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Writing a winning CV - How to dress up your skills

Writing a winning CV - How to dress up your skills

Not sure how to relate your experience to your skills? Peter Panayotou at The Write Stuff reveals how to master your CV

Your CV is your advert

Your CV is more than just a list of jobs, dates and qualifications; it is a sales document in your quest for employment. Your CV is your shop window and YOU are the product. And whenever you’re selling a product and you wish to display it in the shop window, you must dress it up a bit!

'Dressing' your skills with experience

It is tricky to get the balance right when describing skills. While too much may turn the employer off, if your skills are too vague they will be unconvincing. So just how much ‘dressing up’ is enough? The skills summary requires a lot of thought and deserves a dedicated section in your CV. Calling it ‘personal skills’ or ‘skills and attributes’ emphasises the focus on your abilities and personal aptitudes – the things you are naturally good at. It is NOT about experience or training, so avoid including learned or acquired skills like IT and languages that belong elsewhere.

This is the bit of your CV that you can tailor to the role you are applying for. The rest of the CV is based on unchanging facts: names, dates, places, and qualifications. You can be a little more creative with the skills section. Draw up a list of skills that describe your best strengths and abilities, and present them as bullet points, five or six are enough. But don’t just list generic sentences like: ‘excellent communication and interpersonal skills.’ They are vague and unsubstantiated, and tell the employer nothing about why you think it’s one of your strengths or where you developed it. Compare that to ‘excellent communication and interpersonal skills acquired through experience in various customer facing roles.’ Match your skills to your experience in this way.

Other good examples are ‘excellent organisation and time management skills developed from coordinating part-time employment with academic studies’, or ‘leadership skills acquired from managing a team of 10 people during university projects.’ Draw examples from your work, studies or extra curricular activities. The trick is to describe the skill and give the justification within one sentence. Stick to this general rule and create a concise and coherent sales pitch for your CV!

CV DO'S AND DON'T'S

When putting together your CV, these rules will ensure you avoid some of the most common pitfalls.

DO:

  • Include a section on your skills, to highlight your strengths to potential employers If you’re a recent graduate and your degree is a big selling point, make it more prominent by including modules or projects
  • Use bullet points rather than blocks of text as they are easier to read
  • Make sure you account for all periods of unemployment – gaps will raise suspicion and look sloppy

DON’T:

  • Make it any longer than two pages or you risk losing the reader’s interest
  • Be tempted to go in for fancy borders or jazzy fonts – keep it sober and professional
  • Include reasons for leaving previous jobs – remember to focus only on the positive 
  • Forget to spell check and proofread your CV – spelling and grammatical errors are an instant fail.


Now go back and match your CV to these pointers. For a personal analysis of your CV and advice on writing for a specific role, more advice is available from The Write Stuff at the National Graduate Recruitment Exhibitions and online at www.thewritestuff.co.uk.

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