Somewhere within your Google search history is probably the phrase ‘how to write a good cv’.

Right? Probably more than once too.

The average human has a shorter attention span than a goldfish. So, grabbing someone’s attention while reading a piece of paper is an art that needs to be cultivated.

If you’re a professional, you’ve had to write a cv, and most times you’ve tried to make it better than the last one. This has probably led you to a bunch of articles on the internet which either give you the same old cliche advice: keep it short, be precise (which in all fairness is good advice but barely scratches the surface). Then there are those ‘how to bake a banana bread’ articles that for some reason start with a 200-word essay on how this person’s grandma made them banana bread every Sunday before giving you the actual recipe?  Yeah. 

If that has been your experience, fret not.

Tuesday, the 23rd of February 2021, The Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central took some time to be au fait with the art of writing an action-packed cv. About 60 members and guests were online ready to tap into the insights of an actual recruiter, Nicole Kimani and a seasoned professional, Dr Salome Gitoho. Despite my complete certainty that I could not compile that session in a word article, I’ll do my best to summarize, as clearly as possible, all the lessons we got from Nicole and Dr. Gitoho.

In a nutshell, a good cv will do two things for you:

  1. Explain who you are
  2. Convey the value you stand to add to the organization.

Unlike the banana bread recipe, I’ll keep it direct.

What are you trying to communicate?

  • I can do the job I’m applying for, and do it well
  • I am aligned with the mindset/skills you’re looking for in a candidate
  • I can add value to the team
  • I am able to fit seamlessly into the team structure

How do you communicate this?

I can do the job and do it well:

Here you want to highlight your qualifications and capabilities relevant to the job. Say, like me, you’re applying to an architecture office (I only use this example because I don’t know what skills bankers are required to have). You want to highlight all your technical abilities, all your software proficiencies, your academic qualifications, all the extra learning opportunities you’ve participated in that make you more competent in the tasks you’d be handling. Basically, you’re saying, ‘these are all the things that make me good at this job’.

I am aligned with the mindset you’re looking for in an employee

This is more personal. You’re trying to illustrate the way you think as an independent individual. Employers are often looking for a proactive individual. Someone who will, forget the cliché and go the extra mile. If you can demonstrate an ability to do this independently, this is where you highlight that. A side hustle, for example, while not relevant to the job in any direct way, demonstrates that you are industrious, driven, enterprising, all that good juice. Including it in a cv gives you an advantage regardless of the success or failure of the side gig. A business you started that failed is still a business you started. Trust me, that counts for a lot.

I can add value to the team

This is where you get to really brag. Highlight what you accomplished in previous positions. If you made your company a couple hundred mil’ say that. If you raised engagement on an online platform by 34%, say that. Basically, don’t be modest. Say exactly what you have achieved in previous positions because ultimately, the employer is looking for what you can do for them. So, show them. The more quantifiable, the better. And you better not lie because everyone catches on at some point. If you’re fresh out of campus with little or no work experience, then any leadership positions you’ve held and the changes you’ve made in your tenure will really come in handy.

I am able to fit seamlessly into the team structure

Almost every workplace is organized into teams. There’s literally an app called Teams so it’s really integral to the company that you be able to work among others. Highlighting the accomplishments, you’ve had as part of a team in a former workplace will really help here. Remember to also mention your specific tasks and achievements within that team otherwise you come across as a freeloader.

If you’re bored at this point by all this technical information, picture the truckload of money you’re going to make after your good cv lands you a well-paying job or gig.

Are you back? 

Okay let’s carry on.

Now we move onto the rules of engagement:

  1. Keep it short – 3 pages max. And even 3 pages is a stretch. Having a job is exhausting work. No one is excited to read 3 whole pages of a cv. If you can keep it to 1 page, the better.
  2. Don’t include any unnecessary information that could inspire a subconscious bias towards you. Details on gender, age, marital status, photographs, and religions are really quite unnecessary and might work against you. Remember your recruiter is human and prone to inbuilt biases.
  3. Use an appealing format. For corporate offices a regular format is acceptable and there are tons of templates on the internet to choose from, but if you work in a more artistic field, designing your cv from scratch gives you an opportunity to showcase your design capabilities as well.
  4. CONSISTENCY. Dr. Gitoho probably said this at least 6 times during the meeting so you know it’s important. Be consistent with your font sizes, font types, use of icons, language, etc. 
  5. Use quantifiable bullet points for your lists e.g., work experience, achievements, etc. This makes it easier for the reader to engage with your work than say paragraphs would.
  6. If you fill up your email with ‘I am driven’ ‘self-starter’ ‘work well under pressure’ ‘team player’ it will get thrown out. No one wants to read the same old cliches that have been in all the CVs they’ve seen. Instead, describe yourself in ways that are unique to you and the profession you’re applying to e.g. ‘I am passionate about ending financial fraud’ ‘I am driven by the prospect of sustainable cities, etc.
  7. Keep your personal statement as succinct as possible (1 paragraph max) and use language that is specific to the position to which you’re applying
  8. Your hobbies PERSONALIZE you so pick out some that further highlight the traits you have that can add value to this position. Okay, so you love watching movies…. how does that help me?
  9. Do not use unprofessional names. Yeah, we get it your Twitter handle is a pun. It’s probably hilarious, but don’t include it in the cv.
  10. A gap in your work experience is okay if it can be explained.
  11. KEEP IT EXCITING! Reading CVs’ is boring work. If you can throw in a fun portfolio, please do.

With all this in mind, we then moved into the format:

  1. Personal details: name, contact & address
  2. Professional summary/personal statement
  3. Skills (technical & soft)
  4. Work experience & achievements: write these out in order of job > responsibilities > achievements. Remember the quantifiable value we talked about earlier? This is where you include that.
  5. Educational background (if you’re fresh out of school or have been working for less than 3 years, this comes before your work experience)
  6. Others: Volunteer work, Awards & Achievements, Other work (side hustles), etc
  7. References: include their name and contact. Ensure you’ve notified them beforehand that you’d like to include them.
  8. Suitability statement: this was highlighted by Dr. Salome Gitoho for people who have had decades in the industry and have probably held various roles during that time. It is a 1-page document tailored to the specific job being applied to.

We then proceeded to review 5 pre-submitted CVs in light of what we had just learned.

Overall, if you only take away one thing from this, let it be, as Nicole Kimani said: your cv is not a historical document of your previous experiences but rather a marketing tool to express the value you can add.

Make it count.

If you enjoyed this discussion please do joins us on   9th   March 2021 for our next thrilling meeting as we discuss a topic pertinent to you.

Article by; Esther Karanja 

Guest, The Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central. 

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