Everyone has a CV but most people would readily tell you that theirs hasn’t been updated for some time. Although we are all acutely aware that our CV will be required for some future role, we tend to leave it until the deadline looms before frantically addressing the task. This inevitable under-preparation can also often lead to a lack of clear thinking when logically setting out the key skills, experience, and achievements that make us a strong contender for the role, in turn leading to a finished article that is barely relevant to the position applied for.
There are a plethora of companies willing to update your CV for a fee, but unless they have taken time to get to know you as a person, how you go about your work, what motivates you, the key achievements you are proud of and, crucially, the types of roles that you intend to apply for, then it seems unlikely that they can deliver an accurate, meaningful and winning script.
CVs are requested in several different formats. For example, some organisations request a standard A4 format CV and cover letter, others have a specific application form to which the CV can be attached, or there can be a free format box provided within which to write your career history and achievements. The latter approach is used for Civil Service Applications, as well as for an increasing number of private and public companies.
We will focus here on how to best craft your CV to complete a free format box within an application form because, if properly used, this offers greater freedom and opportunity than the traditional A4 attachment format. However, do be mindful that a free format box, especially with no word limit, is not a licence to upload as much information as possible or to simply cut and paste your existing formatted CV into.
The job of your CV is to convince the reader that you the applicant, are competent and have the necessary talents and skills to fulfil the specified role criteria. You must therefore set out your achievements and accomplishments to clearly demonstrate that you are motivated to improve your skills and knowledge, that you are highly organised and structured and that you enjoy solving problems through innovative thinking. Most roles would also expect you to demonstrate the ability to collaborate with both colleagues and other stakeholders and work effectively as part of a team.
Before starting work on your CV, make sure to thoroughly examine the job description and note down a list of the key skills, knowledge and experience required for the role. The free format box application is a great opportunity to express yourself, especially in terms of your personal profile. Try not to refer directly to your existing CV other than for some of the detailed information, for instance, dates, so that you are being sure to write for the role at hand and not for a ‘generic’ position.
Some other important points to consider are:
- As it is an application form you do not need to start with personal details because these will be listed on the form already.
- Compose a short introductory personal profile of four or five lines in the first-person giving brief information on your background plus the skills and competencies at which you excel and do not forget to add a couple of key stand out achievements to support your claims.
- Your career history should be in chronological order with your most recent job first. No gaps are allowed in the timeline so do not forget to include time taken out of work for education, maternal or paternal leave and travel. By doing this you will prevent the reader from having to search the rest of the narrative to discover what you were doing.
- For each of your previous positions provide a short description of what the company does. This will save the reader significant research time if the company is unknown to them.
- Do not list your responsibilities; it is more important to demonstrate what you achieved, not detail the various criteria of your job description. Instead of a list of responsibilities write a few action-orientated lines about the tasks that you accomplished.
- To bring them to life, list each of your key achievements with a result/outcome and detail the most relevant achievements first so that they stand out.
- Finally, list your education with dates and then any additional professional qualifications, important memberships, and training. It is not necessary to describe your hobbies and pastimes.
Summary: Top tips for writing a good application CV to use in a free format box:
- Take time to read the job description and tailor your CV accordingly.
- Draft a powerful personal profile that sets out your motivation, expertise, skills and back this up with a couple of your most impressive and relevant achievements.
- Use active language to demonstrate that you are proactive and get things done. For example, use action words such as developed, organised, spearheaded, achieved.
- Your career history must be in current logical order and any gaps should be explained.
- Only set out your main task(s) in the role, not a laundry list of duties.
- Focus on achievements and outcomes, not a list of responsibilities.
- Finally, proofread your submission and ask others to double check it to ensure your application is free of grammatical or spelling errors.