Six tips to make your CV outstanding
Your CV is your personal marketing brochure. It needs to give a potential employer an insight to what separates you from other applicants and how you fit the positions he/she wants to fill.
Should you be uncertain about that, start with a self-analysis (you may contact your career advisor for support), and read the task description in the job ad carefully.
Coming to the structure, we have prepared a list of tips to help make your CV stand out from the crowd.
Your CV should contain the following sections:
School and university, starting with your Abitur, A-Levels, Baccalaureat (university entry certificate). Don’t mention the schools you attended before.
- Work experience contains of internships, side jobs, work relating to student activities, employment in the family business, etc.
- IT skills
- Extracurricular activities (voluntary work is a plus for most companies)
- You may also add a section on scholarships or successes (i.e., if you have received scholarships or won prizes). Remark for the German market: the e-fellows scholarship is not as a reward by recruiters, pls. don’t mention it.
Putting forward your work experience indicates that you are a young professional. As you have just graduated or will graduate in the close future, you should start with the education section.
Task led, quantified, and achievement-based bullet points are the key to a successful CV. Make sure, that your CV fits the job/internship you’re aiming at. There should be some relations to the tasks of your target position, something that motivates the recruiter to invite you for an interview.
- Task Led: Show what you did and how you did it.
- Quantified: Be specific and precise. All points should provide evidence and examples to show the scale of the task (e.g., ‘50 sales calls a day’ or ‘improved a new process currently being used by the IT department’).
- Achievement: Being able to show that you did something above and beyond what was expected of you is a good way to separate you from other candidates. What extra projects/tasks did you get? What improvements did you make? Did you get promoted?
In the UK we have fair selection based on equal opportunity laws. This often means that UK CVs do not contain personal data (e.g., nationality, age (DOB), place of birth, marital status). There is also NO PHOTO required and including a picture can often look strange to UK companies.
In Germany, Spain, and Italy, most employers prefer a photo on a CV. This should be a professionally shot application photo with you in business dress looking reliable, trustworthy, and smiling – essentially, employable. Don’t use your self-made Facebook photos, passport photos, or photos from private contexts. In recent years, the personal data section in German CVs has reduced in size; you should place this section beside your photo and include your name, contact address, and date of birth. A good thing to mention is your availability. The same holds for Spanish and Italian CVs.
CVs without gaps: German employers, especially, want to know your work life in detail. Therefore, you should be sure to add the month and year to every point of your education and work experience (e.g., 6/2013 - 9/2013 L’Oréal, Marketing department, internship). You should avoid leaving gaps - if you took time out for half a year to travel, no problem. This kind of information should appear in your extracurricular activities and it will present a nice topic of conversation at fairs or in interviews. Ask your careers team for advice if you are not sure how to address gaps properly.
Other things to consider
- One page in English for finance related jobs and (investment) banking.
- Two pages max for all other roles
- References can be removed. A company will ask for these when they are required and can you save you space
- Most CVs are written in the third person.
- For applying in non-English speaking countries, have CVs in the local language ready (BUT only if you know the language).
- In case you send an unsolicited application, you definitely should follow up on the phone.
- In Germany, the term ‘complete documents’ refers to the following: covering letter, CV, grade transcripts from university and Abitur/A-levels, and references and recommendation letters. If you are submitting an application via email, pay attention to file size (make sure that they are not too large).
Language skills – don’t exaggerate
Be realistic with the level of your language skills. You don’t know how relevant the language skills will be and they may test you during the interviews by inviting a multilingual colleague along! If you did some basic language courses years ago, leave it out. You should always include your native language as well.
This section is a chance to show that you are driven and motivated outside of your studies. Employers look to this section to get a sense of your character and to see if you have demonstrated signs of perseverance and leadership. Good examples of extracurricular activities include association memberships, charity work, projects, or roles in a sports association.
Interests – open to interpretation
Most employers consider it important to share your interests. Mention sports, musical activities, and other interesting hobbies here. Again, be task led, quantified, and show achievement—mention how many years you have done a particular activity, your role in a sports team, and your participation in competitions and tournaments.
However, you should carefully pick which of your interests you wish to display. For instance, if you say you like fencing, employers may see you as an aggressive person. You shouldn’t mention reading as an interest, as this is expected of you anyway. The same goes for “I am interested in economics and politics.”
Six tips for writing an outstanding, cutting-edge CV
1 Make them understand
The more information in a catchy style you can provide, the better! Companies will use everything to understand what you actually did and what you achieved. Have two-three bullet points under your most recent employment experiences and be prepared to change them according to the job you are applying for – remember: Tailoring your CV make it more relevant to the recruiter.
2 Be Consistent
- Keep your formatting consistent throughout (font, text size, etc.)
List your education and employment in a standardised way (i.e., list the name of your university followed by your degree; list the name of your company followed by your position.
- Make sure all sections are in chronological order. Put the most recent information first.
- Make sure that your CV is also consistent to your CV in professional networks.
3 Be relevant
- Choose the best examples from each experience that best matches the job – tailoring.
- Think of the technical aspects of your experience that may be useful.
- Use the technical terminology of the industry/organisational area you’re applying to, (e.g., marketing or banking).
- Again: Tailor your CV to each application – what is the most important thing for the company you are applying to?
- For the UK, consider adding a 'Summary' section which you tailor for each role, especially if you have diverse experience. It needs to be precise and focused, demonstrating two or three key facts that make you suitable for the role. For Germany, it is more useful to align your descriptions as far as possible with the role you’re aiming at.
4 Keep it simple
Most companies prefer a clear, simple structure and clearly defined sections. Overly complicated graphics or borders make it hard for the employer to find the information they need.
5 Stay with your tasks
To give employers a good overview of your skills, it is best to describe the tasks you have performed. Describing the skills you used or gained in past employment does not give any evidence of your experience—it is hard for employers to understand what you actually did in a role. Instead, use action-orientated sentences to describe what you did in order to highlight your skills to the employer (e.g., “Co-ordinated with the sales team on a daily basis by leading the morning meeting.” instead of “developed strong communication and negotiation skills”)
6 Try to be as precise as possible
Don’t use buzz words and try to avoid general or vague vocabulary like “supported”, “assisted” etc., rather try to describe your tasks as concrete as possible. Be careful with adjectives as well—words like ‘dynamic’ or ‘interpersonal’ are overused and do not tell the employer anything about you.
"What does a good CV look like?"
"Clean, easy to read resume."
"The CV should be structured, allowing the recruiter to easily follow your career path. It should include your work experience, academic background, language skills, IT knowledge, extracurricular activities and your hobbies."
"Provide clarity, explain your work experiences in three bullet points and mention your final grades."
“Don’t forget to list your commitments beyond your educational and professional background. Whether you chair a club, train the kids’ volleyball team or volunteered to work in a shelter for the homeless – let us know about it!”