Seven questions we always hear about CVs

Posted by IsabelFrazer on 21 June 2013

Yesterday I spent the day at The London Graduate Fair (from The Careers Group and - with over 80 exhibitors, several thousand visitors and millions of career-related opportunities. Well, perhaps not millions, but I saw a lot of potential jobs, internships and work experience placements being set up in that room. And all on the most humid day of the year, so hats off (and jackets and ties) to all involved.

During the day I spoke to a plethora of students from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences, about their CVs. And I noticed a few common threads in terms of the questions asked:

1) How do I fit my CV onto two pages?

A standard UK CV is two pages maximum. There are some exceptions, for example academic CVs (which can be slightly longer) and certain sectors that require one page only - such as investment banking and management consultancy. But otherwise, no more than two. Remember that your CV doesn't have to be a record of everything you've ever done; it's more of a marketing document. What's relevant to the employer? Do they necessarily need to know about the retail job you did in 2008, if you have several more recent jobs that demonstrate similar skills? And with your education, could your GCSE grades fit onto one line rather than listing every subject separately? Make sure you cut out any unnecessary information, such as date of birth, sex and marital status in your personal details.

2) Do I need a personal profile / career objective?

No! It's one of those CV debates - some employers love them, some don't read them, some don't like them. You don't need one - it's really a matter of preference. If you do include a profile, it needs to be short and snappy. And it needs to be tailored for every single role, as does the rest of your CV. No more than two or three sentences, and no generic statements about skills in the vein of "I am an excellent communicator"...If you mention skills, back them up with solid evidence. If you can't make it work, cut it out.

3) What do I do about references?

It's fine to either include your referees and their contact details on your CV, or to state "references available on request". Either way, you need to have some mention of references on your CV. If you decide to name your referees, make sure you ask their permission first.

4) I have some really relevant experience, but it wasn't strictly work experience. Which heading can I include it under?

There is no set order or list of headings that you need to follow in your CV. In fact, you can be pretty flexible with the headings, which allows you to manipulate where certain information appears on the page. For example, if you're still studying then "education" often comes first, but if you have loads of relevant experience then you might want to start with this. You don't have to divide your experience into "work", "voluntary" and "extra-curricular", for example. Instead you can call a section "relevant experience" or "research/marketing/translation/etc experience" - which will allow you to group your extra-curricular role as a society president with that internship you did last summer. You do have to stay chronological within your designated headings, though. Take a look at this page for examples of possible headings you can use.

5) What if I'm applying in different countries? Are the CVs different?

Yes, usually you will see a difference. For example, US resumes are one page only, and German CVs tend to be very factual rather than skills based. The Prospects Country Profiles are helpful in setting out what applications tend to look like in various countries. Visit your careers service for more tailored advice on international CVs.

6) Should I include my photograph?

No! Never on a UK CV, unless you're applying for a modelling or acting job. You may come across the odd employer who says they like to see photos on CVs, but we've found these tend to be in the minority. And I'd also question why an employer would want to see what you look like - it's not as if they can legally use it as a reason to employ you or not.

7) What about my hobbies and interests? Do any employers care?

Some do, yes. But again it's one of those cases of preference - like the profile. Some employers like to see that you are well-rounded; that you get involved with something outside of just work and study; that you have a range of interests. However, the generic "reading, socialising, travel" is unlikely to impress anyone. It needs to be more specific, and it also helps if you can tell the employer about your level of commitment. For example, someone who takes part in netball competitions and plays weekly for a local team is likely to stand out more than someone who is just interested in "sport and fitness".

For a detailed guide on CV-writing and some helpful examples, see here.

Topics: CVs and applications, creative industries

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