CV 101: First page = First impression!
Okay. So, I see a lot of people's CV's, as do my clients. I am also asked to review and provide feedback and find that I typically come back with similar suggestions, so I thought it would be worth sharing them. First a disclaimer - take any advice I give, along with everyone else's, with a pinch of salt. The fact that the advice, style, rules nearly always conflict highlights that there is no right answer and that nailing the perfect CV for a role is unattainable.
To kick us off, here are five realities you should consider about how your CV will most likely be considered;
- Opinions are formed within the first few seconds of the hiring manager reading your CV.
- It is likely that the hiring manager is reviewing your CV and at least 20 others.
- Long paragraphs and career histories are only ever glossed over.
- Detailed academia will disengage 90% of hiring managers (unless arguably you are going for a job in academia).
- You have no visibility of who will be reading your CV.
In the hiring process, first impressions are paramount. The first interaction you have with a potential employer is usually your resume, thus it’s quality can determine whether an employer will consider you for a role in their company. Extensive research by social psychologist Solomon Asch has shown that it is human nature to form complex ideas of character with remarkable rapidity and ease. All it takes is a glance at your CV and the hiring manager will have drawn multiple conclusions.
Writing a quality resume is not an easy task. It can be overwhelming to try and address all the job requirements concisely whilst still appealing to the hiring manager that is going to be reviewing it, along with potentially hundreds of other resumes.
So, how should you structure your resume?
The only way a hiring manager can know whether you have the skills that are required to fill the role is if they are clearly highlighted on your resume, therefore, you must get across the most important/relevant information on the first page. Remember your First Page = First Impression.
1) Nail your intro
A great way to introduce yourself to the hiring manager is by including a short (two-paragraph) professional summary on the front page. Ideally, the first few sentences should outline your experience that is most closely aligned with the role you are applying for. The second paragraph would identify your key capabilities and what you would like to do moving forward - this is where you want your personality, your drive and aspirations to come through.
Avoid hyperbolic language for example, “I am an innovative thought-leader” and focus on your key strengths that are applicable to the role. It can be tempting to position yourself as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in your professional profile, however, this increases the risk of a disconnect with the hiring manager reviewing your resume who just wants to know that you have the skills and experience to perform a particular role.
2) Highlighting your key achievements.
A lengthy role history section is unlikely to be read by a hiring manager. Including a key achievements section on the first page of your CV gives you a chance to pinpoint the things you are most proud of, minimizing the risk of them being overlooked as the hiring manager skims through your resume. The key achievement section of your CV should outline 4 or 5 of the most relevant accomplishments of your career. For each write a separate short paragraph explaining the scenario, your role and what made it important to you e.g. it challenged you or the outcome was beneficial to your employer.
3) When to include qualifications?
A qualifications section can be included on the first page (below professional summary) as long as they support/strengthen your relevant experience. It is not recommended to list every academic paper you have ever written and it should never take up more than 1/3 of a page. And if your qualifications do not add depth to your application then they should be listed on the following pages of your resume. Use the remainder of the first page for your most recent role or other key info you want the reader to know.
4) What next? Keep it relevant and succinct!
With the essential information covered on the first page of your resume, your career history and other less pertinent information can be included in the following pages to support your application (if possible, less than five pages but I don't ascribe to specific CV length rules). To avoid your own bias, it is a good idea to read through each section of your CV and consider whether you are including the information because it directly relates to the role or because it is just something you want to share. You want your resume to be succinct, therefore every piece of information you provide should bolster your chance of obtaining an interview.