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What is a Modern CV?

The shortened form ‘CV’, stands for ‘Curriculum Vitae’ but whoever first applied this name can have had no idea of how the modern CV would evolve.

According to my Chambers Dictionary ‘Curriculum Vitae’ means ‘[a biographical sketch of] the course of one’s life’. Yet, whilst a type of potted autobiography may have been appropriate in the 1980s, CVs have come a very long way since then.  The American form ‘Resumé’ has become really more descriptive of what is now required.   

Nevertheless it never ceases to surprise me how few people recognise the change.  They do not seem to realise that the autobiographical format is inappropriate for the current jobs market. Employers simply don’t have the time, or the need, to consider detailed information about every aspect of an applicant’s life.  Neither are they impressed by unsubstantiated descriptions of attributes and personal characteristics which are perceptions rather than demonstrable facts.

So what is a required for a modern CV and how has it evolved from the original concept?

To find the answer to this question, we need to identify the purpose for which the CV is intended. Its one and only purpose is to deliver information, usually in support of a job application to somebody who has no prior knowledge of you. Anything which detracts from that aim must be counter productive.

In my opinion, shaded boxes, lines, tables all represent ‘clutter’ which draw the eye away from the text.  Keep the appearance of the page clean and businesslike.  What is needed is a concise, easy to understand, presentation.  The CV needs to have well defined sections, separated by clear headings and plenty of white space on the page.  This will ensure that it is easy understand and navigate and will make sure that it fulfils its intended purpose.

The optimum length for a CV is two pages and most people are aware of this. However, in order to meet this requirement people frequently cram far too much detailed information onto the two pages, using a very small font just so that it all fits into the space. This means that the CV becomes very difficult to read and understand.

Now, anything which makes the prospective employer’s job harder must be counter-productive. The two page format is meant to be a guide to define the amount of information usually required by an employer in order to consider job applications, it is not a requirement just to save paper.

A modern CV is a marketing document for use in a very competitive environment.  It represents an applicant’s first point of contact with a new employer.  Unless you have been ‘head-hunted’ then the information contained in your CV is all that the prospective employer can know about you in the first instance. So it is imperative to get the right message across in the clearest way possible.

Remember that for every job advertised there are likely to be about 200 applicants.  That means that some unfortunate individual is likely to be ploughing through up to 200 CVs.  No wonder many CVs are confined to the bin without even being read.

Here is the important part which I am constantly stressing, you may be the ideal candidate – just what the employer is looking for – but he needs to recognise you.   Unless your CV is user-friendly it may never get past the first hurdle.  It needs to be presented in a way that can easily be understood by a very weary person who may already have had to plough through a large number of applications.

Just because you understand the information in your CV doesn’t mean that somebody else will.  After all, you have the benefit of an insider’s view.  You need to overcome the temptation to put in all the detail. Be selective, avoid repetition and strip the information to the bare facts.  Make sure that all claims you make are true and clearly demonstrated.

Identify what the employer is looking for (this will be in the job or person specification) and the make sure that you only include the facts that they will need for the decision making process.

So to summarise? What is a modern CV?   It is your introduction to a prospective new employer.  It is an opportunity to prove that you are the person with the skills and talents they are seeking.  Unless it does that effectively, you will have lost an opportunity, because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

© This article is copyright CV Consultancy 2010.  You have permission to reproduce this article or forward it to others, provided that all links and the resource box at the bottom remain intact.

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