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How to make your CV stand out

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Every week nursing opportunities are advertised and hundreds of hopefuls send off CVs and application forms. Busy managers have little time to read the masses of applications they receive, so making your CV stand out is vital.

A good CV will highlight your value to a potential employer, attracting attention by including information that meets their needs. These will have been listed in the job advertisement, job description and person specification. Your CV must clearly match your skills and experience to these needs.

How should you present yourself on paper to ensure that your CV makes it into the interview pile?

There are golden rules when creating the perfect CV. It must include all of your relevant experiences to date. However, it must also allude to your future potential. You must word-process your CV on no more than two sides of good-quality A4 paper, using a clear typeface with commonly used fonts.

To ensure speed of reading, use plain, simple language and short sentences. Deploy bullet points where appropriate and vary the language to hold interest, using a thesaurus if necessary. Remember that the employer will be assessing your communication skills.

A common mistake is to create one CV and send this in response to all advertisements. Each CV must be relevant to the post applied for and must be focused. Your reader does not have time to scan numerous pages looking for the required skills and experience. So tailor your generic CV, emphasising the skills required in each role. Indeed, you may need to create several different types of CV if you are applying for positions in widely different sectors.

You should keep a ‘template’ CV that you update regularly. You can then create a ‘tailored’ CV from this, avoiding a ‘mad dash’ to put together a CV from scratch when you spot a great job. It also ensures the information is accurate, as you are not relying on memory.

Once you have the basic information for your CV, set it out logically and attractively. In addition to essential personal details, career and education history, it may include a personal profile, additional information and referees.

Key information must appear on the top half of the first sheet - your main ‘selling zone’. A common error is to fill it with personal details. All that is needed in the initial personal section is your name and contact details. Date of birth, nationality and work permit information, if needed, can be included with interests at the end.

Follow contact details with an overview of your personality and skills. This profile should be brief and punchy, and make the reader feel you fit their job. This means writing a new profile for each application. A good formula is - ‘I am an X with Y years’ experience of Z. I have A and B skills and a good record of achievement in C.’

Follow the profile with your career history if you are an experienced nurse, or with your education if you are newly qualified with limited experience. Your history should be in reverse chronological order, with more space given to the most recent and usually therefore most relevant roles. Save space by grouping work with the same employer, but use subheadings for different roles to show career progression.

Ensure your whole career is covered. Employers do not like the unanswered questions created by gaps, so include breaks for family or travelling, being sure to note your achievements and the life skills that you gained during these periods.

The most common mistake when creating a CV is not including achievements. These set you apart. Achievement statements should start with a positive, active word such as ‘devised’, ‘led’, ‘managed’, ‘developed’, ‘expanded’ or ‘drove’, and must be quantified and detailed, for example ‘led a team of X nurses’ and ‘implemented new guidelines for A and B in patient care’.

Education details should include dates, names and locations of schools and further education from the age of 11. Qualifications should be included, but only give grades for the most recent and only then if they are good. If your qualifications are unusual or taken abroad, note the equivalent UK level. List any other skills such as IT or languages.

Add a short section on interests, but be careful what you include as these help to paint a picture of you as an individual. Balance active and passive pursuits to show you are a well-rounded person. Include references, if requested in the advertisement, but make it clear if you do not wish your current employer to be contacted before a certain point in the application process.

Check your CV for accuracy and readability. Ask a friend or colleague to read it too. Keep a file of applications so you know which CV version you used for each.

Prepare a covering letter. Do not repeat large sections of your CV in it - the CV tells the employer why you can do the job, the covering letter tells them why you want the job. Finally, re-read the letter and CV before sending them, double-checking for errors, and refer back to the advertisement to ensure they meet its criteria as closely as possible.

Presenting yourself perfectly on paper and justifying why you are the best person for the job will make your CV stand out. By matching your skills and achievements to those required, you are giving your potential employer a gift - one that they will not wish to reject.

Five ways to strengthen your CV

  • Sell yourself. If your CV fails to impress, you will not be offered the chance to make up for it at interview
  • Create a template CV. Make sure it is kept up to date by adding new achievements or roles. This allows you to respond quickly to a job advertisement and promotes accuracy. Go for a simple, clear and above all accurate presentation - typed, not handwritten.
  • Always tailor your application. Your template CV should be adapted to meet the requirements and focus of the post for which you are applying. Always refer back carefully to the job advertisement and make sure you have included everything they ask for. This also applies to the covering letter
  • Include two references - your current and previous employer. If you do not wish your current employer to be contacted before a certain point in the application process, make this clear
  • Don’t leave any blanks in your employment history - include periods spent raising a family or travelling. Above all, resist the temptation to lie. Trustworthiness in all jobs is paramount, but especially so in nursing.
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