Nine Steps to a killer CV

by Shannon Houde

Ok, be honest with me. How many times have you dived straight into writing a CV or resume before you did a search for your dream job?

More than once? Every time? Neither response would surprise me. As a career coach with many years’ experience inside the HR department, I’ve seen the hallmarks of this approach arrive on my desk all too often. Which is why I’m going to give it to you straight and say: “Not so fast!”

Before you start writing your resume, there are some essential steps that you need to take if you want to show the hiring manager that you are the right candidate for the role. Watch my recent webinar on this topic and then read the in-depth points underneath. These steps are just as important as actually writing your resume, so pay close attention!


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1. Get focused and decide your audience

This can be difficult, because you may want to keep your options open, but it’s increasingly helpful to tailor your pitch for a focused audience. Start by picking a sector (for example, NGO, public, private, social enterprise, etc.), then pick your industry (for example, oil and gas, FMCG, retail, etc.) and then pick the function. This is the role that links to the tasks and skills you’re going to be using in your new job.

2. Answer the hiring manager’s top 4 questions

Your CV is a marketing tool, not a dumping ground for everything you’ve ever done. Use it to respond to the four generic questions that all hiring managers have in their heads: Can you do job? Do I want to work with you? Do you fit our culture and mission? Which issues do you have expertise in? Your task is to respond to these questions by setting out your skills, traits, values and knowledge clearly in your CV. See my recent blog for more help on this.

3. Decide your top 3 skills categories

If you had to put all of your skills and achievements into a three-category framework, which categories would you choose? Give each a name, for example – communications, project management and sustainability.

4. Map your skills to job spec

Then when you find that job that matches the above, break down the job spec by copying and pasting the key points into a separate document to make sure you understand what they’re asking for in terms of skills, traits, values and knowledge areas. Then start to think about how your skills, traits, values and knowledge and achievements will map to what they’re looking for. Really test how well you match up to their requirements. For more help with this, check out my Map Your Skills to the Market blog.

5. Do a slide of your career journey

I have a one-page slide that I use with clients for interviewing, but it’s a good idea to do it alongside your CV work. Why? We have to have a story that’s compelling and makes sense. Do a slide with three or four stepping stones that shows how every choice you’ve made has prepared you for your next role. It can even be an attachment to your CV.

6. Then write your bio and resume profile

Your bio is a half-pager (in paragraph form) that you might already have if you’ve ever been at a speaking event or applied for a Master’s programme. The resume profile is the short version of this – about 3-4 lines – that sits at the top of your CV. Doing this helps you to build on your story and keep it concise, before you start to get into the detail. For more help with this, check out my Build Your CV’s Personal Profile blog.

7. Write 12 accomplishment statements

These accomplishment statements will map to the skills categories you identified above. They should be impact/result oriented to wow your audience and include how you achieved that impact – i.e. what skills you used.  Adding in context and numbers makes the statement come to life and seem more real.

8. Get a third party critique

Ask a third party whether or not your resume is a compelling story for the role/audience you are targeting. Preferably, choose somebody in the know who understands the market. Ask them if it rings true. Does it match up to the job spec?  Get them to check your resume for typos and formatting before you send it out. More candidates than you would expect actually skip this step! If I see a CV with a typo in it, I think that that person didn’t take the time to make it perfect. Which is not the impression you want to make now, is it?

9. Link it to LinkedIn

These nine steps help you build that one most used resume template. They are for your 80% resume. By this I mean that I expect you to tailor the additional 20% to a specific role. Link your 80% CV with your LinkedIn profile so that even when it’s customised, it’ll still resonate with your online profile and recruiters won’t be confused when they look you up online. You only get once change for a profile on LinkedIn, so all the more reason you have to decide on your audience and story before you begin to write a resume or apply for roles.


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