Advice on resume building, cover letters, and searching for a job.
As an HR Manager responsible for recruitment, and as a person who had to look for work when we relocated to New Zealand, there is a chance my experiences and observations can help others. On a number of social media websites, I have come across similar questions, and similar problems, so I thought I would jot down some ideas for interested people. I will write 3 posts, as I see it now:
- The CV
- The Cover Letter
- The Search
I recently revised my own CV, and it was interesting to see how both market expectations of a CV, and my own ability to express myself, had changed as my experience grew, so don’t be afraid of updating it constantly to keep it accurate to who you are.
Firstly, confidence. It’s easy to feel like you have nothing to add because everyone you talk to says “Get some (local) experience first.” Those kind of comments can also undermine your positive demeanour when applying. It is important to realise that in many subtle ways, your attitude comes through even in your written words. So be positive and full of self-believe when you write. Take the time to gather together all the reasons you DO have something to offer, then write from that good place.
Secondly, your CV itself (Curriculum Vitæ, Resumé, etc). I will list some basic pointers in bullet form
Keep it easy to read — that means, more than anything, formatting. Be consistent, structured and logical. It means that a speed reader can assess your CV positively in an instant. They will not dig through bad formatting to look for redeeming qualities.
- Make the font readable — I recommend Arial 11. Use white space to create readability.
- I recommend using tables (one per section so you can subtly format it to suit the contents) and hiding the internal borders. It provides real consistency to your structure. I lightly shade header cells.
- I prefer not to let tables run across pages but sometimes it’s inevitable.
- Aim for a professional and neutral look, resist too much personal expression unless the job itself requires it, e.g. graphic design; then, of course, let them have it!
- I justify BOTH margins (Ctrl J in Office) all the time
- Take the time to look around on the Web for a good format.
- How your CV looks, is how they imagine you will make them look. It’s a really good feeling to post off a CV that you know, in itself, is a reflection of your best work.
Make sure it is spell-checked and that your grammar is exceptional. Do not use abbreviations or shortcuts. And if English is your second language, please do not assume that the way you translated it from your mother tongue works well. There is a right way and a wrong way to say something, and the wrong way can be quaint, but also possibly jarring. Remember, you want to connect with the person reading your CV. As the applicant, it is your job to make it easy for them to feel that connection.
In NZ, you want to come in under 5 pages total, under 4 is better. Here is a section list
- Biographical data — name, address, email, phone number, visa status, social media details, (If you want, but sometimes its essential.)
- Personal Statement (depending on your style). Don’t mindlessly spit out the standard ones, and do not use buzz words. They are rejected instantly. Take care to craft something personal and real. Mean it, or don’t say it at all.
- Career summary — a table, of dates (eg 2009-2012) and position titles in reverse order, most recent first. Look at it objectively. Are there gaps in your CV you should be ready to explain? Or stagnant periods where there was no growth? Why? Have the answers ready.
- Employment History with a subsection per job. Same headings for each. This section is NOT intended to show WHAT you did. This is the error many people make. You want to primarily show the VALUE you added, and in doing so, you show that you are capable of seeing your position from at least one level up. Immediately, you are possible promotion material
- Company name
- I like to put in here, in Font size 8, one sentence why I moved on. It’s not necessary but it shows confidence and can pre-empt distracting questions later.
- Reporting Line
- Core responsibilities
- (Strategic) Contribution
- Early Career — you don’t want to itemize every job. The employer is assessing your recent career probably no more than 10 years is needed. The rest can be in summary form, unless there is something you want to highlight, like relevant experience in one of those positions. Again, a table with dates and job titles; one job per line.
- Education — highest level first.
- Professional Qualifications and other studies — most recent first
- References — list them. It is not great form to tell someone you will provide on request. You are just making work for them.
Once this is ready, as a standard format, you need to think about the position you are applying for. Every one of your jobs is relevant, but not necessarily to the same extent. It is important to re-orient your CV if necessary to highlight different aspects of your value add so that your work history reflects you in the best light for the job you are applying for.
Important: NO lying, faking or whitewashing. If I were to read three version of your CV (for example administration focused, marketing focused, and sales focused), I should know they belong to the same person. What you are trying to do is highlight positive connections between your work history and the specific role you are applying for, not to misdirect or “con” an employer. The truth always comes out, so only put the truth in!
You won’t rewrite your CV for each role, but it can be handy to have some basic variants ready. What you will write specifically from scratch for each role, is your cover letter. That will be the subject of the next post.
Thirdly, Writing style. This is subjective, and it is subtle but please allow me some latitude here to discuss different ideas. What we want to feel, reading a CV, is a connection. That connection happens on a few levels. Please note – if you try do this all very deliberately, it will be too much. Work thoughtfully through how you use words and what they convey.
- Confidence — I want feel, reading your CV, that if I sat across a table from you I would enjoy the conversation; that you would feel secure in yourself to engage me person to person. I want to know that you believe in yourself, that you are an individual with something to offer. I WON’T get that from prepackaged statements. Or buzz words. Or vague statements.
- Culture — I want to feel that you will share the values of the team. That is not to say conformity. And I must stress that. A good recruiter is not looking for conformity, but they are looking for a values and vision fit. Having recruited internationally, I can attest that conformity is quickly exposed as unhelpful, because it is often the death of diversity and creativity. But culture is a non-negotiable. If you are unique, bring that to the table with confidence and pride. But a poor fit for culture will destroy a high performing team.
- Capacity — I want to see in the words you choose and in how you describe yourself, that you have been around the block a bit and you know how to get things done. Well. I want to see a problem solver, a proactive person who will bring their manager a possible solution and not just a problem. As a manager, the last thing I want is someone who lazily tries to put their monkeys on my back. (How will I see that, you ask? Easy. If you describe your job as just a series of activities, you will not meet the mark. If you describe it as a series of valuable acts that contributed to the organisation and the success of others, we have a winner. Your words must subtly convey your energy levels)
An example, if you don’t mind, and I am going to walk a dangerous path of generalizing about national cultures. This is only by way of example and is not an evaluation of any candidate or country. I will use my own home country as the first example 🙂 In HR we are guardians of culture and workplace synergy. It’s important that an HR practitioner embodies those criteria. If the way we handle conflict, solve problems, communicate or generally do our jobs is too jarring for the workplace, we are not an ideal fit for HR.
- I often see CV’s from a particular country where the management style is known to be very authoritarian, and directive. NZ is not like that. NZ is a very much less a confrontational place with a higher emphasis on influencing and on consulting. To succeed, the choice of words and the problem solving concepts need to be phrased very differently.
- Another country’s candidates have a tendency to write very “eagerly”. The problem there is that HR can sometimes be an environment where we speak unpopular truth to power, and a CV must show that that ability exists if needed. Somebody who comes across as too eager, will not convince about that aspect of the role.
So, this was a long one, but hopefully beneficial especially to seekers in the NZ job market.
This article originally appeared on Notes From The Roadside.
Photo credit: kate hiscock/flickr