As a SAE student, you will probably face at some point the problem of writing a curriculum vitae (CV) or, as it is also known in North America and Australia, a résumé. Although at a superficial level it looks like a rather easy task, for many of us it is actually a huge struggle. How to write an outstanding CV that draws attentions and leads to a successful job interview? Simple tips from this article will help you in succeeding in this absolutely crucial aspect of your professional life.
Text and illustration by Joanna Wróblewska
Curriculum vitae is a document used by a person to present their professional background and skills. The expression CV is mostly used interchangeably with the term résumé, but you should be aware that in North America and Australia a curriculum vitae is rather a longer version of a professional bio used by experienced professors, lawyers or scientists.
Remember, that a well designed résumé will “sell” your skills, qualifications, abilities and experience to potential employers. It should include you name, address, telephone number, email, and a website address. At the same time, it should present different aspects of your professional experience such as a summary of qualifications, relevant experience, work history and education. You could also include your interests, but this is not obligatory.
In some European countries it is very common to support a CV with your portrait but in USA, Canada, and England you do not usually include a photograph. If you decide to use a picture, take care of its quality and a proper professional look. Moreover, you should not focus on your ethnicity, sex, family information or age in a résumé – by doing so you always take the risk of being rejected on grounds of discrimination.
Moving from one country to another taught me to be flexible and make changes to my CV every now and then. A good and exciting curriculum vitae truly makes a difference, so I encourage all the SAE students to make it as professional as possible.
1. Define a purpose
An outstanding curriculum vitae is really a quick and brief advertisement of who you are as a professional. It is not an autobiography! Sending a CV to an employer will not guarantee you a position, but it definitely should secure you an interview. This is why it needs to be carefully-written and double-checked before you send it out.
Start writing your résumé from making notes on the position that you would like to apply for and analyzing how it resonates with your experience. Then focus on your professional skills and achievements. Be selective and pick the most interesting information – not everything has to be included in a CV. Remembering about the purpose should always put you back on the right track.
2. Choose a simple design
It is extremely important to choose a simple and clean design for a résumé. Remember to use a readable typeface like Calibri, Verdana or Trebuchet MS. Divide your CV in separate sections, make the titles bigger and/or bolder. Use one additional colour to make the document more interesting. Otherwise, black and shades of grey should do the job. Last but not least, never make your curriculum vitae longer than two pages.
3. Put the most important information first
Ask yourself what is the most important part of your CV: previous work experience or qualifications and skills? Then make a decision on what should go first. In my résumé, I am using the second option – qualifications and skills seem to be more important for people with an international experience, working in diverse environment and moving around a lot.
4. Come up with convincing titles
Do you know that employers make judgements on résumés within around 5 seconds? This is why it is truly essential to use clear and attractive titles for whatever professional experience you describe. An example of a bad title would be for instance: SOUND PRODUCTION, while a good title would be much more encouraging and descriptive: SOUND REINFORCEMENT TECHNICIAN (EVENTS).
5. Use right keywords
Nowadays, many companies ask for digital résumés. In that case, it is worth to use keywords. Why? Because lots of employers will put your CV in a digital database and search for future employees using keywords. If your résumé will not include these keywords, you will not be chosen for the interview! Note, that these words are mostly nouns and to find them you should analyze the job description.
6. Focus on achievements
Do your best to focus on achievements instead of responsibilities. Employers are bored with long lists of responsibilities that sometimes they do not even understand. After all, words are only words. Describe your achievements in a short and simple way showing your qualities and strengths at the same time.
7. Use numbers
Make your professional experiences solid and concrete by using numbers supporting your experience. Saying “accomplished a number of interdisciplinary art projects” sounds blurry and unclear. Replace such expressions by relevant facts as “accomplished 14 interdisciplinary art projects in collaboration with 26 international institutions”.
8. Avoid negativity
At all times, you should avoid negative information about your previous employers, things that you did not like, misunderstandings and fights in the work place. Focus on positive aspects of your career: stress out what was important for you and what you have learned on the way.
9. Be aware of spelling mistakes
Unfortunately, I know a bunch of stories of people who did not get jobs because of spelling mistakes in their résumés! Always make sure that your name is spelled right. Find somebody (possibly a native speaker?) who will check spelling and grammar in your documents. If necessary, hire a professional job coach. I tried this option once and never regretted it —resulting CV brought me to a couple of exciting job interviews!
10. Avoid including irrelevant hobbies
Finally, there is always a question about including interests in a résumé. My advice would be to do it only, if your hobbies are closely related to the job posting. They might be a great inspiration for starting a discussion, but they can also bring you down.
Last but not least, do not lie in your curriculum vitae! Being honest and underlining your will to learn new things will be always a better option than hiding facts or saying things that are not true. Believe me, experienced employers will know when you do so.