!The Amazing 3-Line CV! – 4 rules for writing a strong cv

Perhaps it’s the recruitment consultant still in me that quite sadly found this so intriguing and mildly wondrous. Not quite the Pyramids of Egypt but worth a look for sure. In true competency style format:- Situation: Workthing, a career advice blog/ site set a challenge; Task: to come up with a super efficient micro cv; Actions: figure out what’s important; Results:

MBA; 14 years in Procurement: reduced opex by 27% & vendorbase by 40%; 9 years’ management; 4 years’ consultancy: FTSE 250 clients (Source: Workthing)

Genuinely marvelous and my hat goes off to the guy. I’ll even admit that I mildly fell in love with him when he talked about the use of punctuation:

“What still gets in the way after all this is good English. That is where punctuation can be used to full effect; the commas, colons and semi-colons in my micro CV enabled me to convey a lot of information without losing the context.”

It’s practically poetry (though the prosody leaves something to be desired). This is an excellent exercise in honing in on what a prospective employer really wants to see and then communicating it in the clearest, most succinct and impactful way possible.  As the chap says,

I started with the basics – what information needs to be included? Education, employment, roles in each employment, experience in each role.

“What actually matters in each? Well, the common thread is what you have achieved in all that time. So I only needed the top level attained in each area.

“Then, what will get an employer’s attention? This is where it gets tricky because it’s subjective and dependent on what the employer is looking for. Many people go for some sort of prestige – a list of clients or industries, for example. I also wanted to include a list of career highlights or achievements to note (something that I currently have at the top of my CV). So, for my micro CV, I went for what would be eye-catching to someone looking to employ in my field.”

1st rule of cv writing is: don’t talk about cv wri.. be concise and keep it relevant to the employer

But, not too skinny. My experience working as a recruitment consultant in arguably some of the most difficult market conditions for a long time, tells me this micro cv just won’t cut it in a practical sense no matter how ingeniously minimalist and efficient. As a verbal cv, it’s brilliant. And sure, a partner or hiring manager may be impressed and, heck, even grateful for such a concise cv – I mean, if I saw these 3 lines entrenched in the middle of an A4 word document or, at the risk of being environmentally unfriendly, printed out with nothing but a name and contact number to supplement and adorn the white blank page, this chap would be the first one on my call list; this is Lean Six Sigma to the next level. Of course I don’t expect that the author created it to apply for jobs but I’m using it, perhaps unfairly, to illustrate a point. This ‘cv’ isn’t going to the ‘business’ (ie. the partner or director), it’s going to someone in HR.

Now the difference is, HR are by nature, process oriented. Naturally, this is quite understandable, as companies receive billions of applications all the time, and so they need to apply a universal standard and systematic process to ensure that candidates are screened and processed as fairly and efficiently as possible. This has unfortunately given rise to a bit of a tick-box approach and a lack of initiative and dare-i-say creative thinking in some cases. Some are worse than others, and others are not bad at all.

2nd rule of cv writing is: never talk ab… Cater to your audience(s) – HR (+potentially the business)

This cv is very clever, but it doesn’t make my job as an HR person easy. I’ve had to review ten billion cvs today then there’s this one. How can I justify recommending a director spend their time reviewing the cv when I don’t know what sector experience this person has, whether he has led teams, what level of seniority he has experience interfacing with etc. The mantra, i’ve found employed, and therefore employed myself, is ‘if it’s not in the cv, then you aint done it’. Don’t just say led a team, explicitly note the size of the team and the titles of who you engaged with (treasurer, president, senior manager, director). Someone may infer your experience but why leave it to chance.

When crafting a cv, your goal is to make it as hard as possible for someone to reject you at this first hurdle. Don’t expect the employer to read between the lines.

Now, that’s not to say bung everything you have ever possibly, conceivably done in your life down on paper. No. Stick to the 1-2 page format as a graduate (3-4 pages for an experienced pro if all of it is relevant and engaging); make sure you tick as many boxes as possible with specific examples easily aligned to what competencies and skills the role and company are looking for.

3rd rule: Think of your experience in terms of competencies and skills

Focus on replicating company competencies and values easily found on the website in your cv. Take a look at the competencies stuff in the sidebar for more help.

  • they’ve worked in teams – tick
  • they’ve shown initiative in extra-curricula activities – tick
  • they improved a process in the economics society (problem solving) – tick
  • top 5% in their year (achievement) – tick
  • they’re interested in business and current affairs staying up-to-date with newspaper subscriptions etc. (business acumen) – tick
  • they did charity fundraising/ sales (communication/ persistence/ influence) – tick
  • etc. etc.

Try and hit as many competencies as you can. And to do this, you have to think in terms of competencies. Your cv is not just a list of experiences and education and qualifications, it’s a showcase of competencies.

4th rule: Don’t try to be clever

Keep jokes and wit and puns to a minimum. You’re not going for a job in an ad firm. If you are going to infuse some personality, do so in the interests section so the reader has something more than ‘keeping fit, reading, cooking’ to latch on to. Save the cleverness for the cover letter…

And there you have it: 4 rules for writing a cv. Feel free to share your thoughts, as there really are no hard and fast rules.


2 responses to “!The Amazing 3-Line CV! – 4 rules for writing a strong cv

  1. Impressive and very useful article – very good to get these things from the ‘other side’, i.e. your HR/recruitment expertise.

  2. The CV is just the first point of contact. You are right. Many think it is the entire job search and that would be a mistake.

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