20 of the most frequently asked Questions about C.V.s. answered.
For the past 8 years I have been working with people transitioning from unemployment and advising them on how to make a winning C.V. and cover letter. I have decided to compile a list of the most frequent questions that I have been asked about C.V.s and answer them based on the knowledge that I have gleamed from meeting directly with HR managers.
Question 1: What do people read first the cover letter or the C.V.
Depending on the size of the company the C.V.s can go through many selection stages or just one. In large companies the C.V.s could be screened by HR administrators / Generalist, leaving a few select C.V.s for the HR Manager to peruse. In all cases the C.V.s are usually read first. When the number of C.V.s have been narrowed down then the cover letters will be read. So not all cover letters are read, a lot of the time only the cover letters accompanying really good C.V.s will be read to help with making the final selection for the interview. This does not mean that you should not spend time on your cover letter, the opposite is actually true as in order to cross the final hurdle for the interview, this might be the deciding factor, so it is imperative to create both an excellent C.V. and cover letter to give yourself the best chances.
Question 2: How long should my C.V. be?
The standard length of a C.V. is 2 pages, using single spacing and font size 11 / 12. If you have had quite senior roles previously it can be possible to continue to a third page. Try not to make the margins too wide, white space is also really important on the C.V. so that it can be read easily and quickly.
Question 3: Should I include photos, date of birth or nationality?
On a standard C.V. photos are not usually included, in my experience C.V.s with photos usually get passed around the office for amusement purposes. If companies ask for photos you should by all means include them, however the standard is usually to just leave them out. How you look shouldn’t matter in comparison to how well you can do the role.
Question 4: Should I include my age or nationality on the C.V.?
Age and nationality are optional. I would include them if they would be beneficial otherwise leave them out. It can be a good idea to include your date of birth if you are still quite young and don’t have much experience and are willing to learn. It can be a good idea to include nationality / ethnicity if you are applying for a role that requires a specific language. Information that shouldn’t be included as it is too personal would be; marital status, family status, religion or gender.
Question 5: What font should I use?
The main fonts used in C.V.s are Times New Roman, Calibri, Verdana, Tahoma and Arial. Employers don’t usually mind as long as it is clear and easy to read. You can use size 12 or 11 but don’t go any smaller than that as your C.V. might not be read.
Question 6: What tense should I use when writing my duties?
You can use either the ‘ed’ or ‘ing’ in your C.V. e.g. developed / developing, it seems that employers do not have a preference, however whichever one you pick, make sure that you use that the whole way through. Consistency is really important in the C.V.
Question 7: When writing the dates, should I include the months?
It is always good to include the dates, we can think that we will fool the employer or hide a gap by not writing in the dates however recruiters are wise to this trick. By not including the months it raises suspicion in the employer. Include the starting month and year and the finishing month and year. If there is a gap of a few months be ready to explain this at the interview. Make sure that you cover any gap longer than this by mentioning short courses or voluntary work completed.
Question 8: Should I use fancy colours and letters?
Fancy colours and letters just distract from the main message. You might want to show your amazing computer skills but this should be shown through achievements in your duties. Most C.V.s are printed in black and white anyway.
Question 9: Should I send my C.V. in PDF or word?
Stick to Microsoft word, unless they ask for PDF. Many employers use Computer Management systems and filtering systems that pick out the key words and prioritise C.V.s based on how the language matches that of the advertisement or role. Many of these systems cannot read PDF, so your C.V. might not even be read by a computer. HR administrators or generalists will filter the C.V.s and then send them on to the HR manager to make the final selection. This group of C.V.s are usually sent on in one Microsoft Word document, if one of the files is in PDF it can cause problems and all the formatting will be lost.
Question 10: Should I include a profile?
Yes, definitely, on average the employer spends between 15 and 20 seconds looking at your C.V. before filtering it out or sending it to the next round. For this reason you must have a summary of your C.V. so that if the employer only reads these two lines they will have enough information to know that you would be suitable for the role. In the profile you should include your most relevant experience, education, hard skills and soft skills
Question 11: Which should I put first experience or education?
This all depends on what you have to offer in relation to this role. If you have worked in this area recently then it should be your experience, if you haven’t worked in this area but have studied then it should be your education. If you have worked in this area but it was many years ago then it should be your education if it is more recent. If the role is very skills based for e.g. an I.T. job then it might be a good idea to have a section with your hard skills first.
Question 12: How many duties should I include?
The average amounts of duties for relevant jobs are between 6-8 if the job is not relevant then maybe just two duties or none at all. All the duties mentioned even if they are in a different role should be tailored to match the role that you are applying for.
Question 13: Should I use full stops after my duties?
There is no need to include full stops. A very important part of the C.V. is consistency so if you do include full stops, make sure to put them in after every duty.
Question 14: Should I include a separate achievements section?
Only include a separate achievements section if you have good additional achievements, something like passing your driving licence is not an achievement. It would need to be the winning of an award or publications made. Otherwise the achievements should go into your duties or hobbies and interests or skills section.
Question 15: Should I use tables on my C.V.?This is for some of the same reasons as for not using PDF. Tables might not be read by computer management systems. The employer only has a short amount of time to read and take in the information in the C.V. it is important that it flows and can be read easily if there are different boxes and tables even if they are invisible they can be harder to read and take more time.
Question 16: Should I include hobbies and interests on my C.V.?
This was an answer I was surprised by when I asked the interviewers, they overwhelmingly answered yes and for many different reasons. 1. It shows different aspects of your personality, 2. It shows that you have a way of de-stressing after the role. 3. It can create a common point to talk about in order to break the ice. 4. If you are from another country it shows that you are settling in and building networks and creating roots.
Question 17: Should I lie?
You will get caught out; just try to write whatever you did in the most positive way and leave out anything that is negative. Prove that you have the experience, education and skills to do the role.
Question 18: Should I put all the details of my referees on my C.V.?
There is no need to put the details of your referee on your C.V., employers will have to ask you if they can contact them anyway so it is better not to waste this space.
Question 19: Where should I include volunteer work?
If your volunteer work is related to the job you are applying for then it should be included in the work history section. If your voluntary work has no relation to the role you are applying for then it should be included in the hobbies and interests section. If your voluntary work is not related to the role that you are applying for but you have been out of work for a long time, you could include this in the work history to ensure that the first date the employer sees is recent. It also shows that even though you have been unemployed you have still been active. On some occasions when people have a lot of voluntary experience you can have a separate volunteering section in your C.V.
Question 20: Should I send my C.V. if I don’t match all the requirements?
The general rule is if you match 70% of the criteria then it is good to apply, let the employer make the decision on whether they feel you are suitable or not instead of taking yourself out of the running. The advert is the employer’s wish list of the dream candidate but in reality you might be the best match for the role.
Breda Hegarty is the Pre-employment Trainer in Business in the Community, supporting people with barriers gain employment and author of the blog www.thejobmotivator.com . For more information and to book an appointment for a place on our next free training course in relation to C.V.s. cover letters and Interview skills call (01) 874380 / (01) 8743814 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org