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The Complete Guide to Writing the Perfect CV

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Written by Seun Oyediran

The Complete Guide to Writing the Perfect CV

How to Write a CV in Nigeria (Intro)

Your Curriculum Vitae (CV) is a personal elevator pitch to potential employers about what makes you a standout hire. Nonetheless, the CV is just one element of the recruiting process. While it gives you an edge over other candidates, you’ll need to put as much effort into the others – Networking, Interviewing, and Employment Contract Negotiation.

Difference Between a CV and a Resume

One question I hear a lot is what the difference between a CV and a Resume is. Both are used interchangeably even by experienced recruiters, although there’s a slight difference.  Your Curriculum Vitae provides more extensive information on your educational background, including hard skills learned and certifications earned. It also includes other important sections such as employment history, research experience, and professional affiliations.

This is mostly useful for new graduates and specific professionals (e.g. Journalists, IT engineers, Medical professionals, etc) for obvious reasons. On the other hand, a resume is a summary of one’s professional experience, education, and skillset, usually rounded up into one-pager or two maximum. The resume seems to be more common amongst business professionals, hence, why many use both terms – CV or Resume.

Therefore, for the purpose of this article, whilst I would stick to the term, CV, you can also assume that most of what I would say applies to a resume as well. 

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The importance of a CV in the job hunting process:

Before I go into what makes a perfect CV, it’s crucial to understand how it fits into the entire recruitment process. Let me make a simple analogy that illustrates my point. Think of how you used to pick out movie titles from the film store in the early 2000s. You’ll probably start with a mental note of the desired genre and walk into that particular aisle, pick up a movie based on the title and attractiveness of the DVD poster if you’ve never heard of it before.

If the actors seem familiar, the likelihood of picking up that movie to at least take a glance increases significantly. Then what happens next? You’re likely to read the movie synopsis written on the back of the DVD and probably ask one of the store representatives to show you a clip of the movie before deciding to rent it for the weekend. This is similar to how recruiters or HR managers select candidates.

Typically, the request for a position comes from the heads of departments who together with the HR manager creates a job description and persona for who the idle candidate should be (This is the movie genre). For an experienced hiring manager, he already knows what to look out for when he spots a CV from a mile away and only needs to spend a few seconds reading it before deciding whether to shove it or keep it in a pile for future review (your name is the movie title and the rest of what’s on your CV is the synopsis). This is the reason why your CV has to be succinct, well-structured, and tailored to every job position.

Getting your CV noticed is getting harder than ever before. On average, the number of applicants juggling for the same job posting has grown from about 50 to 250 in the past decade. This is partly due to technology in the use of attracting a wider pool of candidates but this also creates more competition for candidates and a likely bias in the application pool as recruiters now use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to filter the CVs based on keywords matching the job description.

If you were not referred to the hiring manager, good luck getting your standard cliched CV reviewed.  Remember that your competition could come from referrals or people who have personally reached out to the hiring manager for that job, which means you have to be proactive as well. If you follow the instructions, I’m about to layout for creating a perfect CV, then you’re likely going to be shortlisted for an interview (this is where you display your personality, traits, and skills – a trailer for the movie, the actual job). 

The average time the hiring manager takes to review a CV is no more than 15 seconds before making a decision. So, what do you think happens in those 15 seconds? They quickly glance at the structure, format, grammar, professional summary, educational requirements, employment history, job titles, key achievements, functional and industry experience depending on the nature of the job.

They can achieve this in such a short period of time because they look at CVs every day; some things are second nature to them. Once you know precisely where hiring managers focus, you can easily create an eye-catching CV that would increase your chances of getting your desired job.

CV Formats in Nigeria

So, let’s take a quick look at the sample CV. 

This CV was created using Reventify CV Maker in 10mins and not Microsoft Word which is bland and lifeless. Like I mentioned before, it is important for your CV to stand out and have some personality; hence the design and format are extremely important.

The above CV uses a reverse-chronological format, which is quite common amongst professionals with several years of experience. The most current job role is at the top of the employment history section, whilst others prior to it follow subsequently.

The other two (2) common but rarely used CV formats are:

  1. Functional CV:  This format is mainly used by either recent graduates or professionals who are seeking to apply to specific job roles but their current title does not match the job they are applying for. So, if you’re in the IT field or an Engineer, this could be a good choice for you. A lot of experienced professionals also use this format in a one-pager CV when applying to specific positions. 

The candidate above is seeking to apply to an Administrative Manager role but is currently not working in that job position, albeit have some similar experience that can be tailored to the job she has an interest in.

  1. Combination CV: This is a combination of the above two mentioned CV formats which are usually tailored to a specific job. So for example, if you have a background in web development and possess a computer science background who has worked across several industries, you may choose to showcase more of your programming skillset and accomplishment in your CV if you’re applying for a specific position that requires specific computer programming language and knowledge. This CV format is a way to mask short employment dates or other date gaps in your CV.

Having trouble choosing a cv template? It’s fine, Reventify CV Maker gives you a number of beautifully designed templates, simply choose from the stunning templates, add your own style, and you’re done.

How to Write a Professional CV in Nigeria

If you’re using Microsoft Word to create your CV, you’ll likely start from scratch, which is a painful way to design your CV. You need to think of design, layout, font types, and sizes. The most common font types are Arial and Calibri between 14 – 16pt for the sectional headings and 11 – 12pt for the normal text. Try not to use fonts that are too stylish as it could affect how your CV is perceived since your taste in fonts might not be admired by recruiters. 

It is also important to note that no matter how much experience you have, limit your CV length to no more than 2 pages. You’ll be amazed that there is a lot of Fortune 500 CEOs who have one-page-length CVs, so don’t be an exception. If the first page of your CV doesn’t catch the attention of the recruiter, I highly doubt the second or third page will. 

Choice of CV templates: Traditional vs Modern

The choice of CV templates depends a lot on the company you’re looking to apply to. Some sectors such as Consulting, Accounting, Oil & Gas are usually more traditional in nature. 

If you’re applying to media companies, a tech startup that is highly innovative, and looking to hire highly creative people, you may want to consider the more modern template. The Resume Builder at Reventify has quite a number of CV templates to select from – either traditional or modern.

Breakdown of the CV sections:

There are 5 primary sections that every CV should have:

  1. Contact information
  2. Professional Statement/Career Objective
  3. Employment History
  4. Education
  5. Skills (Inc. Certifications from trainings)

There are a few other sections that are usually not necessary and I’ll prefer you avoid, such as:

  1. Hobbies; and
  2. References

The only exception to this rule is if you have amazing hobbies such as having climbed all seven (7) summits or your references are from well-known and respected business professionals, else, it’s just fluff on your CV.

So, let’s breakdown the primary section that every CV should have:

Contact Information:

This is simply the most important section of your CV. No matter what you include in the CV, if the hiring manager can’t get a hold of you and can’t easily do a background check, then you’re likely not going to get called for an interview.

Here’s how to include your contact details: (show sample contact cv section)

  • First Name, Last Name
  • Phone number
  • Email: Make sure this is a professional email. No one wants to see an email that states yahooboy99@gmail.com 
  • Home Address – Just the location is fine, you need not include your full address 

NB: If you don’t live in the same state as the company that you intend to apply to but you’re willing to relocate, I’ll suggest you expunge “address” out of your CV, except you’re aware that the company is not biassed towards a candidate’s location and they’ll hire great candidates if they find one.

Aside from the above, it is normal these days for job seekers to include their professional social media accounts such as Linkedin or portfolio of work, especially if you’re in the tech world.

On the other hand, what you should not include in the contact information is other personal information such as:

  • Date of Birth
  • State of Origin

Now, there’s a dispute in the HR world about including a headshot. Linkedin profiles has made it more common for candidates to include their headshots in their CV. In my opinion, this is a hit or miss, so except you have a professional headshot taken, I’ll suggest you don’t include it. 

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The Professional Statement/Career Objective:

This is one section that is mostly lacking and never creatively written. This section tells the recruiter all about who you are in two or three sentences. If you’ve been working for a few years, you should go with the “professional statement” title and if you’re a recent graduate, you may want to change the title to “career objective”, since you’ve not had a lot of work experience.

Most of the professional statements I’ve read are boring, vague, and lack character. Whatever you include there must be tailored to the organization you want to work for. The hiring manager must be able to create a connection for both skill and culture fit when they read this section.

On your professional statement, you want to achieve the following three (4) things

  1. Years of experience. To be more precise, it should be tailored to the job being applied to.
  2. Your biggest one or two work accomplishment(s) till date
  3. Key transferable skills that you have, both soft and hard skills; and
  4. Your Goals/Interest/objectives in the field you’ve chosen. This shows passion and desire to continue along in that field. If you can, also tailor it to the company you want to work for. 

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The career objective follows a similar process. The major difference is that the professional statement tells the hiring manager how what you’ve accomplished for other organizations and can be repeated for their organization, whilst the career objective is more forward-looking in the sense that you’re indicating the skill set you have, why this particular job and what you can achieve whilst working at the organization.

If you can achieve the above, you may not necessarily need a cover letter for your application.

Employment History:

This is where you’re likely going to spend most of your CV creation time. This section of the CV is where the hiring manager spends at least half his time going through, so it’s critical that you sell yourself.

Here’s how you structure the employment history section of the CV:

  • Job Title/Position – This should be stated in bold, preferably with a larger font than the other elements in this section. Ideally, your current or last position should be identical if not a match to the position that you’re applying to. This tells the hiring manager that he should look further into the section.
  • Company Name – If the company is not a multinational organization, Fortune 500 company, or not prestigious in the industry that you’re applying to, I’ll suggest you give a brief description of what they do in order to add credibility to the CV.
  • Employment date – State the dates by month/year and it should be from the period you started the job till you left (except it’s a current position)
  • Key achievements – You see that I did not state responsibilities here. A lot of people include only their day to day activities in this part of the CV, which shouldn’t be so. The hiring manager tends to have an idea of what you do already but it would really be impressive if you state some statistics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that you achieved whilst doing the job. This is what would separate you from other potential qualified candidates. Whatever your key achievements are, make sure it is well aligned with the job description. If there are particular skills (hard and soft) that are explicitly stated in the job description, ensure that you showcase that you have at least some knowledge of them. Sometimes, depending on your field, you may want to showcase some of the skills you possess separately in a different section. You may refer to this section as a skills or core competencies section. See a quick snapshot below of how it can be presented on your CV.

When it comes to detailing your key achievements on the CV, write about your individual contributions even if you worked in a group. Eliminate buzz words that don’t add any value to your CV. What sets you apart from other candidates tend be one of the following: 

  1. Revenue Contribution – Did your individual contributions earn the company more money 
  2. Cost savings – Were there specific activities that you can pinpoint that saved the company money.
  3. Increased productivity – Were you able to create a system that saved time and made work easier to do.
  4. Develop a new market segment – Were you able to find a new market segment for the company that hadn’t been thought of before. 

These are activities that add value to a company and in many cases can be transferable. It would help if you showed that you went above and beyond to achieve amazing things for the company you worked for and would likely do it for the next. Where possible, quantify these achievements by using numbers and percentages to show a trend.

Now before I move on to the next section, there’s a lot of questions, I get asked, which is – “should I not have my education before my employment history”. The simple answer is yes you can but it has to satisfy three (3) conditions;

  1. You’re a recent graduate with less than 3 years’ professional experience and your educational background is highly relevant to the job;
  2. You’re looking to change careers and you have the hard skills to back it up; or/and
  3. Your educational background is world class, meaning you graduated with a first-class degree or/and from global prestigious universities.

Anything else, your educational background tends to become more secondary compared with your employment history.

Education:

This section is usually tricky because there’s no right format, it really depends on the job you’re applying to combined by the quality of education you’ve had. Typically, the University degree is written in bold sometimes with a larger font size, then the University name is then listed below it followed by the dates attended. This is the best way to structure the education section if there’s a relation between your course of study and the job position that you’re applying for. 

Below is a sample of a format on creating the education section on your CV 

Degree, Course of Study (GPA | Class of Degree)

Name of Educational Institution, Location 

Dates from – Dates to

(additional data)

Alternative, if you went to a highly prestigious University as stated earlier in the article, then state it in bold and every other thing can follow.

Here are two samples of how to create the education section on your CV.

BSc, Accounting and Finance 

University of Swansea, UK

2016 – 2019

or 

University of Oxford, 2019

BSc. (Hons), 2:1, Accounting and Finance

The education section should also follow the reverse chronological format. It’s also not necessary to include your class of degree/GPA except you were in the top 10% of your class. Everything else should be left for a discussion at the interview stage if you’re ever asked, which is unlikely for experienced professionals. 

Finally, in this section, if you have any relevant certifications that can give you an edge, I’ll advise that you include it.

Next Steps: 

I always advise job seekers to request a second and third eye to review your CV before submitting it. This is because it’s very difficult to see your mistakes. Get a few friends that are detailed and you highly respect to critique your CV and give you their honest feedback. 

Alternatively, with the Reventify platform, it takes only a few minutes to get your CV reviewed and tailored to the job you’re applying to. We’ve reviewed thousands of jobs and CVs and know what is likely to get you called for interviews. If you’re not already a subscriber, I’ll suggest you join thousands of candidates that have landed amazing jobs through the help of our career tools. We have a free limited membership program, so there’s no risk on your part.

This post is part of the dream job course, an 8 part series guide on landing your dream job.

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