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Making A Resume- The Only Guide You Need To Get Your CV Right

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So here you are! Finally making a resume!

CV writing or making a resume as a chore ranks somewhere between a root canal and filing taxes. You need it, but you don’t want to do it.

If you are a couple of years into your career and well-networked, you often do not have to worry about it.

It’s a formality that’s then needed because you earn an interview based on insider industry referrals but if you are an early career professional – a CV can be an incredibly important document.

Two Rules to remember while writing a resume

There are two rules to CV or resume writing:

  1. K.I.S.S – Keep it Simple, Silly
  2. Write your CV for the job you want, not for the accomplishments you have already had. Do this by mirroring the language of the job description.

While this is straightforward, implementing this into an actual kickass CV is easier said than done.

Here is my distilled practical wisdom from coaching hundreds of students at my mentoring gig, on getting their CVs right.

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Boring advice that works when writing a resume – Be sincere and rigorous

People spend an inordinate amount of time at the workplace. Yet, they often spend less than a couple of hours getting their CV together. Most candidates sound less impressive than they are because they have not done the grunt work of having a master document that forms the baseline for the CV they make.

Before you even get to crafting a CV, make an excel sheet/word document with every possible detail about what you did, whom you worked with, what did you achieve, etc.

If you are an early career professional – you don’t have years of work experience or a lot of credibilities yet, hence you have to maximize whatever you have. Putting in a one-liner for your internship or neglecting to mention your event management experience just because you did it once, can take brownie pointers away from your profile.

Students think of a CV as a briefing document with a chronological listing of what they have done. Thinking of it as a narrative exercise for your career aspiration and profile can make a massive difference.

Understand what job you are applying to (or get to someone who does!)

If I had a dollar for every time a candidate did not peruse the job description, I’d be as rich if I had a dollar for every time the job description was unrealistic.

Many early-career professionals are intimidated by jobs that they think they won’t be a perfect fit for. Many corporate job descriptions are poorly written jargon landmines.

So, every time you are tempted to apply by sending in your CV – try and get the closest possible idea of what that job is like (from a peer or someone in a comparable role or by even reaching out to the hiring team if they are approachable). Then craft your CV per that narrative.

In marketing jobs, for instance, a role might be overall marketing mandate but actually, be 80% digital marketing execution and agency management. Having clarity on this actually would take you closest to customizing your CV to the ‘real world’ – so then your CV doesn’t focus on ATL, BTL, and other aspects that would take up undue space on your one-pager anyway.

This holds if you are also applying for a job that’s punching above your weight.

Every minute, an ATS sucker or AI-based screener is born

Most CV writing wisdom only applies if you are lucky to directly email it to the hiring manager, an HR manager is on the firing line or the person you are seeking a referral form has clout.

In most cases, when you apply via a job portal or a careers page – your CV goes into quicksand from which to never emerge.

There are cheat sheets for navigating this – keep your CV devoid of colours, formats, templates, stuff it with keywords, etc.

However, if circumstances do mean that you need to upload your CV on these portals, try having a simple CV just for this that’s different from the fancier version you take to the interview.

Also, run your CV through ATS screeners available online to get an idea if it works for you (hint: it will never be a 100% but it should be good enough)

Yeh Format Mujhe De De Thakur

The first thing that people associate with a CV guide is the format or template in which they make it. It’s so predictable that it’s sad. If your career is your own – the way you structure or present your journey should be yours too.

It’s perfectly fine to google your CV template or mooch off someone else’s but if you put in the effort, it shows! Especially for certain career paths that may call for more rigour or creativity, unlike general management CV templates that are the norm.

While making a resume don’t do any of this (and thank me later)

Knowing what not to do is the beginning of all wisdom. Here are some ‘Do Not’s’ from me 

  • Avoid highlighting too many points – if everything is in bold then nothing is bold.
  • Have some white space (though one-pagers are the norm, if you have enough pointers – try a 2 pager or a landscape template!) Your recruiter should not have to get spectacles to see your ant-sized font.
  • Do not underplay things you did effectively (this is the time to show off, not be modest)
  • Never mislead and share incorrect information just to position yourself as a good fit (integrity and reputation matter)
  •  Relying on template hacks instead of straightforward communication skills (people who use bar charts to display relative skills, how do you even measure that?)
  • Never repeat a point (eg: if you did SEO in three jobs or front-end development, find a way to combine and illustrate that)
  • Sharing your full address: Does a recruiter need to know the landmarks near your house? Mentioning your city is enough for starters.
  • Marital Status: This used to be the norm in the last millennium. Putting extremely personal details can invite discrimination. This is easily avoidable.
  • Putting a ‘Summary section’ on top of your resume bursting with clichés: Are you a self-starter full of passion who is a team player to achieve tremendous learning and success? A summary can be effective but is used in a woefully inadequate way at most times. Use the summary to effectively demonstrate how you fit the role – that’s it. Consider it an elevator pitch if you are going to have it as a section
  • Anything longer than a page or two (unless you are in academia/ science): Recruiters spend very little time scanning your CV. Think of a CV as a flirtation, not an engagement ceremony. Put your best foot forward with only as much information as necessary. Most CVs have too much information (that is outdated or irrelevant).
  • No checks for grammar and typos: I am always surprised by the number of typos that manifest in CVs. A CV is a piece of paper – that is your entry pass into your next big opportunity. Surely it deserves a second (or third) look or a run through Grammarly.
  • Stating that you completed a ‘task’ – you were assigned it – hence you must finish it. Doing your job is not an achievement – going over the call of duty is. Separate JDs from achievements.
  • Putting in multiple emails & numbers: How is the recruiter supposed to find you at the right one? Give one email and number preferably that you check up frequently on. I am constantly amazed by emails that sound unprofessional – avoid [email protected] or [email protected], please.
  • Sharing salary, family, or reference details (unless asked): These are highly sensitive & best left to an interview. A lot of consultants ask for these details over a call at a pre-screening stage. It is best to exercise discretion in such a case.
  • Using overly fancy fonts or colours: Unless you are applying for a role where it shows you in a good light. Yes, we live in a world obsessed with looking good, but do you want your CV to look like a professional document or something a teenager made on PPT? Most resume scanners only accept basic fonts and minimal formatting. Overdoing the glitz on your CV can be counterproductive to your purpose.
  • Using negative phrases or words that can put someone off: Choose your words carefully. Is it a problem or a challenge? Are you a team player or a facilitator? What is the quality of evidence you have to back that you are solution-oriented?
  • Lies, exaggerations, white lies, information/data you can’t back up: One would think that with the advent of background checks, this is a phenomenon of the past but unfortunately I have seen enough and more people pass off other people’s achievements as their own.
  • Overdoing it with headers, footers, charts: Minimalism wins – since a CV is a largely textual document, a lot of people feel like stuffing it with data points. However remember when you say a lot, you say nothing at all. Especially as points start to merge into each other or there are a lot of densely packed nuggets of information. Keep what is impactful and a win in the eyes of those who are reviewing your CV.
  • Naming organizations, partners, or bosses without their consent/ having written proof – If you don’t have paperwork that can trace the duration and nature of your involvement at an organization or with a person, it is best to resist the temptation to boast about it.
  • Reasons you left/took a gap year: It is important to have a robust explanation for why there are gaps in your CV (as it is an area of concern for most recruiters). However, the context for this is best explained in a conversation as opposed to putting in black and white on paper.
  • Why you want the job: This is best left to an actual interview/cover letter rather than a CV.
  • Force fitting minor achievements to make your CV longer: No one cares about your membership in a literary society in high school. Unless you can weave that into your career narrative (for instance, an editorial or content writer role).
  • Keyword stuffing: This is the biggest mistake that (otherwise) smart people whose CVs are well-written make. In a rush to be relevant to a top job at a top firm, they overhaul their CV content entirely to match keywords. While it is important – too much keyword stuffing leaves a really bad taste when it reaches the hand of a recruiter (you can’t know that many programming languages!)

Making a resume means ‘crafting’ your document

People underestimate the effort that goes before making a CV. Do not make that mistake. If you know who you are, and what you want, then the storytelling in your CV is coherent and words flow seamlessly into your career narrative.

Remember that your CV is about what career (not just position) you are seeking, something to be consumed and judged by other people, and needs to tell your story sharply.

Step 1: Build your career history repository – think of every piece of information that could be useful along the way. Resources to start from – academic certificates, extracurricular certificates, the job description of your previous role, performance assessments of your past jobs, your social media presence, the tools that you know, the nature of people and industry you have worked with, the presentations and proposals you have worked on and MIS reports.

Step 2: Build a repository of job descriptions, closest to the kind of roles you would want to apply to, in sectors, and at the level of seniority you are aiming at.

Step 3: Create a blank template with common information (education, contact details)

Step 4: Customize your CV by using pointers from your career history leveraging phrasing from the JD that you are applying to.

Step 5: Apply. But also send out a few cold emails and LinkedIn DMs. Try your luck everywhere!

Two ways of making your resume

There are broadly two ways you can write your CV.

Either follow the maxim of

  • Result achieved XX due to an action of YY in the situation ZZ or inverting this paradigm.

Or,

  • Try the Situation – Task – Action – Result framework

If you use acronyms try to expand them.

Do not start every sentence with ‘Responsible for…’. Use action words that justify the exact nature of what you did. Initiated. Pioneered. Supported. Assisted. It is understood that you are responsible (after all you get paid for those responsibilities).

Avoid hyper-specific words or generalized terms – both malfunction as keywords for hunters eg: Neither Marketing nor VTR is a good keyword but programmatic buying or data analysis are good ones – if you are say applying for a digital media role.

Not everyone needs every section on their CV but work experience including projects, last academic qualification, and skills are a must.

Nice to have but not must to have sections are courses you studied, hobbies, certifications, etc. So keep these points in mind while making your resume.

While making a resume, communicating the intended message is crucial

You can get everything right on your CV but not get across what you intend to truly convey. During my summers, a friend who works in HR saw my final placement CV and admonished me for not being able to communicate what I had accomplished.

Most of us are prey to thinking of our jobs as “What We Did” and not “So What Did I get Done that you should hire me for.”

The idea is to not use jargon just to reduce readability but to show what you did in a way that merits the effort YOU put in.

Go from “Did Market Research for a new line of hair colour and gave recommendations” to “Conceptualized Qualitative Research Questionnaire & surveyed 460 women in a guided interview. Assessed gaps post data analysis & recommend solutions that led to the creation of a sub-category for the business that contributes to 25% of topline business.”

To recap the post – the effort of CV building is not taking a word doc from your friend and editing it with your details. 

It is understanding:

– Who YOU are.

– What do YOU want.

– Who are you writing this for – system, recruiter, hiring manager?

– How do you avoid over-communicating and keyword stuffing?

– How much research do you do to understand the hiring machinery that you aim to infiltrate?

– Tying in what you have learned from the above four points and succinctly condensing it down into a one-page (or at a stretch two-page) document with zero grammatical errors shows you have got what it takes.

A CV is a structured narrative. 

If it does not automatically connect the dot between the recruiter’s expectations and what you offer then it has failed to do its job.

All the best!

First published here.

Image Source : Canva Pro

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About the Author

Ayushi Mona

Read books and track them on Goodreads (3K+). Podcaster at India Booked. Arming women with knowledge on personal finance. Marketer & Writer-at-large. read more...

20 Posts | 46,698 Views

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