First thing’s first – it’s OK to talk about yourself
When students visit the Employability and Careers Centre for a CV review we find out a little bit about them and who they are, talk through how they plan on using the CV, and work our way through its contents.
We often find ourselves working to extract additional experience, interests, awards and achievements and even education which the student has chosen not to include. Often when pushed they tell us time and again that it “felt like bragging” and time and again we reassure them that it if there’s one place where it’s OK to shout about what an excellent candidate you are for any given position, it’s your CV!
It’s not bragging if it’s true!
Even the most talented people find it hard to describe their strengths clearly, confidently and succinctly.
It is important to remember that lots of other applicants have submitted their applications for the same position and have no problem sharing their many impressive accomplishments, and potential employers expect applicants to highlight their achievements both on CV’s and during an interview.
If you don’t talk about the impact you’ve had on organisations you’ve worked with this will only do you a disservice and may even reduce your chances of an invitation to interview. Qualified candidates who most effectively explain their accomplishments have the highest chance of landing an interview.
This post will look at common opportunities to promote yourself in a CV.
This is often an uncomfortable part for students to write, but it’s one of the most important elements of a CV.
This 3-5 line opening personal statement should be tailored to the role you’re applying for and should demonstrate who you are, what you’re looking for and how your career goal matches the opportunity. If you find talking about yourself in the most positive possible way uncomfortable it’s a good idea to use the same language as the employer does in their job advert.
For some reason we often see students who don’t include their current course under “Education” – definitely include this here!
In the Essex CV Pack we highlight the option of including relevant modules or describing a relevant project. Clearly this is optional and the key word here is relevant, but if you’ve achieved something concrete you’re proud of that the employer will find impressive, this isn’t the time to be humble.
When we quiz a student on what they achieved in a position they have listed under their “work experience”, we’re not just being nosy or checking what they’ve said, it’s often because they have simply described the work, rather than their role, responsibilities and achievements in their time there. As well as making clear the transferable skills you acquired, you should consider angles for showing how you’ve worked with the opportunities you’ve been presented with.
For example we often see students who have been returning to the same summer position for a few years, or have held a job for an extended period of time – if you’ve worked for the same organisation for several years, consider how your role grew over time, regardless of whether you received a promotion of some sort.
The bullet points under each job should be used to describe the results you’ve achieved and the major contributions you’ve made that benefited the organisation. Begin each bullet point by highlighting the result of your efforts, and then describe the actions you took to achieve such a result. Likewise, if you’ve received performance awards or recognition for your work in any capacity, include it on your CV and don’t forget to include the reward’s criteria to show potential employers why you were selected and what you accomplished.
If you’re finding it tricky to find the words to describe a position you’ve held, it’s a good idea to take a look at job adverts past & present which represent the type of work you’re targeting in your current search and use some of the wording from those listings to describe your work.
For example, “if the advert says:
We need someone who can handle increasing growth in our business, meet challenges in completing orders, and handling customers…
Your CV could say:
Analysed data to create and implement a change management plan that efficiently merged two departments one month ahead of schedule and £5K under budget.
Streamlined and increased order processing 40% by designing and implementing a more efficient Process of Operations.”
It may be reassuring to know that if you’re a current student or recent graduate you’re not expected to have an enormous list of experience and accomplishments under your belt but you can still demonstrate what types of projects you helped with, what skills you’ve gained, what you’ve been exposed to, and draw attention to any major responsibilities you held.
Achievements and Interests
Obviously we’re not suggesting that you include your 100 metres swimming badge from when you were a kid – as in all things CV-related, keep it relevant – but this section is a valuable chance to shine beyond academics and work experience.
Careers Advisors in the US often suggest keeping a ‘brag sheet’ where you keep track of extracurricular activities like sport, clubs and societies, travelling, volunteer work, key awards, leadership positions, etc. This is a great idea and will help you to choose what to include as you create tailored CVs for particular jobs.
You may find it easier to describe additional skills or experience you have which you may feel insignificant alone by grouping them under headings – they gain strength by being presented with other similar accomplishments. For example, fundraising experiences gained from a number of sources really shine if you can demonstrate that you’ve learned from earlier experiences to have a positive impact on later projects.
Learning how to master the art of self-promotion is a useful skill both in creating a compelling document (CV, cover letter, application), as well as an excellent exercise in preparing for a job interview where you will be expected to be able to talk about yourself in these terms without visibly cringing! Remember; if you don’t appear to be excited about your work and accomplishments, your application could go nowhere. “People want to listen to others who are excited about who they are, what they do, and what they are saying,” Klaus says.
If you’d like some feedback on your CV, drop in to the Employability and Careers Centre for some advice… and practice bragging about your achievements in a safe space!