write a winning cv

What should be in it, and what not!

Independent on whether you call it a CV or a Resume, there are some things that should be in there, and some that should not.

The CV is meant to get you through the first step to that interview, so keep it brief and to the point. Try and fit yours in four to six pages. For graduates and early career people, this should be simple, and two pages is fine. 

For 30+ year career professionals, aim for no more than six! Try to fit the first sections; your personal details, the “about me” and your career summary on the first page!

CVs are often screened by HR professionals, who are looking for specific qualities, qualifications, etc. Only a selection of CVs will make it through to the managers that actually will do the interviews. You need to get yours in that basket!

  • Above all, be honest! But also, don’t be too modest!

Some issues to consider, as it may have been some time since you last put one together.

  • Format – As for the format, be conscious of the target audience. If you are applying for a New Technology / IT position, your format may be different from applying to an engineering position in the resources industry. Being in the latter, I tend to stick to standard lay outs, but use a bit of colour in the headings to make it pop and stand out a little bit. 
    I recall having one graduate provide a very funky lay-out. It took us a while to find all the information that was so easy to find in the old-fashioned layout used by his peers! Not everybody takes the same effort to extract information!
    • I have provided an outline in the second half of this blog
  • Check and double check, and then triple check for spelling and grammar!
  • First or Second Person – I prefer CVs written in the first person, i.e. “I did… etc”.
  • Letter – Add a personal letter, a one-page letter where you highlight your key skills, repeat the specific skills and attributes mentioned in the job advert, and why you would be such a good fit. This could be as an introduction in the email you send, or as a seperate letter.
  • Social Media Branding – Make sure you provide one clear picture of who you are on all your social media.
  • Foto’s – I don’t put a photo on my CV, anybody interested to see what I look like can go to my LinkedIn page. I prefer “blind” auditions, where the focus is on your skill, not what you look like!
  • Referees – I generally don’t mention referees in my CV unless the advert asks for it specifically. If applicable, I will mention the names of any people in my network, who work for the company that I am applying to, and who recommended the role to me. 
  • Right of employment – if you are working under a visa waiver, or need a company supported visa or similar, best be clear about that in your CV. It either is no problem, or it is and you will be wasting everybody’s time.

general CV outline:

1. First page

This is the introduction page, basically you on one page.

Example CV – First page

1.1 Personal details 

Stick to the basics, and do not mention age or marital status. As we are communicating via email, you don’t need to add your home address either.

Do add any titles you carry with your name.

It is custom to add a link to your LinkedIn profile here, do make sure it works!

1.2 A short section called “about me”. 

This is the place where you make yourself stand out from the crowd. What is your superpower? This is not the section where you put your work related skills, but this is about your personality, how you work with others and by yourself.

Basically, what would the people who know you best say about you? Time to be honest, and not too modest. You could ask a good co-worker or friend to draft this for you and then edit their versions to a short number of bullets.

1.3 Career Summary

If you are like me and have had a number of roles, it is handy to list them all here. Working your way from most recent to the oldest, state the time (month and year), the role title, and the company and location. If you have taken time off to travel, or for parental leave, or have done something completely different, please add that to this overview. 

Make sure there are NO GAPS! Having gaps in your CV looks suspicious, for all we know, you could have been in jail (just kidding). Having children, or taking a career break or do something completely different is fine, just list it here!

1.4 Qualifications and Education

This is not the spot to list all the courses you have done! Actually, nowhere on your CV is, it makes you look “high maintenance” instead! You should list your degree, any honour levels, and other work qualifications that are essential for the role your are doing.

If you are within only a couple of years from graduating, feel free to add your high school and A levels if you are proud of them, otherwise leave then out.

Be conscious of different ranking and rating systems used between states and countries, it can be helpful to provide a grade out of 100% for your educational achievements.

Mention any academic awards here!

1.5 Awards and Recognition

If you won any company awards, have received a professional recognition, this is the place to mention them.

2. Second and following pages

This is the main section of the CV. It provides more detail on what your skills are, what responsibilities you have had, and what you have achieved in your current and past roles.

In general the focus will be on what you did in the last 10 years. However, if you had a range of experiences and roles, you may want to highlight the depth and breadth of your exposure. Try and keep it simple, easy to read and clear.

Example CV – Second and following pages

2.1 Key Professional Competencies

This is where you list those skills, as in contrast to your personal attributes in the “about me” section, that are relevant to the position you are applying for. 

This would include software proficiencies, language skills, specific professional skills, etc. This section should have the same terms that were used in the job advert as key skills required for the job you are applying for. 

Make sure you match terminology used, as with a large number of applications the first cut can just be a quick scan of the document for number of hits!

2.2 Detailed Career History

This is the section where you get to highlight what you have been doing in your professional life. For each role, clearly state your responsibilities and achievements. If the company may not be that familiar, outline in one sentence what its main business is. Adding a link to the company website is good practice. 

For any role that you did more than 10 years ago, be succinct and leave it to one sentence only. Unless this role will be key in getting you the next job, it is something that is often too long ago to really matter.

Work from your current role back in time. As you have already listed any gaps, there is no need to add those again here.

3. Last page

We are now getting to the final page of your CV, and this is really meant to showcase how rounded you are. It lists your community involvement, membership and contributions to professional organisations, volunteering efforts, etc.

Example CV – last page

3.1 Memberships and Community

Mention any memberships of professional organisations, and membership of community groups, industry networks, voluntary organisations, etc.

3.2 Publications and Presentations

Pretty self-explanatory, list your external publications and presentations here. If you have worked for a large company that has internal conferences where you have presented, you can add the title of those presentations if you are allowed to and otherwise just refer to “internal presentation”. It is a reflection on how you fit within your peer group.

3.3 Hobbies

The final section which you can either use to fill the bit at the bottom, to provide a bit of colour to your person, or if you are really tight on space, you could leave it out.

Some of my colleagues are particularly keen to see candidates that have been part of sports teams, demonstrating a “team spirit”.

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