Write a Great CV

It is a common misunderstanding that a CV is just an enclosure with your application. In the world of HR, the CV is considered a genre in itself and is often read before the letter of application. Your CV can therefore be the first impression your potential new employer gets of you. Learn more about how a CV can be your first step towards getting a job.

Targeting your CV

One of the most important things to remember is to target your CV to match the job you are applying for. It is therefore important to carefully select the competences you wish to highlight. It can be difficult to decide which items are important in a CV. Here the key is to target your CV to match the job. For instance, shelving books at your local library during upper secondary school can be relevant if you are applying for a job as an information officer for a library, because it shows that you have inside knowledge of that kind of workplace. However, it is less relevant if you are applying for a job as sports journalist.

It not always a good idea simply to write that you have worked in telemarketing for two years without further explanation. If the HR officer is not acquainted with that kind of job, you cannot be certain that he or she will be able to understand the competences you have acquired. Your job is to communicate your experience in your CV. The same applies to your education. Write a few lines describing the competences you have acquired during your studies – especially if you, like many students, do not have a lot of other things to write in your CV.

It is important to remember that a distinction is rarely made between paid and volunteer work, so if you have been involved in projects during your studies or in your spare time, make sure to include them. If your recreational interests say something about you as a person and about your skills, it is a good idea to include them. For instance, if you are a marathon runner, then that says something about your endurance and willpower.



The four-step plan

Many make the mistake of working on all parts of the CV at the same time, the idea being that you can just add on as you go. But this means that your thoughts are not focused on the individual parts of the CV writing process, and you can therefore become inconsistent or forget something. By sticking to the four-step plan set out below, you can avoid focusing on more than one thing at a time.


STEP 1: The complete list 

The complete list is simply a list of everything you have ever done over the years that is relevant to put into a CV – from your part-time job at the local library in upper secondary school to being stationed in Bosnia with the Danish International Brigade. It is probably not relevant to include everything in your final CV, but with a complete list, you can avoid having to start from scratch every time you need to send an application. You will have an electronic version of your complete list and can simply remove the items that are not relevant to the individual applications. 

Important: Remember to include your name, address and contact info. And preferably on every page.


STEP 2: Pattern recognition and categorisation

With pattern recognition, you review your complete list and try to find patterns in the things you have done. For instance, if you have been an exchange student for a year, took an Interrail trip one summer or worked for a semester at a ski resort, then these can be categorised as 'international experience'.


STEP 3: Selection and formulation

When you have finished categorising your experience, it is time to select which of these categories are relevant for the job you are applying for. Here you should think about how best to sell yourself. That is why how you express yourself is an important part of your CV. Many students have a tendency to be modest about their own abilities, but modesty will not get you a job interview. Remember that the CV is not an academic genre where you have to consider pros and cons. On the contrary, it is a genre that has more in common with, say, advertising.


STEP 4: Final formulation

In connection with the actual layout, the most important thing to remember is to be clear and to the point. If an HR officer has 200 applications on her desk, they will only be skimmed. It is therefore a misunderstanding to think that your CV should be six pages long. With that kind of a CV, you have already shown that you don't understand the point of a CV and that is not a very good signal to send.




Many students think that they will get to the top of the pile of applications if their application is creative, but that is not necessarily the case with a CV. If the creativity affects the 'skim-ability' of your CV, you run the risk of being rejected without ever being properly considered. For instance, it is not usually a good idea to submit your CV on a DVD as the chances that the HR officer has a DVD drive at hand are slim.

So, it is risky to make a creative CV. Consider whether your qualifications in themselves aren't enough to secure an interview. On the other hand, it is important that your CV is well done. A CV full of spelling errors and with a shoddy layout sends a bad signal. And even though you have not been creative in the actual design of the CV, you can still give it a nice layout.



Should I include a photo in my CV?

Should you include a photo in your CV? You can, but you should know that you run the same risk as with a creative CV, namely that your CV ends up in the hands of an HR officer with a different opinion of what belongs in an application. Some find it very superficial and reminiscent of personal ads. Others like being able to give an applicant a face. If you choose to include a photo, it should be a presentable likeness.




Students are used to having to document everything in their assignments. This is not the case with a CV. You do not need to include the airline tickets from your trip to South America, and your complete thesis should not be included as an enclosure. The HR officer will generally believe what you write, and you can always bring such supporting documents to the interview.
Often students have also acquired competences that they cannot document. Perhaps you have spent time at home on the computer improving your skills at web design – this should definitely be included on your CV even though you do not have any physical proof.



Photo: Colourbox