Writing an Effective CV

The term 'Curriculum Vitae' (CV) is derived from Latin and translated means "the way your life has run". In simple terms, a CV is a personal marketing statement outlining your professional history and your skills, abilities and achievements. It is a mechanism for you to sell/promote yourself to a prospective employer.
Things to consider before starting the process
  • The idea of a CV is to get you an interview - your foot in the door, not to get you the job. It should be relevant to the position you are applying for.
  • When constructing your CV bear in mind that potential employers will spend a mere 30 - 60 seconds reading your life history.
  • Evaluating your own skills, achievements and personality is one of the most difficult hurdles and is the first step in the CV writing process. We recommend you review the Self-Assessment section before writing your CV.
  • Be aware that your CV may go through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Whether you upload your CV or complete an application on a company’s website, the results may first be passed through an automated CV screening to assess your suitability for the role. Some key tips to improve your chances of bypassing an ATS are:
    • Use keywords customized for the job.
    • Use standard section headings.
    • Don't let your CV get too fancy.
    • Check your spelling and grammar.
    • Use full acronyms and titles.
  • Make every line count – e.g. an Exploration Geologist may state – “worked on a GOM asset for 5 years” but this could be improved by “Lead the Deepwater Team for the XX GOM field - Increased production from XXX to XXX boe/d by enhanced geological modelling techniques for development and exploration drilling…”
CV Structure
Whilst the structure of a CV is flexible with many templates available on the web, there are specific sections and information that employers expect to see included in a CV. Below find a format that we like and is well received by our clients. Check out an example of a Professional CV and Graduate CV that we have prepared.
  • Name/Contact Details - display a permanent address, home telephone number (not compulsory), email and mobile number that you are comfortable for a prospective employer to call you on – for instance, if you work in an open-plan office, it might be awkward to receive a call from a prospective employer. (Note: graduates should provide the permanent address of a family member as well as a term time address). You could include a photo but make sure it is a professional-looking photo.
  • Personal Details - include your Nationality and any additional right of abode or valid work permits. If you have a good Linkedin profile and relevant “Activities” – then list your Linked URL.
  • Personal Profile – highly recommended to grab the reader’s attention - it is a key selling point. Ideally this should be punchy, precise and no more than three to five lines, e.g. ”10 years Oil and Gas industry experience as a senior Interpretation Geophysicist. Experienced in managing an exploration interpretation team focused on North Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Strong quantitative interpretation skills, mentoring of junior staff and working with senior management with appraisals and decision making”. Check out some additional profiles for graduates and other professionals.
  • Academic Qualifications - you should list higher education in order of highest level first, i.e. PhD then MSc, BSc. You may wish to include details of your thesis and/or dissertation and expand if relevant to the role in question. For professionals with many years’ experience, school grades become irrelevant. However, for Graduates, undergraduate education results should be included.
  • Work Experience - List in reverse chronological order (i.e. last first). Include start and end dates, job title/position and company name. If you are applying for a job outside of your specific market – you may wish to state a few words describing the company e.g. Mayfair Limited (Oil Exploration Company). As well as writing a brief overview of your job, try and incorporate your responsibilities and achievements.
  • Technology skills – in this digitalisation world, list your abilities e.g. software applications (only the ones you are fairly competent in – not a big long list). Note - coding, AI, microservices, machine learning and big data are of key interest to many companies.
  • Additional Skills - List Languages and state proficiency, e.g. Spanish – Fluent, German - Conversational.
  • Publications – Keep concise - If you have a large number of publications, you may want to combine topics and list the topic and number of papers written/presented.
  • Personal Interests – not essential, but if you’re going to include this section, consider what it says about you. e.g. are you a team player or an individual? Including hobbies and interests works best if you can make them relevant to the job e.g. for a Geology graduate role “Volunteer on the Jurassic coast, educating school-age children about fossils and dinosaurs”. Or a Mechanical Engineer role “I collect and restore classic cars”.
  • Society Memberships – optional – only list if relevant for the job.
  • Referees – Optional. Not expected on a professional’s CV, but for graduates we recommend listing at least one academic referee – University, name, title, email. Make sure you get permission to use in advance.
Selecting a CV Format
There are several different formats - the most common are listed below. Choose one that is suitable for your own career history or the job that you are applying for.
  • Chronological - Details your work history in reverse chronological order. Typically, it shows no gaps or changes in your career and is useful to display a continuous work history that is related to your next job opportunity. This is our preferred format.
  • Functional - Highlights certain skills, achievements and responsibilities rather than listing your work history. It is ideal where there has been career changes, periods of unemployment, or redundancy or illness.
  • Targeted - A one off CV targeted for a specific job or vacancy. It concentrates on your potential and what you are capable of. Unlike chronological and functional formats which focus on past work history, this type can be used for specialised positions.
CV Presentation
As mentioned, your CV is your “personal marketing statement”. The appearance of your CV is an indication to a prospective employer of what you are like – this is their perception and therefore their reality! There are lots of CV templates to choose from, but the following guideline is a sure fire way to avoid yours being rejected
The Good CV...
  • Has no more than 2-3 pages maximum. Remember the 30-60 second norm! A one page CV should suffice for Graduates with no work history.
  • Clearly states who you are, where you have worked and what you have got to offer.
  • Looks attractive - is well laid out, structured and easy to read.
  • Include a catchy “Personal Profile” to grab the reader’s attention and urges them to read more.
  • Uses bulleted lists - short and concise points that are clean and informative.
  • Lists all relevant work experience - in reverse chronological order
  • Contains a widely accepted font – e.g. Times New Roman, Georgia, Arial Narrow, Trebuchet MS
  • Has a readable font size of 12 or 14 (max).
The Bad CV...
  • Has excessive use of pronouns "I, he/she, they.." - preferably write "Employed as a Seismic Interpreter with 6 months practical experience in ..."
  • Has spelling, grammar and punctuation errors – no excuses! Have someone review - maybe a spouse or colleagues who knows your strengths and weaknesses and are often more than willing to criticise!
  • Contains a negative description – remember the CV is your sales proposition.
  • Highlights gaps in your work history – if you have had an employment gap – state the dates and explain. A good Recruiter will spot the gaps immediately. For example, the gap may be as a result of "Recovering from an illness", "Looking after aging parents", "Took a sabbatical to travel globally with my family", "Time out to focus on a major home improvement project", "Personal Development – taught myself machine learning coding in Python and obtained my Prince2 Project Management Certification"...
  • Lists too many interests and personal information, publications, referees. Think about what it is relaying to the reader e.g. If you have too many papers and research – you may be perceived as “too academic” and may not be considered for more commercial roles.
The Ugly CV...
  • Contains lots of subjective terminology – "inspirational", "self-motivated" "innovator", "thinks outside the box" "maverick" ...use with care! Strong action words that can be supported in your CV are acceptable.
  • Contains undefined abbreviations and acronyms - use jargon sparingly!
  • Has excessive use of CAPITALS, underlining, bold and italics, large fonts...
  • Not user friendly – if the reader has to scramble up/down to understand the timelines - they will lose interest and abandon!
  • Details long sentences and paragraphs and rambles - aim for concise information, less text is easier to read.
  • Is disorganised and unstructured – be careful with some CV templates that have columns - you have to scroll up/down to read.
  • Contains too many graphics, colours, different fonts, rigid formatting – remember the reader may be reviewing on different media and it can get distorted - keep it simple.
Final Tips
  • You may wish to consider saving your CV as a pdf file to avoid formatting issues across different software versions. This is particularly important if you include a photo that may get distorted and relocated within the document.
  • In today’s economic marketplace, it is unlikely that you will have a "job for life". Therefore, your CV should be a dynamic report, continually modified to reflect your latest skills and achievements.
  • You should maintain a “General CV” that you can quickly modify for new opportunities.
  • Remember, your CV is the marketing statement that will secure that interview!

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