December 06, 2007

Tips and tools to Writing an effective CV / Resume

made some minor updates: Dec 08. Original version Dec 7.

Yesterday was the deadline to submit the CV (curriculum vitae, for the clueless - a.k.a Resume, or Bio-data) in INSEAD. I'm not going go dwell on why we do this internal submission and what it's purpose is and so on, but simply touch on the fact that it takes a lot of work to get a decent CV out. In my case, it could have easily run to 20 hours and with over 10-12 reviews.

The questions to ask before writing an effective CV / Resume are

1. Will a recruiter/manager with 60 seconds on his/her time find it appealing to shortlist?
2. Will the hiring manager find it compelling enough to call you?
3. When you show it to someone, do they feel it has weight?

These are not "meaningless" questions - many of us have been through recruiting someone else for our organization and the CV tells a lot about the person behind it. Badly written, obtuse and confusing resumes usually get the trash bin treatment. The same assumption holds true whenever you apply to well known organizations.

While the process was painful, when I see the end result of what it achieved as compared to what I had a few weeks ago, I can say I saw a lot of value in the process, however exhausting.

The key traits to writing a good, quality, effective resume takes work. The main points, in my learning for writing a good Resume are,


Does your CV tell your life story in a single page? Can you cover your education, experience, awards and interests in a single printable page? Trust me, took a lot of effort and here's a screenshot of mine.

2. Results driven Resume / CV

Structure every sentence to show what you did, and what it achieved. When I started, I was all happy about my fluffy puffed up self-important sentences that said nothing concrete. I got butchered by my class mate and career services reviewers. It took a lot of refining to get the sentence to the core - "I did <this> and therefore achieved <this>" A simple example is, say, you did program management. You could write

"Demonstrated program management skills by leading several impactful programs across the organization and showed skill and expertise in all the programs leading to high satisfaction"

or you could write

"Demonstrated program management skills by leading 4 programs worth $7M leading with >90% customer satisfaction and 95% business retention"

Some professional functions might me more qualitative, but in general for most of us it would do better to highlight results.

3. A CV Focused on its audience

The way the content is structured needs to be aligned to the mind of the audience. Is your target banking, consulting, FMCG, Hi-Tech? The same CV might not work - your core CV will need some slight modifications (not making up stories but highlighting those that you think are relevant to that field. Bankers would be least interested in your expertise of network architectures and ASP.NET skills. This means one might need 1 or 2 variants of a CV that have subtle differences in the message.

4. Review, Rework, Review, Rework, Rinse and Repeat

Make sure you are not blinded by your own biases at your CV ("my CV looks great, I don't need to ask anyone else"), and this means getting multiple people to review your CV. Also make sure you get the CV reviewed by native English speakers because it makes a difference.

5. Clean, neat, correct

It needs a lot of time to get a clean (well spaced, margined), neat (structure, positioning, paragraphs, bullets) and correct (grammatically) CV. While my CV is tailored closely to INSEAD format (which is pretty good when you get it into MS word and format it a little), I found this link quite simple and useful for those of you artistically challenged. I used some tips from there.

The entire exercise can come to help even later in life, because honestly I've never, ever spent this much time on a CV! (guess it took me to come to an INSEAD MBA to figure it all out!) And the next time I have to do it all over again, I'm hoping I will be a lot more effective and will know what to look for.

Later on, I will spend some more time on a follow-up posts on some of the more subtle points in writing good Resume's and some of the important "do's and don'ts for an effective Resume / CV". Right now I'm in the panic-state of exam preparations with just 4 days left, so we'll see when I can get the next tips and tools follow-up!


RunningTurtle said...

Thanks for the nice post.Everytime i open my CV, i feel like changing atleast a couple of things.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful blog! Glad to read some insider's reports from INSEAD. Thank you and keep posting!
INSEAD's admit Class July 2009.

necromonger said...

Anon - Glad you like it. I hope to continue writing! And oh, welcome to INSEAD :)