Ah, the dreaded CV. It's often easy for us to scan and criticise the CVs of others, but it can be very difficult for us to create our own. We overthink things. We underthink things. There is a myriad of confusing, conflicting advice out there on the Internet, with many ‘sample’ template CVs being dated or downright irrelevant. College, university and high school classrooms will often give advice which is too general, and which may not suit your chosen career path.
Working in television production over these past few years, I often find myself being charged with the task of sorting through CVs from speculative, entry-level applicants. I have a good idea of what makes for a good CV and what does not, and felt it would be useful to share some of these insights with you.
Although I work in television, the majority of these tips could be applied to a wide range of media jobs. So, here goes:
1. CV Preparations and Supplements
There are a few things worth thinking about before you start writing your CV:
Give Yourself Time: If an amazing job opportunity comes up, it can be tempting just to rattle off a CV and send it out as quickly as possible. This is a bad idea as you’ll often read over the document at a later date and notice various typos and other mistakes. By that time, it’s too late! Don’t rush. Have a default CV prepared before you even look for jobs, and tailor it as necessary to each job for which you apply.
Check Out Other CVs: The Internet is a wonderful resource and a quick Google search should be able to help you uncover several real CVs from individuals who are working in the same area as you. Examine these CVs critically. Would you invite this person for an interview? How could their CV be improved? A useful exercise.
Check/Enhance Your Online Presence:
In these digital times, your CV is often just one piece of the puzzle. There are various other things you should be taking into account, such as your online social networks, blogs and general web presence (more on that in this article
). If you are in consideration for an interview, potential employers will most likely Google you. Check your privacy settings on Facebook. Don't say anything daft on Twitter. Decisions about whether or not to bring candidates in for an interview have
been influenced, at least in part, by their online presence.
2. Remember Why the CV Exists
CVs serve only one purpose: to score you a job interview. That’s it. Okay, next...
3. One Page is Enough
How long should an entry level CV be? One page. Always, always, always one page. People will very often scan your CV, so keep it short and sweet for them. Be selective with what you include. Be ruthless. You absolutely should be able to fit everything on a single sheet of A4 paper.
Very often, I receive CVs which are two or three pages in length and which contain endless amounts of superfluous, fluffy information. Please don’t let yourself be one of these people.
4. Personal Details
Phone numbers (preferably mobile) and email addresses are the most important things in terms of contact details. Have a respectable, non-embarrassing email address.
Home address? Consider leaving it off your CV entirely. If you are not local, or if you live in a ‘bad area,’ these are things which may, unfortunately, work against you.
This top section of the CV is the place to list your name (obviously), but also your job title. Spell out what it is that you do. I have my date of birth on my CV. I’d generally advise you include it.
5. The Dreaded Personal Statement
This is where many CVs fall down, and oftentimes needlessly so. The most useful thing to do here would be to give examples, so here is a poor personal statement:
“Since I was a young child I have been obsessed with television of all formats and genres and from this time I realised that television was a huge part of my life. Growing up, I realised I wanted a career in television. Working in television is my passion and my enthusiasm for the medium knows no bounds. I am hard working and work well with others. See below for relevant education and work experience.”
My comments? Useless information. What use is an obsession with television to anybody? Why is that appealing? Unfocused information. The statement is very vague and clearly not tailored to any specific role or genre (just a general love for television). Cliches. Nobody really cares much if you list ‘hard working’ and ‘passionate’ as positive attributes. Those things should be a given. Also, aren’t all children young?!
Here’s my own personal statement:
"Production Assistant with three years experience across a range of live studio, documentary and drama based programmes."
In short, the personal statement isn’t personal. It’s not about your childhood, nor is it necessarily about why you want to work in media. It’s about your main selling points, summarised, factual and modest.
But here's the kicker! Do you even need a personal statement? Actually, the answer is no. It’s entirely up to you. CV space is precious and if you are having trouble cutting down on what to include, then the personal statement can be the first thing you chop.
6. Work Experience
List your work experience in reverse chronological order. As with everything on a CV, brief is better. If relevant, include a brief summary of achievements from each job. Bullet point these achievements.
If you are very much at the entry level, and have never had a job ‘in the media’ as of yet, then listing sales assistant jobs and other such non-relevant things is okay (after all, a job is a job, and it’s good to show that you can hold one down). However, as time moves on, and you find yourself working more in media-based roles, eliminate these older, less relevant jobs from your resume. As 2008 drew to a close, I had just finished up working in Tesco for two years. This is now nowhere to be found on my CV.
Make sure to date all work experience with a year and month. It’s best at this stage to briefly explain any gaps (studying, gap year etc.).
If you’re 23-years-old, then no one is really going to care about your GCSE/Standard Grades from high school. If you've just recently left school, then you can list these.
Best to get the qualifications out of the way as quickly as possible - they needn’t take up too much space. Got a degree or other relevant qualification? Great, but try to fit this information into as compact a space as possible.
I don’t even have a specific section for education. I just lump my honours degree in with my personal information at the top of my CV. Beneath my email adress, I leave a line blank and then simply have: “BA (Hons) English & Communication Studies - University of Liverpool (2009).” This is the only reference to education included in my entire CV. A single line. Ten words. But it tells you everything you need to know.
A skills section can be useful if you think the skills will be relevant to the job at hand. Bullet points are your friend here. If you’re multilingual or have an advanced knowledge of HTML, then these are useful skills for multimedia environments. This section generally goes to the end of your CV.
9. Should I Include Hobbies and Interests?
Generally, no. Nobody needs to know that you like socialising with your friends, or that you enjoy travelling, as nice as those things are. Any hobbies/interests which you do include should be relevant to the job at hand. This entire category is best excluded most of the time.
10. Things Not to Include
This may sound stupidly obvious, but don’t list things on your CV which you’re not actually good at. You might list ‘Final Cut Pro’ as one of your skills (and many people do), but is Final Cut Pro really something you know inside and out? Are you realy a skilled video editor, or is it just something you've messed around with a few times? It's not that you're lying, it's just that you might be unaware of how little you actually know about video editing, beyond the very basics.
Avoid using silly words to describe yourself. It happens all too often. Words to avoid include: dynamic, visionary, excellent, confident, motivated, self-starter, enthusiastic, creative. Who says you are any of these things? These empty words will not further your cause. Don’t talk about yourself in the third person either.
Presentation will be taken into account before a single word is read. It’s one of those subconscious, split second triggers.
Choose a fresh looking, clean-cut font such as Verdana or Arial and stay away from the stuffy looking fonts such as Times New Roman. Generally, a font size of 10 or thereabouts will do for your main body of writing. Subheadings should be larger and/or in bold with underline. Consider giving all text contained within your CV a line spacing of 1.5 to give the document more of a spacious feel.
You can make your CV more impactful with visual aids such as bullet points, line breaks and bold formatting to highlight keywords. This is especially useful when we remember that employers tend to scan our CVs. Don’t go overboard with fancy gimmicks and flashy colours. None of that stuff is necessary (or desired). Aim for clean and simple.
12. Would You Be Interested in You?
You really have to distance yourself from your CV. Being able to rigorously criticise yourself is one of the most valuable skills you can develop (especially if you are looking to forge a career in the media industry). Proofread your CV thoroughly in order to weed out any typos. But also read through the document as an employer would... by scanning the entire page within twenty to thirty seconds. Pretend you are the boss, reading the CV as if it was written by somebody else. Get others to read your CV, too. Get feedback from a variety of sources.
13. What Makes for a Bad CV?
Ultimately, CVs can be quickly cast into the junk pile for any of the following reasons:
Failure to capture the reader’s attention.
Too many pages.
Long sentences/paragraphs with too many ‘empty’ words/phrases.
Clearly not tailored to the job at hand.
If you can avoid these fatal flaws, then you stand a good chance of at least being taken seriously.
Well, that concludes Mediamuppet’s top ‘lucky thirteen’ tips for writing CVs for media-based job vacancies. If you have any additional tips, or any queries, feel free to leave a comment below. Remember, there is no ‘ultimate’ way to write a CV. There are endless CV variations out there - each perfectly acceptable, so long as they fulfil their singular objective.