Ten improvements you can make on your CV

In my travels across the various KCL campuses, I see a great number of PhD and post-doc CVs.  Some are great and I’ve very little to say about them.  Some are confusing, overly long and impossible to understand!

We all love a good list, so here are my ideas to help you improve your CV, based on things I’ve seen over my years of looking at your CVs. At the bottom of this post are some other resources to help you.

1) Use your name as the heading, not Curriculum Vitae!  Your CV is a tight, concise document and you need to find ways to save space, not waste lines on self-evident truths.  Similarly, be concise about your contact details: your address and email information really shouldn’t take more than a couple of lines.

2) Put your CV into a modern font.  Times New Roman is very very last century.  Take a look at it in something more modern and be impressed with how much more dynamic your experience looks.  Recruiters see so many CVs that details like these can really help affect the way they feel about you.

3)  Be a lot less complex about your degrees.  I have seen CVs where the candidate takes three lines to inform a reader about when and where and which degree they took.  A rule of thumb for layout would be: dates, degree and subject area, university.  Sometimes you’ll add in the country if you think that needs explanation.  You do not need the postal address of the department!  You might, for your PhD, decide that it is useful to include the names of your supervisors, if the people reading the CV are going to have heard of them.  If it’s a CV for a non-academic role, you are very unlikely to need this information.

4) Be extremely careful with your formatting.   Bold, italics, CAPITALS, underlining and different colours are all fine in their own way, but could be extremely distracting if overused.  Check carefully that your bullet points, indents and margins are consistently lined-up.  Some people put their CVs into a table format: if you do, make sure you hide the lines, and that when you print it out, there is sufficient space between your sections.

5)  Think carefully about how much academic language you use.  If you are applying for an academic job or grant, then of course your CV needs to demonstrate your competence in these areas.  But if you are not applying for an academic role, then decide how much you need to say about the particular technical aspects of your current post.  Probably the best way to check this is to show your CV to a friend who doesn’t know anything about your research and watch their faces carefully when they’re reading it…..

6)  Decide which headings to use.    Headings help to break up the CV and make it easier to read.  Academic CVs need to have section headings such as Research, Teaching and Academic Admin, and your publications and conferences attended will fit neatly in there.  But CVs for outside of academia will want to use headings such as Relevant Experience, Research Experience, Other Experience, and so on, matching the heading according to the kind of job you are going for.

7)  Be very sure what job you’re applying for.  Your CV needs to change according to the job description or person specification of the specific role.  Even an academic CV might need to be juggled about according to the priorities listed in these documents – for example, one university might have Teaching above Research, and want you to include Media engagements, while another might switch areas around.  Your CV needs to match as closely as it can with the priorities of the role, even to the extent sometimes of using the same language the recruiters are using (‘interpersonal skills’ rather than ‘communication skills’, for example).

8)  Make a decision about including information about your transferable skills.  An academic CV will probably not need so much information about these; but a CV for a role outside of academia needs to really demonstrate that your PhD or post-doc roles have given you loads of skills that are directly transferable.  This is why you may not want a list of your publications, for example, but instead use them as evidence of strong communication skills, writing for different audiences, or even of project management – having to submit on time.  For more information about this, take a look at this post:  http://blogs.kcl.ac.uk/kclgradschool/2013/07/22/your-cv-are-you-really-getting-yourself-across-to-an-employer/

9)  Think active, strong language.  What have you achieved?  What did you initiate?  Where did you succeed, overcome difficulties, assess, notice, decide and so on?  Having interesting language on your CV makes it easier to read and create a better impression in that brief moment of attention in a recruiter’s mind.

10)  Make sure you know who your referees are.  You will probably list two names, job titles and email addresses (not all CVs will need these, as you may submit these details in another format).  Recruitment happens very quickly these days and it is helpful to have the referees’ details to hand.  Have you yet talked to your supervisor or PI about acting as a referee?  Perhaps there is someone else you’ll ask.  These things take time to set up so it’s as well to have thought early on who you’ll approach.

Use these tips and your CV will look and feel like a more dynamic document!

For further help, log into www.vitae.ac.uk (use your KCL email address) and check out the Career section with its list of CVs.  They’re not perfect (apply these 10 tips to them and see where they could improve!) but a good start if you’re faced with a blank page.