How to write a winning curriculum vitae

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Rebecca Williams – Talent Acquisition Manager at WWF International


When it comes to finding a new job, there are many factors to consider but one of the most difficult hurdles to tackle is writing your CV (or Résumé as they call it in the US). If you’ve not changed jobs for a few years, then this can be a momentous task and one, which occasionally, stops people from even starting their job search in the first place. So here are a few pointers, which might help you…

I have seen thousands of CVs and honestly don’t believe that, you need to rigidly stick to a CV ‘formula’. The best CVs catch your attention immediately by being well written, beautifully presented and capturing the true personality of the individual which in turn makes you want to meet the candidate. However, I have also seen some shockers and some key red flags to watch include, spelling mistakes (obvious but all too prevalent), badly taken photographs, poor quality print/paper, too many graphics, unclear and confusing layouts.. I could go on.

When you sit down to write your CV, try not to be too selective in your first draft. My advice is always to start with a blank piece of paper and write down everything that you feel is relevant to your career history. You can then start formatting your CV into a coherent chronological structure and edit rigorously, but by getting everything down on paper in the first instance will enable you to assess what should definitely be included or not.

Secondly, remember your CV is a sales document – it represents you and needs to be a written ‘ambassador’ for your skills and knowledge. Don’t assume employers will understand by simply reading your job title, what you actually did- be sure to highlight projects or responsibilities that set you apart from other s and equally be aware that job titles can be misleading in the first place. So try and highlight your abilities succinctly and concisely without writing a book. If you are struggling to remember the details of your past roles- see if you have any old appraisals, assessments or job descriptions from your previous positions, which might help you

Make sure you include the basics– which are often forgotten. Your contact details for example (sounds obvious…but you’d be surprised), eligibility to work in the country for which you are applying, your languages and your IT skills. I also find it very interesting to read about an individual’s interests, as this allows an insight into the candidate’s personality. I have interviewed people purely on the merit of their interests if they are very original. However be honest- I’ve caught out a few people with innocent enquiries around their stated topics of interest..!

People often ask how long/short should their CV be? Personally I believe 2-3 pages are fine. Any longer, and you will lose the employer’s interest. Should you include a photo? This is very individual choice and can definitely be a positive if the photo is professional and well taken. However, it can also work against you if not well done, so use your best judgement.

Finally, once written, remember to keep your CV updated as a ‘working’ document even if you are not considering moving right away. It will make life a lot easier if and when you do decide to move on in the future.

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  • Conservation Careers

    Great advice Rebecca – I couldn’t agree more with your points. We recently published two blogs about writing CVs which you might also be interested in:

    Thanks for sharing,

    Nick Askew – Conservation Careers

  • Peter Hughes

    Hi Rebecca,
    Great article, thank you. There are some angles in what you write that are of interest.

    I was going to apply for a job in the third sector yet didn’t due to a single reoccurring problem-a fault in thinking that occurs in all NGO’s that prevents NGO’s from actually getting the best talent. Thiis oversight that I refer to could be significant in holding back progress in Conservation, yet it is ignored entirely across the entire sector. NGO’s look only to employ people for most of the best jobs with degrees. Degrees mean that you you passed exams which required you to be a good listener. They didn’t necessarily require you to be a good thinker though. Nor did they require you to be exceptional in the box and out of the cube thinker or strategist.

    Some people without degrees may well not have degrees for one simple reason. Degrees inthe field didn’t exist when they started in the field. They may have had the devotion, the loyalty, wisdom and the commitment to Conservation to be out on the front line doing their own conservation projects rather than studying alone. They are the ones that may have had their own amazing ideas rather than sitting there and studying other peoples. In other words they could be the best innovators, the ones that those with degrees are frequently trying to catch-up with. As the analogy says, It is not always the size of the dog in the fight that counts but it is the size of the fight in the dog that counts. It is focus, passion and commitment that wins hearts and minds to the cause of Conservation. These traits are not taught in school, college or University? It is people that sit up longer that have the drive, these can inspire, yet probably these people will not even be considered through the selection processes that is used especially when CV’S are selected by an automated process.

    I have an exceptional portfolio of corporate fundraising strategies. Yet, I will not apply for corporate funding strategy job, because it is considered, wrongly in my view, that the only people suitable are those with degrees. Qualifications are important of course, it is very reductionist to assume this as
    the only criteria for selecting quality applicants.

    The spelling mistake clause could disregards every dyslexic or someone with ADD. Is it possible that a dyslexic could potentially have a better strategy/coping mechanism than someone with a degree? Of course, without question. Could people that are resourceful enough to develop coping mechanisms be of relevence in developing mechanisms to help and preserve endangered habitats and species? possibly yes, people can overlook this. The selection and filtering systems used for talent spotting can completely disregard the very best talent.

    What about emotional intelligence, creative, conceptual and pragmatic litteracy? What about generalisation skills or determination? What about economy of motion. All of these factors determine the quality of results yet are not considered in gaining qualifications What about skills in diplomacy and the capacity to produce better results for less costs, does this figure more in University class rooms or in the University of Life? This I am led to believe is all overlooked in terms of seeking to find the most resourceful people may not even figure

    Its clear, Top Conservation thinkers don’t necessarily have degrees. 2 The top talent recruiters tend to think that they do and as a result less exceptional candidates could get recruited into Conservation. There is much to be said for the skills developed by small business owners, yet when does success in this get as valued as qualifications in organisations?

    …so what’s the answer to solving this problem? 1. It may be putting into the job application process the chance for applicants without degrees to be able to apply through presenting their own case of why the applicant deserves the job over someone with the degree. Could that be a feasible option? Just a consideration.