The Ideal CV

How often are you asked for your CV? For me it's about three times per week. Multiply this by the number of contractors who are available or becoming available and there's a lot of CVs doing the rounds.

For years, we've heard about reducing the amount of paper-work. If CVs are anything to go by, the paper-less office is about as likely as the paper-less toilet!

How can you ensure that it's YOUR CV that gets submitted for that plum contract? Easy - follow a few simple rules and avoid the pitfalls that consign your CV to the waste paper bin.

Length

We all like to think that size doesn't matter but, believe me, it does. The ideal CV is no longer than 2-3 pages. When placing IT trainees on work experience, I dealt with a small software house whose MD flatly refused to accept any CV over one page, saying he didn't have time to read anything longer. He offered his own CV as an example to anyone who said it couldn't be done.

Admittedly, this résumé style suits people who are either very junior or very senior, the former stating their education, training and perhaps one job, the latter their degree, MBA and major recent appointments.

The longest CV I ever saw was as a recruitment consultant some years ago. It was 15 pages long, produced by a 9-pin dot matrix printer on fan-fold paper. Needless to say, it only came out for amusement!

Presentation

The key to keeping your CV to a manageable length is to ensure the information is concise. Remember that - unlike manure - career information isn't more effective for being spread about! Nowadays, it's much easier to achieve good presentation with word-processors offering a choice of fonts, point-sizes and basic desk-top publishing features. It's amazing how much space is saved (and the improved appearance) by using a proportional-spaced font such as Times New Roman instead of Courier (i.e. typewriter font).

Unless you're a calligrapher, don't hand-write your CV. For a start, most agencies scan hard-copy CVs for storage, so the words need to be recognisable to OCR software. Similarly, CVs produced on ancient manual typewriters with worn-out ribbons are also out. Agencies and employers will draw conclusions - valid or not - about the standard of your work from a poorly-presented CV.

Media

Until recently, you had to submit your CV by post on paper. You still can - but there are better ways. Most agencies prefer faxed CVs to paper ones. This saves precious time - never more important than today, when contracts are won and lost because a CV reaches the client a few minutes ahead of someone else's.

Fax machines have never been cheaper, so there's no excuse not to have one. Better still is a fax/comms card for your PC. By eliminating the scan of a printed CV, the quality transmitted is improved considerably, as is the speed of the transmission.

Best of all is to e-mail your CV. Many agencies welcome e-mailed CVs and will accept them as Word, Ami-Pro or WordPerfect documents or, if you must, as ASCII text files. Remember - if you are sending e-mailed word-processor files across the Internet, you will have to encode them with WinCode or something similar. Files e-mailed within the same access provider, e.g. CompuServe, may be sent unencoded.

If you really must use the post, send your CV as a word-processor document on a floppy disk. I recently received an agency letter, saying they resource requirements first from e-mailed CVs, then from those on floppy disks and lastly from hard copies. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

With the preliminaries over, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Start by identifying yourself. You'd be surprised just how many CVs leave out the means of contacting the author! Your name, full address with post-code and telephone numbers (voice, fax, mobile and office, if convenient) should be prominently shown, together with your e-mail address if you have one. Ensure that an agent or employer can contact you easily - make their jobs hard and they won't bother! Don't restrict this information to a covering letter. These can easily become separated from the CV or may be discarded.

Give your date of birth - not your age. CVs hang around and, though your age changes, your date of birth doesn't. Don't leave it off. It'll be conspicuous by its absence and, if an issue, best brought into the open.

State your highest level of education and examination successes, with grades if respectable. It isn't necessary to list every GCSE/GCE/SCE/CSE/RSA or whatever you took at school or college. If it's your highest level, the number of passes is sufficient. I've seen details of candidates' primary schools listed but it's of little interest to employers.

Indicate your mobility and whether you have transport. State if you hold a passport and if you have visas permitting you to work abroad. If you restrict your job search to a specific area, say so, remembering that too narrow an area will reduce the number of responses.

For permanent jobs state the required salary. Don't try to justify it - you're worthy of your hire - and don't show your salary progression job-by-job - it's now that counts.

Summary

Start by summarising what you are and your precise technical environment, e.g. "I am an Ingres analyst-programmer with 6 years' experience in Securities". Say what you're looking for now - this should prevent work offers using any out-of-date skills. Don't get type-cast - if you aspire to management, say so.

Don't list out-of-date skills or those you don't want to be sold on. Many agencies scan CVs for key-words and will try to market you accordingly.

Employment History

Show your career in reverse order, emphasising your most recent jobs. Detail your responsibilities and achievements fully but concisely, stating the month and year of joining and leaving. Avoid jargon terms and all but the commonest acronyms - to the uninitiated, SSADM could be a nasty man in Iraq!

If you've had a long contracting career, your job details could take your CV way beyond acceptable lengths. List your assignments as above but end the final page with something like "Full details of my previous career are available on request" and maintain these in a separate document. You may never be asked to supply this but it shows you've got nothing to hide.

The Future

I believe that the Internet will quickly become the accepted method of marketing one's skills - many IT people already do so. Access providers offer subscribers free or low-price space to publish their own site on the World Wide Web. Make sure your site is known to all the major "search engines" and you'll be out in front of the field.

A different approach is necessary for a CV on the 'net. I favour a one-page résumé style. Remember, reading's not so easy on-screen. I offer my own résumé as an example - take the link from the main page.

Make your e-mail address your sole point of contact, thus preserving your privacy. Interested parties can then be sent your full CV by e-mail. I don't relish night calls from bored American net-surfers with no respect for their parents' telephone bills!

Finally, my crystal ball reveals that the Internet will revolutionise the recruitment market by allowing end-users to contact candidates direct. If nothing else, it'll make the agencies sit up!

© Brian Smith 1996

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