Create a CV that stands out from the crowd (part 1)
Diana Burns | August 26, 2020
Writing a CV is hard. And getting started is the hardest part. In this two-part blog, we’ll help you create a winning CV — a CV that helps you stand out to a potential employer. When you’re ready, read part 2 of this blog.
The most important work in writing a CV isn’t the writing itself. It’s analysing two key things before you write: yourself, and your potential employer.
Most of us find it difficult to talk about ourselves in glowing terms. It seems unnatural and as though we’re showing off. But in your CV, it’s important to give your employer a good idea of who you are — both your work self and your character in general.
What are the qualities recruitment companies and employers most want? Surprisingly, they’re often looking for ‘soft skills’, including:
- being flexible and adaptable
- getting on well with others
- communicating clearly
- being reliable.
Demonstrate that you have the qualities employers want
A good place to start is to answer a few questions about yourself. Before you do, take a deep breath and set your modesty aside. You have a lot to offer, and how else is your future employer going to know how much they need you?
Now to those questions.
Six important questions to ask yourself
- How would your greatest admirer at work describe you? What about your best friend? Think about what they value in you.
- What’s something you do well? Are you good at staying calm in a crisis? Always meeting deadlines? Thinking creatively? Remember, it doesn’t have to be something huge. List the three most important things you do well.
- When have you gone over and above what was expected, or what is normally done? You may have put your hand up for extra work, or come up with something in your own time. Or maybe you’re that person who builds team spirit by organising events or fun activities.
- What are you most proud of in the work you’ve done? Why? How did your work help?
- What difficulties and challenges have you had to overcome, both at work and in life? People who have worked hard to achieve are often more attractive to employers than people whose achievements have come easily.
- Write down five qualities you admire in others. Which of them is also true of you?
List your competencies
You may not realise how many competencies you have. We often overlook things that come easily to us, but those competencies may be less common in others than you think.
It’s a good idea to take stock of how competent you are. One way to do that is to tick what you’re good at on a list, like this one below. If this list doesn’t cover everything you can do, feel free to add to it!
- Planning: planning how best to meet needs | prioritising | analysing data and information| finding information | developing plans | planning projects
- Detail: checking accuracy | eye for detail | evaluating | editing | gathering information | checking and reviewing | proofreading
- Financial: auditing | accounting | budgeting | calculating | making financial decisions | financial analysis | explaining financial information to laypeople
- Administrative: understanding processes | organising and running meetings | planning agendas and meeting materials | organising files | classifying | coordinating | creating clear systems
- Management and leadership: setting goals | developing a team | knowledge of government | knowledge of business | creating a positive work environment | motivating others | defining performance standards | delegating | managing people | making decisions
- Creative: imagining | inventing | designing | prototyping | drafting | creating | thinking conceptually | writing to persuade or engage | giving speeches or presentations
- Sales and marketing: analysing customer needs | selling products or concepts | persuading | promoting | fundraising | creating and running events | developing marketing materials
- Helping and resolving: mediating | advising | coaching | teaching | negotiating | consulting | investigating | supporting | collaborating | anticipating needs
- Communication: simplifying | explaining | interpreting | speaking in public or in groups | networking | interviewing | handling complaints or enquiries | writing speech notes or talking points
- Personal: being thorough | meeting deadlines | taking personal responsibility | maintaining standards in difficult circumstances | getting actively involved | applying skills and knowledge | prioritising | adapting to new situations | considering others | being inclusive | remembering and applying complex information | using strong logic | understanding and applying evidence | critical thinking | bringing people together | achieving consensus | showing empathy
Once you’ve ticked all those competencies that apply to you, pick the top five — the ones that you think are most valuable to the job you want.
Then flesh out those competencies or skills.
Five examples of how to explain your skills and competencies
Skill 1: Always meet deadlines, even in complex situations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, my team at ABC had to swiftly ramp up our procedures for contact tracing. A huge amount of planning and work had to be done within 3 days. We had a team working around the clock to implement the procedures. I was responsible for developing the timelines for the work programme, and ensuring we kept to it.
Skill 2: Summarising complex information. Our analysts developed a complex 30-page analysis of a major risk to the company, but I knew the senior management team would not have time to read it in full. I summarised the analysis into a 2-page document that covered all the most important points in plain language. The chief executive thanked me for making it so easy for the leadership team to understand and act on the report.
Skill 3: Persuading others to back an initiative. The management team decided to change the way the organisation dealt with a process to do X, but I knew they needed the support of all staff to make it work. I developed messaging and a communications strategy that meant all staff understood the need for the change, and what role they played in it.
Skill 4: Collaboration with diverse groups. The organisation had a problem with its experts working in silos, with little cooperation between them. I managed to get them collaborating by keeping them informed and building trust between teams, so they could share information and expertise.
Skill 5: Analysing data. I am skilled at analysing complex data and using it to help an organisation meet its objectives. I explain how the data relates to and supports people’s work, so they understand its importance.
More help with writing your CV
Download the Write checklist for writing a winning CV
Now read: Create a CV that stands out from the crowd (part 2)