Konstantin Kunev, VentureOut Program Manager, shares his secrets for creating an effective CV.
Whether we are looking for a job for the first time or for the second time, our CV (Curriculum vitae) is of utmost importance because without it we will not even have access to the employer. An inadequate CV cannot be an effective first introduction and in all likelihood we will end up wondering why, after applying to dozens of employers, no one contacted us. The aim of today’s article is to learn how to maximise our chances of meeting an employer, and then making it happen in the recruitment process.
The first and most important thing to start with is choosing the format in which we will build our bio. The most basic advice is not to use the common Europass platform and template. This format from the European Commission’s website was a great resource at least 10 years ago, but it is no longer up to date, it is difficult to fill in, and it contains data and fields that are not needed nowadays.
Personally, I would recommend starting with one of the generally available and free platforms such as Zety, Resume.io or the platform we are using and partnering with – EnhanCV. These platforms provide ready fields to complete, and we will discuss in detail all the important sections I would advise using.
An important thing is that these platforms are free for a limited time, in a so-called test period. During this test period some of the platform functionality may be limited, although in my experience not to the extent that it is not possible to create an effective biography. It is also important to note that once the test period is over, you will either not be able to access the biography for corrections (sometimes also for downloads in Word or PDF format) or you will be automatically charged for the full version of the platform (usually €10 per month). With the second option, it is very important to remove the payment card that most sites ask for upfront so that you are not automatically charged. At Single Step we often have free access to EnhanCV, so I encourage you to contact us to access this resource.
Once we’re sure what platform and format we’re going to use, it’s time to think about what information we’re going to put inside, or rather how much. People looking for a job for the first time and those who have over 10 years of experience should aim for one page for their CV. There comes, of course, the moaning from the inexperienced – “What am I going to write so much about?” and from others – “How am I going to fit my 15 job titles on one page?”. Before answering these questions, it’s important to note why this is important. Recruiters have limited time and big goals (targets) to chase for short or long periods of time. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, they don’t have the time and attention to read a treatise, and they don’t need to. Before you ask – yes, many HR colleagues consider looking at unedited, long or unformatted bios a waste of time, so no matter how good a candidate you are – they won’t understand.
The goal of the selection process is to simulate the future work environment for the candidate as much as possible. My personal opinion is that unless we can, in the comfort of our own time and home, build a concise, structured CV that summarises our experience, we won’t be able to do many similar tasks in a real job.
The first purpose of our CV is to intrigue the reader and so it is important to understand what they see. Even if we manage to fit our biography into one page, the first thing they’ll be able to see is even smaller in volume, so we need to get the most important and intriguing part in there.
The example shows just over half a page of our sample biography – it’s also the first thing the HR colleague will see, so we need to hold his attention here. Many colleagues expect to see a certain arrangement or components present, so if they don’t see them, whether our biography is one page or ten – it doesn’t matter, they will close it and move on.
Our bio is not a beauty pageant, but there are a lot of factors that make having a picture of us important. First and foremost, not having a photo is something that can “disqualify” us in the eyes of the beholder. Is this correct – definitely not. Is it considered some form of discrimination – a definite yes. However, we do consider the criteria of the examiner, so as a first reason – better to have than not.
The more meaningful reason to have a photo in our bio is to create a subconscious “human” connection between us and the person looking at us. While the preferences of the looker may influence us negatively or positively based on “liking”, we can hope that this is rare. If we’re not approached professionally, I’d say it’s for the best – unless the job search is at all costs, we shouldn’t want to work in a place where HR isn’t approached professionally.
The photo puts a face to the resume and creates the sense of history that builds the first connection with us that can tip the scales in our favor. We’re much more likely as humans to compromise on people we “know”, so if the person looking at it notices something that would normally turn them off from reading further, then having a photo and that subconscious connection can make them think.
As a second important element, the introduction is a section that I recommend for people looking for their first job as well as experienced candidates. This section is our “mini-interview” – our opportunity to answer a few potential questions in advance and create an overall picture of us as a candidate. This introduction is made up of four sentences with the following objectives:
These four components are also the basics of a so-called cover letter (a practice that is less and less used). However, unlike a cover letter, the introduction is short and concise, specific to the role we are applying for, and – most importantly – easy to revise when the same CV needs to serve for multiple employers.
The section on our strengths is applicable to all types of applicants. Our aim is to highlight the skills we have acquired through years of work experience or through life experience. It is important to rank them in order of importance or put the skill or quality that is most relevant to the role we are applying for at the top.
For candidates with little or no experience, this task is more difficult, but not impossible. If you’re in this position, think about the things you’ve been dealing with on a daily basis for the past months or years. For example, skills learned during your time at university or high school – ones that are not specific and studied in your education:
These examples need to be sincere; it’s not good to invent qualities and skills that we can’t defend in a follow-up conversation. Examples should be described in 3-4 sentences each, the goal here is to demonstrate how we acquired the skill or quality.
For people who already have experience, this exercise is easier as it is nice to describe skills we have acquired on the job here. This is a good time to back up the dry description of our experience with more context about our achievements. It would be important in this section to again describe skills relevant to the role we are applying for. As we are talking here as people with professional experience, it is important to include measurable and specific data such as:
Our goal in this section is to emphasize the skills we feel we can bring to our prospective employer or to highlight qualities that make us useful beyond the basic expectations described in the job posting.
The last important section depends on our experience as a candidate. If we have no experience, we would put our education in this section, and if we have professional experience, we describe it. It is still important to be specific and add measurable data about our accomplishments. For those of us with experience, try to limit yourself to three to four of your most recent roles, especially if some of them don’t apply to the one you’re applying for. This limit will help you fit into one page. If you have more experience than this, think about how to summarise it.
We deliberately didn’t mention our contact details, the only advice and reminder here is that you don’t need to include information about your location, gender, age etc – name, email and phone are more than sufficient.
Creating a biography is not such a difficult activity, but it does require focus, research into the roles you will be applying for, and a little knowledge about formulating content. Some of this knowledge you already have, and much more we will be happy to share in follow-up articles, and with you in person during a one-on-one consultation if you contact us for job or education placement support at or . Our career guidance services have continued to be free to anyone who contacts us for the past 4 years.
About the author: Konstantin Kunev is a professional in the area of HR recruitment with focus on training and development. In his 13-year career, he has gained experience in recruitment, training, administration and human resource management roles primarily in the technology, outsourcing (BPO) and pharmaceutical industries. He has volunteered on the Single Step emotional support line since 2017 and has been sitting behind VentureOut since March 2019.