CV Introductory Narrative
How to construct a good CV is one of the most written about subjects in the area of career advice and coaching.
It is difficult for the reader to know what is correct advice. Clearly, the collective advice given cannot all be correct, as many of the books and articles on the subject contradict themselves. I shall introduce you to what I consider to be the ideal format from the employer’s perspective. However, before I do, let’s look at some common perceptions and misconceptions. This will encourage you to explore the real role of this summary description of yourself (Curriculum Vitae).
An analogy that candidates have found useful is to compare looking for a job with the search for a new car.
When you plan to purchase a second-hand car, you will have prequalified certain details and preferences: age, manufacturer, model, mileage, price range, colour, service history, condition, number of owners, and location for convenient viewing. The following advertisement will probably not create much enthusiasm.
Advertisement: Clean, well-maintained Ford Focus with low mileage. Reliable and regularly serviced. Must sell as owner is relocating abroad. Very competitive price and offers accepted.
On the other hand, you may contact this owner for an exploratory conversation if it fits your criteria of price, etc:
Advertisement: Ford Focus ('06 model) Silver. One owner from new, Full service history. 18,000 miles. Showroom condition. £6,000. Oxford, city location...
These comparisons, though exaggerated, make a salient point regarding the structure of your CV and why you must emphasise detail at all times. The pervading theme is to know that the reader is seeking factual information – not hyped generalisations.
I review many CVs with introductory mission statements:
‘A highly successful executive with a track record of achievement and excellent communication skills now seeking a challenging role to capitalise on a broad range of proven skills.’
I do not give consideration to these statements – they give me no qualitative information. I need detail and facts and all statements must be contextually placed. Follow my CV format so that recruiters can make a fair assessment based on your real performance, not generalised, hyped narrative. Your CV will stand out from the crowd for its clarity, its ease of legibility, creating a positive attitude in the reader’s mind.
You are, in fact, facilitating the recruiter to make a real and fair assessment of how well you match the vacancy – which will be composed of a factual, not hyped, description of duties and responsibilities. Discussions that will ring a familiar note:
‘How long should a CV be?’
‘How many pages?’
‘Should I write a mission statement?’
‘People keep telling me to mention my achievements, but I can’t really think of any big achievements – I just did the job!’
‘Sell yourself – but I am not a sales person…’
‘Be brief. The reader does not have much time! CVs are scanned first, not read in detail. But what does “not much time” mean – 1 minute, 20 minutes?’
‘Put all your details on one page – if they require more information, they will ask you for it. But my present CV is three pages – which bits do I take out?’
‘Use bullet points!’
‘Mention your hobbies so that the reader will have a better understanding of the real you!
My advice is, without apology, directive and based on over 30 years experience of reading CVs and interviewing candidates for real live current vacancies and, because I am at the sharp end, I know at first hand what works and what does not. My experience spans all industries and services and includes some of the world’s most prestigious recruitment projects. Each day I may review up to 100 CVs and I can pass on that experience to you to ensure that yours is in the selected category.
I have used this format when coaching main Board Directors of large corporations and when lecturing MBA students at leading universities from all world continents. The format is structured as a template that can embrace all skills of all employees from all industries including all nationalities.
So let us talk about CV writing and its format. Once compiled, it can be used for all applications. You do not have to generate a new CV for each job. The objective of the CV is to secure an interview for a suitable role, and I deliberately use the word ‘suitable’. Its objective is not to overstate or distort your experience to gain an interview for a role in which you are neither interested nor competent to fulfil.
Let us look at the situation from the recruiter’s point of view. One of your staff has just handed in their notice and you need to replace them quickly. Or you have had a meeting with your colleagues and you have decided that, due to business expansion, you need to recruit a new person. You spend some time drawing up a job description.
The job description will list the soft skills and technical skills required to carry out the role. Soft skills mean personality characteristics, for example determined, communicative, analytical, etc. Technical skills mean the candidate’s ability and expertise in performing technical tasks, for example IT, accounting and marketing.
If your skills, as specified in your CV and in particular your technical skills, match the job requirement and your application is supported with an articulate email, then you will have an excellent chance of being called for an interview.
A further scenario: Imagine you are a company director who is seeking a candidate with two years experience of Apple Mac graphics packages to run and manage your design studio. The ideal candidate will have a media or design-related degree. You receive an email from a candidate with four years Mac experience who has supervised a competitor’s studio, has a degree in Product Design and lives five miles from your company’s offices. You immediately respond to the candidate and invite them for an interview. The candidate applied at the right time and the details of their CV were clear. The recruiter was able to establish that there was a good match between their requirements and this candidate’s skills.
If the next email you receive is from an accountant sent out speculatively, you will have no time to read it as you do not have a vacancy for an accountant. If, however, the next email is from another studio manager, I am sure you would read it avidly.
Exactly the same criterion applies to scanning a CV. I will only spend time on those CVs that match my job descriptions and, like the studio manager example, which I identify as a good match.
This means that ‘mission statements’ are irrelevant as they do not comply with the role for which you have sent your CV. Frequently, I have read mission statements, ‘My career goal is to join a large multinational…’ when the CV sent is in support of a role where the client employs 100 staff and is UK based! They can be read as being too non-relational and making exaggerated claims: ‘Highly successful executive with a consistent track record of achievement and strong people management skills.’ When I am reading a CV, I want facts that I can compare with a job description. ‘Consistent track record’ – doing what? ‘People management skills’ – how many and when?
Supportive statements can be included in your accompanying email where, from our examples, you can recognise how powerful and influential good contextual narrative can be in securing the interviews. Remember, I read CVs from a positive disposition and I am hoping that your CV matches the job profile – a fact that explodes the ‘time’ myth. You will read advice that employers will only have a few minutes to read your CV – that you will need something that will catch and hold their attention so you will have to sell yourself and produce a big mission statement or profile. Hopefully, I have discounted these claims – a CV is primarily a factual information document, a summation of your experience to be compared with a job description.
The description should be clear, legible and factual. A CV then is a transparent, easily legible description of you and your experience presented in a positive and complimentary format.
This means your CV is:
- easy to read – logical/transparent
- descriptive/informative – containing your personal and employment details
- an account of your achievements and successes, always in a contextual format. What organisation did you work for, what did they do and when? Give details.
A CV works if it explains your personal details, education and work experience clearly, and if the recruiter has a vacancy that matches your skills.
A CV is always a contextual document. On its own, it serves no purpose.
This point is important as much of the opinion concerned with CV writing is personally dovetailed as though the candidate were commissioning a painting or portrait of themselves. Try, then, to focus on the functional rather than the personal perspective of CV writing. Adopt the simple uncomplicated template as outlined on the following page. Remember, a CV is an easy-to-read description about yourself. It is, in fact, common sense.
Use a narrative format
The most effective CVs use a narrative format describing the work content and the candidate’s involvement. This style is persuasive and has a positive influence on the recruiter. This transparency of content and the fluency of construction represent a successful and articulate candidate.
Commonly, candidates are advised to use bullet points for sentence construction and to ensure that the CV is no longer than two pages. This advice may sound good, but has no rational or authoritative foundation. I feel my reading skills are advanced enough to understand the significance of each word or sentence without it being highlighted by a repetitive bullet point. Don’t use bullet points; use full descriptive sentences telling your positive story. This narrative format gives you the opportunity for more intelligent composition and chronological descriptions.
Two pages or longer?
The ‘two pages’ opinion also indicates a misunderstanding of the focus of the CV. If I were a Managing Director, I don’t think the selection panel would be over impressed with my two-page crammer. Clearly, the number of pages will be determined by your seniority and years of experience. It is read for its content, not its length.
If you are a consultant or architect where the nature of your technical expertise is determined by the nature of the projects you performed, which may include a variety of assignments, then you should list a sample of the projects separately, detailing their content, purpose and your role. Similarly, IT executives will list their experience of applications, programming languages and hardware. Creative candidates with graphic design expertise should have a portfolio that supports their technical experience required for the role. The various projects, their content and your involvement can be separately listed under the title ‘Addendum of projects’. This allows the recruiter to refer to the information if they consider it relevant and does not make the CV appear too elongated.