us who are, er, more advanced in years, is not what to put in but rather what to leave out.

Generally speaking, unless you're a doctor or university professor who needs to demonstrate years of research, you should try to keep to no more than two pages. The detail is going to come first in your cover letter or statement and then, all being well, in your interview.

If you've been working for 20-plus years for numerous organisations, that can start to get tricky.

There are a few things you can try to do to stay succinct but still retain the very best of you.

Seven handy tips to sort your CV

  1. Remove what you don't need. At this point in the application process, an employer doesn't require you to give them your full postal address, marital status, gender preference, date of birth, National Insurance/Social Security/Emirates ID number and so on. If they ask specifically for anything like that, it will be on a form that they provide. Likewise, unless they ask for a photograph, don't include it. As well as taking up space, lots of this information can also lead to unconscious bias (or conscious bias for that matter) on the part of the employer, and that's something to try to avoid. Similarly, although you running or going to the gym regularly is something you can be rightfully proud of, you are one of millions who do the same thing. Ditto for raising a family, participating in amateur dramatics or going for nice walks with your dog. If it doesn't make you stand out, or is not relevant to the job, leave it out.

  2. Read the job specification. Not all jobs ask for the same skills or experiences. In fact, many use completely different terms for what is ostensibly the same thing. One person's human resources is another's talent acquisition; managing a team could equate to supervision. It's for you to alter the language to meet the criteria. Many larger organisations (and some smaller) use ATS (applicant tracking systems) to filter out applicants and these will be using the terminology used in the job posting. Likewise, if your more relevant experience is from longer ago, draw out those skills into your Areas of Expertise section so that they're picked up.

  3. Make your CV chronological. Start from the most recent then work backwards. So your current job should be first, your first job (if it's different) last. The same for your education (talking of which, if your have a Master's in Business Leadership and a BA in Philosophy, noone really cares what GCSEs you got or high school you went to.) Jobs from more than ten years ago (roughly speaking) can be reduced to a line of job title, employer, dates. If you took time out to look after family, go travelling or simply because you left a job, then use a line to say so. During the pandemic, many people across the world were in the same situation, so don't worry about it, just be open and honest.

  4. Be confident, not arrogant. Using the third person in your professional statement at the start of your CV may feel a little awkward but it's a useful tool for overcoming any false modesty. You don't have to use pronouns, simply "committed, experienced professional...", "builds strong, professional relationships..." And it's not for you to tell them what you're not good at, only what you're great at (or at least pretty competent.)

  5. Use active, impactful verbs. When outlining your previous roles, think about the impact of what you did rather than the action itself. So "worked with..." becomes "collaborating on a team that..."; "in charge of..." turns to "leading 20 people to..."; "helped to..." is replaced by "energising others to..." Notice I'm also using the gerund (-ing) form as well to give that added feeling of action.

  6. Be proud of your achievements. If these can be measurable (increased by 23%, reduced lost earnings by $14,000) then fantastic. Start by working out the money made, the money saved and the time reduced by your actions. But not all achievements are so easily quantified. Think about the impact you had at different points. Maybe it's feedback from a line manager or customer or, that you trained colleagues. Or think about what might not have happened if you hadn't been there or acted as you had... I often put achievements near the start of the CV in their own section but others like to put them under each role. There's no hard and fast rule, just make sure they're easily identifiable. These are the bits that make you stand out from the rest.

  7. Filter the extra information. Returning a little to point one, you have to be harsh. You may be extremely proud of your Blue Peter badge for raising money for Ethiopia in 1984 but is it relevant? Even a promotion might not be seen as that vital if it happened 20 years ago. The same is true of courses and professional development. On the one hand, to show a commitment to professional learning and improving yourself is great; a first aid certificate that's been out of date for ten years demonstrates the opposite.

  8. Use the right format. Whether you present in columns or have nice lines separating each section probably isn't going to make much difference to whether you get the job or not. However, some older ATS have trouble reading PDFs and text boxes. Likewise, Google Docs often reformat when downloaded into MS Word. It's safer, therefore, to just use a simple Word document, with no tables or text boxes inserted, no little icons for email or telephone (everyone knows what means), and minimal colour. Size 11 font is as small as you want to go (because yes, people can zoom in, but if they have to you've created an extra, unecessary hassle) and use a simple, plain font like Helvetica or Ariel. I will never forget the CV I received as a school governor for a secondary headteacher position written in pink Comic Sans. (No, they were not shortlisted.)

So there you go, eight simple tips to help you put your CV together in a way that should get your foot in the door.* After that, it's up to you to show them they can't do without you! And if you need any help with it, you know where to find me:

*And no, I didn't mention spelling and grammar, because that's a given, right?


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