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Why do we find writing our own CV's so hard? 5 Tips

Victoria MacLennan. 23 June 2022, 9:53 am

Last night I edited a friends CV and found it so easy to do, write about her virtues, her amazing skills, her achievements - yet 6 months ago confronted with writing my own CV when applying for this role I found it incredibly confronting, humbling and an irrational challenge. In this case my friend struggled in a similar manner something I hear often - writing my own CV is so hard to do. 

Before I get into why we find the art of “selling ourselves” such a challenge - some background on the humble brag CV.

CV or Résumé? 

CV of course is short for Curriculum Vitae, which is Latin for “course of life”. In modern definitions CV is described as a short written summary of a person’s career, qualifications and experience. 

Résumé comes from the French word résumer meaning “to summarise”. I read on wikipedia that Leonardo da Vinci is credited with the first résumé in the form of a letter to a potential employer. 

The two are used relatively interchangeably these days and the French origins of résumé are often ignored in favour of the English American version resume -Americans tend to use resume whereas it seems everyone else in the western world use CV it seems. 

Name aside this document is the key tool used by a job seeker to present themselves in the best possible light to a potential employer. Your personal sales pitch. 

What makes a good CV?

As an employer I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of CV’s over the years. For some roles there is a huge pile of CV’s to sift through, some come pre-formatted via a recruiter or a platform like Seek, others are highly individualised when direct from the candidate. If you can - make your CV memorable. I say this for 2 reasons, so it’s easy for the hiring manager or committee to recall as they sift through and (this might surprise you) it helps when you get to your interview if the interviewer recalls your CV with ease and positively. 

Once upon a time more detail was key to a good CV, not today. 3 pages is ideal. If you are tempted to make it longer think less is more. When reading a CV I want to get to know the candidate as quickly as possible so suggest you dedicate at least half a page (if not a full page) to a personal statement coupled with key strengths and achievements, before you get into your work history. The only time I would suggest your CV goes to 4 pages is if you are highly educated or published and applying for a highly specialised role. Make your CV easy to skim read as well with use of headers, bullets and spacing. 

There are many creative CV templates out there so use whatever you feel reflects you. Just remember to include a personal statement, your key strengths and achievements, education / training, work history and references (referees are avaliable on request is a perfectly good statement to use). In terms of getting to know the candidate quickly I do like to read a short interests statement (often combined into the personal statement). Remember less is more so just key facts. 

Finally on this, make it sharp, in plain English and without company specific acronyms. Read, edit, reread, refine. Get someone else to review with a fresh set of eyes. This is the most important sales document of your life for most people, it will be read alongside many others so needs to be easy to understand and "why you" needs to be very clear. 

Why is it so hard to write our own CV’s? 

First up there is the well documented Imposter Syndrome - where we believe we are not as capable as we really are, doubting our abilities and feeling like a fraud. There are millions of articles out there on this topic, how it mostly effects women plus tips and techniques if you are afflicted. I’ve heard so many people tell me they suffer from Imposter Syndrome in recent years it made me wonder whether this is a self fulfilling prophesy - we are constantly telling women they suffer from it - therefore they believe they do. A great article to read on that aspect is this one “Stop telling women they have imposter syndrome”. 

Moving on. The real issue is we don’t like to brag, talk about ourselves, even really take a good look at ourselves and apply the critique needed to write a great CV. Don't worry there are ways to work around this.

Find a CV buddy - a friend or colleague, a former boss - someone who knows you or is experienced with CV’s. Write it all down and ask them to edit, or ask them to interview you and you scribe as you go - tell them your story and they can help you pull out the important aspects. 

This is a role recruitment agents used to hold, I remember long ago when a recruiter would interview you and curate a fab CV - these days many just load your CV, no matter how good or bad, into their database and match you on key words. To improve your match you need to use words they are searching for. If you are going through a recruiter my advice is to ask them for help with your CV. 

There are also thousands of articles out there on how to write a winning CV - like this they cover the basics of format, messaging and content. 

5 Tips

Tip #1 - If you can - make your CV memorable. Use colour, not too much, just to highlight headings or key text. Insert logos for the companies you have worked for, or include a photo of yourself. 

Tip #2 - less is more. Keep your CV to 3 pages and focus on highlighting your key attributes and experiences. But don't achieve this by using a tiny font, many hiring managers are my age - older - we need a 12pt. 

Tip #3 - make it sharp. Read, edit, reread, refine and get someone else to read with a fresh pair of eyes. This is your sales pitch - "why you" needs to come across strongly.

Tip #4 - find a CV buddy, someone who can edit your CV or can interview you to help you identify the key aspects of your career to highlight. Either someone who knows you or someone who is experienced with CV’s - a friend. a colleague, ex-employer. 

Tip #5 - make sure you hit all the key words for the current job market if you are using recruitment firms or platforms. Read lots of adverts and when editing take a good look at the language they are using vs you are using and modify. 


It is worth noting that companies are increasingly stripping off identifying characteristics in CV’s to ensure hiring managers are reviewing the CV without applying unconscious bias - so removing name, ethnicity, address, school attended (if you are over the age of 30 you don’t need to include school history btw) etc. To ensure the strengths and experience stand alone. 

I could write for hours on CV's to be fair. 

Good luck! I know it’s a tight labour market and there is less competition for roles, but it’s not always going to be like this and many roles are very competitive even now - so putting your best self forward is incredibly important even today. 

Hopefully these 5 tips help. Kia pai tō rā Vic 


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