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8 Creative Writing Techniques to Build a Brilliant CV
If you want a brilliant CV that stands out then using creative writing techniques could be just the approach you need. And that doesn’t mean creating a work of fiction but a presenting your career story to engage recruiters.
Having read more CVs than I like to recall it’s sad to say that many don’t merit a full read. If you don’t want to be skimmed, take my creative writing approach to CVs. I will use ideas from novel writing to aid you to think about the quality and coherence of what you are producing for the benefit of your readers.
1. Have a synopsis that draws the read in
Most CVs start with a profile or summary. Too often, this can be a bland reduction of who you are that doesn’t encourage further reading. Well marketed books have a good blurb or synopsis on the cover that is designed to hook the reader in.
In novel writing, a synopsis will tell the potential reader what type of book or genre it is. In the same way, your profile should talk of the type of roles you perform (e.g. technology, research, accounting) and sectors you work in (e.g. construction, healthcare, publishing).
A synopsis will often introduce the hero and their situation which is where the intrigue is to pull the reader in. Your profile should offer intrigue through generating interest so the reader (the recruiting manager) will want to read on further to find out more.
2. Have relevant themes that stand out
All great novels have themes and so should your CV. The major themes of your CV should be the skills and experience that you can demonstrate that are a match for your target role. This can be hard when aiming for a trainee role where your experience is light.
I’ve often reviewed piles of CVs for trainee roles in IT teams. Those that say nothing about their IT experience don’t get very far. Those that have highlighted even a small project that used technical skills or how they are learning relevant skills in their own time will get due consideration at that level. This also applies to more senior roles. First note, down everything that you’ve done and can do that is relevant and then pick only the best bits for the CV. It may mean leaving out other stuff however noble you thought the work.
3. Don’t lose the plot
The plotless novel is a niche of literary fiction which only a few great writers can pull off. If your CV doesn’t have any meaningful plot, by that a mean some narrative progress, it’s going to be hard. Ideally, it would be nice if all your roles were perfectly aligned to the role you’re applying for. According to research from The Ladder, recruiters often don’t get past skimming that sort of headline detail.
What you can to is emphasize what is appropriate and make your career coherent to the reader. One way of doing this is to make sure your job history emphasizes the major themes of your skills and sector experience. Job titles can be a tricky area – never change them just to match the job you want. It is reasonable though to add clarity by summarizing long titles or changing niche terms that obscure what you did so that they make sense to a wider audience.
The best place to change a job title is when you’re in that job. I’ve done this and the little bit of effort with HR and your manager is worth it to avoid confusion later. In the end losing the plot is having an incoherent CV that isn’t tuned to each opportunity.
4. Make it a page turner
Well-chosen words mean you’ll have a chance the recruiter will look at the second page. But, remember if it’s a page-turner there’s only a need for one (or in exceptional situations two) page turns. No one likes to receive an epic CV to try a pick through it for relevant content. Make every word count and work for its place on the page. So, leave out the dull job descriptions in favor of what you achieve. Also, never ever reduce the number of pages by making the font very small. Assume the reader has tired eyes from reading too many other CVs and that they’ve lost their reading glasses.
5. Leave out the flowery prose
Clear writing is what you’re aiming for. Avoid jargon, business-speak, and abbreviations except for when these terms are part of the understood language of the area you work in. Kind of like sci-fi will have some odd terms, it’s okay for accountants to use terms like accruals that other mere mortals don’t understand.
CVs need to be written in tight language and bullets points. Leave out the long-winded drivel and let the relevant stuff have room to be seen by a reader quickly skimming the content.
6. Make sure you’re the hero
One section that is an absolute must is the recent achievements section. This is your chance to shine as a hero. And that’s the point; the CV is your story, you’re the hero. The issue is not how great who you worked for was but how great you were. List your achievements not those of the organization.
Recruiters only look for extras when there’s a film being made so write about your contribution and what you did. You might not think your achievements amount to much but it will make a big difference if you present even the simplest one well.
7. Tie up loose ends
In first drafting your CV do what any self-respecting writer does and get into a state of flow so that you’re getting the words down. You can always edit later. Don’t be critical of the content or worry about missing information like end dates and specific qualification titles. Add a note in in brackets as a reminder to add the details later.
But having done that you must then go away and find out all the specific dates and descriptions that you need and accurately add them in afterwards. Don’t leave anything out you meant to put in and don’t leave anything that looks half-written.
8. Review and edit
By now you should have a reasonably good draft of your CV, especially if you have tidied up your first draft. It’s tempting at this point to send out the CV too quickly but time spent improving the details now can really lift the CV to new heights. Here’s an editing check-list:
- Is there anything that’s unnecessary or missing?
- Can you improve the flow?
- Do your achievements stand out and have you quantified them e.g. how much did your initiative/project save the company?
- Is it 2 pages in a standard font of normal size?
- Is it relevant to the role it’s targeted at?
- Is the profile an exciting representation of who you really are?
- Does a quick skim still give a good picture of you and your career story?
Once you’ve done this then you can then get a trusted friend (ideally a mentor and not just a drinking buddy) to give it a review and out their editor’s pencil to work. And if it’s doesn’t work keep submitting it and keep improving it.
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