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Introductory Story

I graduated in the year 2009 and that was the year my problems began. Like most of my peers, I had no idea what a Curriculum vitae was. Isn’t that an irony? That one should graduate from school which prepared me to go and get a job, and never at any time was I taught how to develop the right first impression. At least that’s what a CV should be – a first impression. In my job-seeking ignorance, I nursed the dreams of clinching that juicy job position in a reputable firm. So the one thing I was not taught became the on thing every employer wanted to see.

So I started like most of my peers. I went to a Cyber-cafe and had the technician, whom I was better qualified than make a standard CV for me. It is funny now how I review hundreds of CVs and I see what was my CV in 2010. Standard CVs cannot get you beyond its true level – Standard.

What is a CV?

Curriculum Vitae means a brief account of one’s life and work. It is originally a Latin expression which literally stands for “course of one’s life”. A Curriculum Vitae is a representation of who you are. It is like your professional life’s story – in summary. All of your education, employment experience, skills, accomplishments, publications, grants, awards and other personal information including referees must be included. In a nutshell, a CV should contain all of your life’s outcomes.

CVs were born in the 15th Century and have evolved over the years. From a simple card that listed a person’s skills to a document that has to be masterfully rendered to impress potential employers. From paper documents, we now have IT-based systems where people can create and grow their CVs in real-time.

A CV is a living document. This implies that it is not cast on stone and should be updated from time to time. It is thought that every year without an update in your CV is a measure of stagnancy and should keep you further down the job lines. However, many human resources experts believe that the real issue is a lack of skills to adequately articulate one’s learning and life’s outcomes. In this article, we shall attempt to look at why CVs are important, what should be in a CV and how to conduct life outcome-harvesting. Finally, we shall conclude with streamlining a CV to suit a specific employer.

Why are CVs important?

A CV is the first impression of you to your future employer. It’s an irony that many people graduate from higher institutions without ever taking a class on how to develop a CV. If schools are actually preparing individuals for the workplace, then CV development should be in the Curriculum. Anyways, a good CV will make a good impression and while this does not guarantee a job, it could get an interview. Most people do not realize that their CVs are not a reflection of who they truly are. Some may know this but are not sure how to improve on this situation.

Truth be told, the destiny of bad CVs is the trash can! Your sole responsibility is to ensure that your CV stays away from trash cans. A bad CV can be detected from the very first page. Factly, the first few lines of your CV will tell if you know what you are doing or not. With tough competitions for job positions, most people who are very qualified will not get a chance at their dream jobs because of their ‘standard’ CVs.

What Should be in your CV?

Before I commence the usual rundown of CV sections, it’s important to note that every organization or job position requires a different set of information. One CV is not good enough for every job application. In fact, no organization wants the exact same skillset for employees even if they will work in similar job roles. So, you must master the art of recreating your CV every time a new opportunity opens up. Most people will not be submitting their CVs in person and maybe stick around to explain any sections that are unclear. Hence, any items that are not good enough are thrown away.

The problem is not often what we don’t include in the CV, its what we do include and mostly, how we write. A CV could be tall but employers would rather have a summary in a few pages. Hence for each CV component, a few tips on how to better it will be provided. The components are as follows:

  • Contact information
  • Academic history
  • Professional experience
  • Qualifications and skills
  • Awards and honors
  • Professional associations
  • Grants and fellowships
  • Publications and presentations
  • Licenses and certificates
  • Volunteer work
  • Personal information (Optional)
  • Hobbies and interests (optional)

Contact information

The first and simplest thing on your CV is the name and that is where the problem begins for many people. How should a name be written? The most acceptable international Standard is to use the First Name – Last Name format. My first name is Michael and my last name is Ukwuma. Middle names should be written in between. In my CV, my name has to be written as Michael Ukwuma. Readers would consider whatever you put at the end of your name as your last name.

Other notable information that must appear in this section are your Permanent address, a phone number, and an email address. If any of these informations are not available, then a proxy can be used. But do well to indicate that you can be reached via those means. An alternative email or phone number can be included if there is a history of difficulty in reaching you.

Tips:

  • It may be better to state 2 and not more than 3 names in the CV in order not to get the recruiter confused about how to address you.
  • Do not use abbreviations while stating your name in your CV.
  • If the recruiter has interests in other Social Media Handles, please provide them.

Academic history

All records of academic achievement has to be included here. It is advised to begin with the most recent achievement. These must be presented in reverse chronologic order, that is, if you have a doctorate degree, include it first and others.

Be sure to name the institution(s) that you attended. Also, remember to state the date of the award. Desist from including academic qualifications that you do not have at the point. It is shocking to find CVs with advanced degrees such as a Masters or Doctorate enlisted while the program is ongoing. Never do this unless the institution to which you apply indicated interests in knowing of any ongoing academic programs.

Tips:

  • Keep academic records tidy and simple using a table or some other easy to read templates
  • Maintain the same reporting format for all academic achievements in this section
  • Include the country where your institutions are located. Recruiters might want to know this.

Professional experience

Professional experience refers to any jobs, whether fulltime or parttime where you worked for at least 20 hours weekly. What counts is not the number of jobs you have been involved in, it is the results you achieved in each workplace that counts.

The purpose of this section is to show prospective employers what they stand to gain when they recruit you. If a person is applying to a marketing position, he needs to emphasize the results that show them as good with sale, communication, negotiation and relationship management (these are for learning purposes and do not reflect the qualities of a good marketer).

Therefore, it is not enough to state; “I taught Biology to School Children aged 7 for 5 years” or “I worked in the electronics department of a sales store for 5 years. These only states the actions you took and not results. It may be better to state: “During the 5 years I taught Biology, 300 students studied with me without a single failure and 100 distinctions, the most recorded in the School’s history within that timeframe” or I beat my sales target by 50 percent annually in the 5 years I worked in the electronics department”. The last set of experiences shows a track record of success.

Tips:

  • State only job positions that are relevant to the post you aspire to. This creates a connection.
  • Unconnected positions can be streamlined by identifying achievements that fit with expected roles and responsibilities in the prospective position.
  • State a most 3 achievements in each job position
  • Gaps between jobs should be explained

Qualifications and skills

This section has to be concise and straight to the point. You may have other qualifications that are not academic but professional. For instance, a Proficiency Certificate in Management awarded by the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) or the Human Rights Educator Certificate awarded by the Equitas International Centre for Human Rights Education should be cited here. Name of Certificate, awarding institution and date should be written.

Skills are characteristics and competencies that you already possess at a prolific level. They could be IT Skills, interpersonal skills, technical skills, etc. It is also alright to state your proficiency level in each skill using high, intermediate or low. However, it is best to state only skills you are quite proficient in. Many CVs list skills that the applicant is neither conversant, not proficient in. This must be avoided at all costs

Tips:

  • Identify skills that the employer desires and reflect them in your CV (assuming that you possess them.
  • Do not include a skill or qualification that is not relevant to the role to which you apply.

Awards and honors

Every person gets an honor or wins an award at a time in their life. Honors could be knighthood bestowed by the Queen, King or the Pope, or maybe just a title given by peers for being a great sport. Awards can be due to a wide range of reasons including academic achievement, sporting achievement, social skills or for any other reason. The key thing here isn’t to list all awards and honors but to identify those which agree with the position to which you apply. For Instance, If you apply to an academic position, religious honors may not be as important as academic awards.

Tips:

  • Keep it simple and straight to the point.
  • State the title of the award/honors, awarding body and date.
  • Include only awards that align with the position sought.

Professional associations

This is the point where you list all the professional bodies to which you belong. They may be local, national, regional or international organizations. It is expected that to be informed, one needs to belong to closed groups of professionals which provide training opportunities for their members. Note that it may be wise to skip this section if you do not belong to any relevant or related professional bodies. For instance, listing a religious body for a tech position may do harm to your application. However, a job in a religious establishment may find religious body membership attractive.

Tips:

  • List professional bodies, type of membership and the year of induction
  • If you are an executive/founding member of any of the bodies, it could be useful to state this too.
  • Include the most relevant professional bodies first.

Grants and fellowships

Grants are funds that you are given to conduct a project which could be research, studies or community development. They could be given by an individual or an organization. However, fellowships are mostly related to studies which may be academic or professional. While grants put funds in your hands and lets you manage it, fellowships present opportunities and apply the funds pay for your studies.

The significance of grants and fellowships is that it demonstrates your trustworthiness. People invest in you because they see your potentials for greatness. If you have received a grant or fellowship, be sure to include them no matter how little they are.

Disclaimer: Please do not list all the cash gifts you have received. Gifts are not grants because you are not required to account for gifts. All grants and fellowships demand reports and a full account have to be presented for each.

Tips:

  • List grants/fellowships, awarding institution or entity and period (dates)
  • Start with those that directly relate to the job you are applying to
  • State the most important and recent awards if you have loads of grants
  • Except you are applying to grant writing position, no not include more than five (5) awards.
  • It is okay to skip the section if you have not won a grant or fellowship.

Publications and presentations

Many professionals write for journals and make other forms of publications. Publications can be academic or professional. Depending on your field of work, these may be required. Keep a list of publications using the appropriate referencing styles. Be sure to include the name of authors, year of publication, title of publication, forum where it was published and any other relevant information such as volume, issue, page number.

Most professionals make presentations at conferences and other formal fora. These presentations can also be included in the CV. They are referenced similarly to publications.

Tips:

  • Care must be taken not to include all publications if they are too many. Publications should not take more than half a page except if you are submitting the CV to a publishing company for an academic institution.
  • Prolific writers should cite their most important publications or the most recent ones.

Licenses and certificates

In order to operate in certain fields, certain extra certifications and licenses are required to operate. This exists across professions. Examples include medical license and driving license. A license is often renewable. Professional bodies of programmers, Project Managers, and all others provide internationally recognized certifications for persons who meet certain standards. If the job applied to requires a specific certificate or license, be sure to include it.

Tips:

  • Avoid including irrelevant certificates or licenses. Example: A medical license will be useless in a CV submitted to a Pizza Delivery or Courier Services Company.
  • Never cite certificates that you don’t possess.
  • Licenses cited in a CV has to be up-to-date.

Volunteer work

Volunteerism is a requirement in many climes now. There are many reasons why recruiters desire individuals who have volunteered elsewhere for employment. Some of these reasons include experience, knowledge, and skills gained. If a person already volunteered in a similar organization, the transition period during which they get acquainted with how the organization functions reduces. For admission into higher institutions and work in some organizations, it may be a requirement. Therefore, ensure that every time you volunteer for a project, you get some contacts and documentation to show that this happened.

Tips:

  • List your volunteer experiences starting with the most recent ones
  • State those most relevant to the job position to which you are applying
  • Volunteer experiences can be a single day event or a month-long experience.

Personal information (Optional)

  • Personal information in a CV can be disruptive and therefore, it is important to limit what information you provide.
  • Nationality, gender, and date of birth could be provided.
  • Other personal information such as marital status, name of spouse, sexual orientation, name of children and all similar stuff should not be in your CV.

Hobbies and interests (optional)

  • These are not trendy anymore but it’s alright to include few hobbies and interests
  • These are optional and many recruiters may not be interested in reading about interests that are not relevant to the work.
  • If you must cite interests, make them fascinating and not counterproductive.

References

  • References are organizations or people who know about your work history and can give a good word in support of your application.
  • It is best if they have professional connections/relevance to the position to which you apply. Example: if you apply to an academic position, a professor or academician would be better suited to give as reference. If you apply to a technical roles (driver, plumber, etc), a Professor would not be a good reference except he has used your services.
  • Many recruiters request two references: professional and academic. Professional references refer to people you worked with while academics refer to a teacher from your higher institution. Others may want only past employers only. All that is important is that you provide what the recruiter requires if the have references as a requirement.

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How to format your CV

Formatting is important when developing your CV. A poorly formatted well-written CV may not get a chance. On the flip side, a poorly written well-formatted CV might survive an initial screening. Here are some tips to help you format your CV adequately:

1. Font type and size

  • Make the letters legible and easy to read. Font sizes should be at least 12 points
  • Helvetica, Arial, Geneva appear easier to read. But if a specific font has been suggested by the recruiter, be sure to use it.

2. Be mindful of margins

  • Margins should neither be too large or too small. A good rule is to keep your margins between 1–1.5 inches.

3. Utilize your space effectively

  • CVs can unduly long depending on your years of experience.
  • Use bullet points for lists like publications, skills or awards…
  • Separate the various sections using headers: use levels of heading if your word processor allows it (make headings bolder, larger or underlined).
  • Make important concepts such as name and job titles bold to make them distinct.

4. Proofread

  • Review your CV to ensure correctness of spelling, grammar, and syntax. A clean, error-free CV increases readability and demonstrates professionalism.

About Michael Ukwuma

Michael is a Project Manager with years of experience in nonprofits and managing startups. He shares what he has learnt over time with like-minded persons. He gives classes to persons who plan a future in the nonprofits sector or as entrepreneurs.

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