Teaching Business English #4: Top tips for CV writing

Bill Mascull

Bill Mascull is a business materials writer and lexicographer and has previously taught in-company in Sweden and France. Most recently, he has authored new editions of 2 business vocabulary books and eBooks: Business Vocabulary in Use Intermediate and Business Vocabulary in Use Advanced. In this final post of a series of 4 on teaching Business English, Bill gives some of his top tips for writing a CV.

Standing out from the crowd

Employers receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications in response to job advertisements, and even small organisations get unsolicited applications all the time. This means that recruiters often look at a CV (or résumé) for no more than a few seconds. Increasingly, CVs are scanned by specialised programs that look for key words. So, your CV has to stand out from the crowd, even to get past this initial filter process.

Top 10 tips

Here are 10 tips for making your CV stand out from the crowd. These tips are designed particularly for non-native speakers of English who are wondering about CV conventions and practices in regions such as Western Europe, North America and Australia.

1. Don’t put ‘Curriculum Vitae’, ‘CV’ or ‘Résumé’ at the top. Just your name and contact details. It’s not usually necessary to include a photo of yourself, unless the employer has requested one. There is also no need to mention date of birth, marital status or children.

2. Write a personal statement on who you are and what your professional objectives are. Adapt the way that you express these to the job you are applying for. Career goals will change as your career develops, so remember to update these over time, as well as in relation to each job that you apply for.

3. Mention your skills and abilities, but in specific ways that are relevant to the job you are applying for. Don’t just put bland terms like ‘team player’, ‘hard-working’, ‘motivated’, ‘ability to think outside the box’, ‘problem-solver’, ‘good communicator’ and so on. Who wouldn’t want to say that they have these qualities? Instead, give actual examples. For instance, show how you thought outside the box in a particular professional situation, and what the benefits/outcome were. If you can’t think of an example of a problem you have actually solved, or a situation where communication was key, it’s probably better to avoid mentioning that you are a ‘problem-solver’ or ‘good communicator’. (However, there may be relevant key words in the job advertisement that are good to repeat in the CV, ones that can be picked up by automated systems.)

4. Write about your experience, starting with your most recent job, and your achievements, with specific examples of actual outcomes, rather than just a list of duties. For instance, a salesperson would give figures on how much their sales increased, a web designer on the sites they have designed, the amount of site traffic generated, etc. Managers should be specific about the activities, projects and numbers of people they have managed. (There is no need to mention student jobs, unless they are directly relevant to the job you are applying for.) If there are gaps when you have not worked, give reasons briefly.

5. List your educational qualifications (degrees, etc.) and your professional qualifications (professional memberships and exams), starting with the most recent. Be honest about your degree class (if there is one). As in other sections of the CV, avoid using abbreviations that may not be generally known − give the full names of institutions and qualifications. If your qualifications have non-English names, give English equivalents. Any qualifications gained before A-levels, or the equivalent in your country, are not worth mentioning.  Employers will not be fascinated by your piano exam results when you were 12 years of age!

6. You can mention your interests, especially relevant ones, but this is not always necessary. For example, you might be able to link the fact that you were/are captain of a sports team to your leadership skills, but saying that you go to the cinema once a week is of no interest. If you are applying for a job as a travel guide, talk about the areas you know well, but a taste for travel is probably not relevant to most jobs!

7. Include a section on your language skills. Again, don’t make unrealistic claims. Where possible include exam results to back them up. Don’t mention languages where your level is less than intermediate.

8. Be concise− a CV should be no more than 2 pages, and preferably only 1 page. Obviously, if you have a lot of experience, your CV will be longer than if you have just left university. If you don’t have much experience, avoid ‘padding’ − using too many words. Use bullet points where possible, rather than big blocks of text.

9. Keep to a simple, well-designed format. Do not use more than one typeface. There are templates available on the internet to inspire you and to help make your CV stand out. (In creative, design-oriented industries, you have the chance to show off your design skills, but don’t let the design overwhelm the information!)

10. Check everything thoroughly for spelling, correct details, names and dates and so on. Employers are not interested in people who make mistakes even before they start!  Even if your English is very good, try to get a second opinion from a proficient speaker of English, to check the language in your CV. (Even if the English is correct, it may not be what is most frequently used in the context of CVs). Getting advice from someone with knowledge of the industry in which you are applying for a job would be even better.

CVs, cover letters and emails

Unit 53 of Business Vocabulary in Use Intermediate hosts a range of activities on CVs, cover letter and emails.

This may be the final post in Bill Mascull’s Teaching Business English series but the reading doesn’t need to stop here. Why not take it from the top and read Bill’s article on the company words keep?

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