Ultimate CV Writing Tips - Northern Ireland
Writing a CV when applying for jobs in Northern Ireland is a serious business. With an estimated 7.3% of people unemployed (and an incredible 19.1% for the 18-24 demographic), the stakes have never been higher 1. Below is a comprehensive CV writing guide for Northern Ireland which we hope can help you either get back in the workforce or procure better employment.
The traditional typed, printed and sent in the post CV’s are becoming a thing of the past for those seeking jobs in Northern Ireland. An increasing majority of companies are posting vacancies on online job sites and expect candidates to respond with an electronic CV. Organisations in the United States have been quickest to react with an estimated 80% of Fortune 500 companies posting jobs on their own websites 2.
If you are posting a CV to online job sites such as Nijobs.com, ensure that you pay close attention to submission requirements. Generally, .doc, .rtf or .docx files are acceptable. However, PDF’s may not be so double check before posting.
If you are posting the traditional CV on a typed and printed page, make sure that it is word processed or typed correctly on high quality A4 or cream paper. We cannot emphasise the importance of flawless spelling and grammar enough. No matter what job you are applying for in Northern Ireland, your CV will be binned if it contains any spelling/grammatical errors. Journalism.co.uk had 82 applicants for a job back in 2005. 6 of the CV’s they received contained spelling/grammar mistakes 3. Have a guess which candidates failed to make it to the interview stage? It may be an old example, but it perfectly illustrates the problem of careless CV writing in a Northern Ireland job market with huge levels of competition.
Don’t be content with one or two copies of your CV on paper however. Having several CV’s will allow you to quickly apply to any jobs you see when walking in the street. Despite the advent of online job postings, many stores in Northern Ireland still have a traditional ‘Help Wanted’ sign outside their premises. If you have CV’s ready at home, you can quickly send one in.
Then there is the matter of job/recruitment fairs where several copies of your CV will be needed if you see several potential vacancies available. Also, it is not a bad idea to bring copies of your CV into an interview. It is not beyond a company to mislay the one you originally sent in. You can hand each interviewer (if there are more than one) a copy so no one has to share. It is a small point but in such a competitive job market, even minor details can give you the edge.
When applying for jobs in Northern Ireland, your CV needs to be presented in a certain manner. The majority of people understand that the following details need to be entered:
- Contact details
- Personal information
- Work experience
Yet few people have very little idea how to format their CV. There are actually a trio of formats, each of which can be used in specific circumstances and they are:
This is the favoured option for most Northern Ireland jobseekers and basically covers your career from its beginning to the present. Your most recent employment is listed first, followed by every job you have held in your career. It is an easy format to scan and is still an option preferred by employers. This is the ideal format for someone who has not had a significant career break and has enjoyed a steady ascent from lowly entry-level positions to roles with greater responsibility.
However, the chronological format is not suited to those with patchy careers as it brings extended breaks from the workforce sharply into focus. It will show up candidates who don’t stay in jobs very long or those who have spent most of their career in one position at a company. As this format is mainly about facts and figures, little attention is given to the applicant’s abilities and skills. As a result, it is the wrong format for someone trying to change careers.
If you have had breaks in your working life, this may be the right CV format for you. It focuses more on your skills as they relate to the job you are applying for. Unfortunately, employers in Northern Ireland view this type of CV with the utmost suspicion as it indicates that the candidate has something to hide. They associate the functional format with unreliable employees and are hesitant to call such individuals for interviews. This format should only be used by those who have been out of work for a long time and need to cover up their inactivity.
As you might have guessed, the combination CV gives you the best of both worlds: The clarity and openness of the chronological format coupled with the emphasis on skills portrayed by a functional CV. This is the most popular CV format because it accentuates strengths and hides weaknesses, precisely what a good Curriculum Vitae is all about. A combination CV contains a career objective, personal profile and major achievements along with an in-depth exploration of your work history. If you have the skills and the belief, this is the only CV format for you.
There is an old rule which states that a CV should be no longer than a page in length. This is complete nonsense and one of the great CV myths. Although you should strive to keep everything within two A4 pages, having a page for every 10 years of experience is more common. As space is relatively tight, there is no need to spend half a page on basic details and you certainly do not need a cover sheet. Simply enter your name, address, contact details and an email address. Just make sure that this email address is professional and not something offensive or silly. First impressions and all that. Avoid including details such as marital status, age, religion, ethnicity etc. Jobs in NI are awarded on a non-discriminatory basis so these details are irrelevant and only serve to make your CV look dated.
Career Objective or Personal Profile?
There is some debate as to the merit of a Career Objective section on a CV. Again, it is really a matter of space. If you insist on using one, rewrite it to match the job you are applying for.
Career Objective Example: Retail Manager: To become a store manager in a major retail chain with opportunities to advance to boardroom level.
However, you would be advised against filling precious space with such statements as an employer already knows that you want the job and in their eyes, ambition is a prerequisite. However, a personal profile is another matter entirely as it can serve to help a company decide if you have strategic value to their organization. Generally, personal profiles are written in the first person and usually take up less than 200 words. The point of a personal profile is to show that your skills fall exactly in line with what a company needs.
Three small sections normally comprise of a personal profile and begin with a quick paragraph on who you are. This should allow the hiring company to see if you have skills that are easily transferable. The next section expands on your opening paragraph and should specify what you offer. Finally, a few lines relating to your career aims are necessary to finish off the statement. A personal profile is far more important than a career objective because it actually contains some depth and showcases your talent and suitability. A career objective is just a meaningless statement with no real substance.
BREAKING IT DOWN
Your employment history is said to ‘make or break’ your CV, though this is not strictly the case. However, it is one of the most pivotal items in your application so it’s vital that you get it right. It may not seem easy to break down a working career into a couple of pages but with the right planning, it can be done.
Instead of listing every job in your career, stick with your last three employments or those which are relevant to the position you are applying for. It should be noted that when possible, be strategic when crafting your work history and show career development wherever possible.
For example, if your CV shows that you took a backward career step, add a reason for your decision. Ensure that it appears as if you consciously made the choice rather than having it thrust upon you. Also, it is up to you to make the choice whether to give preference to job titles or the names of companies you have worked for. For example, you may decide that a major company name gives you more chance of being noticed than your position at that organisation.
However, it is not enough to merely list your job title and responsibilities. There is stiff competition for all jobs in Northern Ireland so your CV needs to stand out above the rest. The way to do this is by listing your achievements and most importantly, how you helped previous companies to succeed. For example, you could explain how one of your innovations increased an accounting firm’s revenues by 10% while decreasing costs by 15% and staff turnover by 20%. We have deliberately included a financial example because between 1997-2007 in Northern Ireland, the Finance and Business sectors saw an employment increase of over 140% 4. On occasions when there is no quantitative way of showing how you helped previous employers, simply show how your innovation and drive increased productivity.
There is no hard and fast rule on the level of detail you provide here though experienced workers have no real need to waste space on irrelevant details from secondary school. In cases where you have several years of work experience, entering your last education level (either secondary or third level) will suffice. Essentially, the older your qualification, the less detail you need to provide. Under no circumstances should you enter primary school details, as employers in Northern Ireland really don’t care about that!
If you have a degree from a third level institution, list the qualification, the date received, the institute that awarded it and the subject(s) graduated in. Also, add any awards you have won during your educational years. Generally, your educational details will follow work history details unless you are newly graduated and your educational achievements are more relevant to the position you are applying for than your previous work history.
A huge number of job seekers in Northern Ireland make the mistake of wasting CV space by adding a separate skills and character traits section. Frankly, your skill-set should already have been displayed in your employment history and relate specifically to the job you are applying for. There is no point mentioning that you are a ‘people person’.
The employer has never met you and has no way of knowing if that is actually the case. You can enter all the fashionable and eye-catching skills and character traits you like but none of it is particularly relevant if you don’t have the requisite details to back it up.
Like the typed and posted CV, the practice of getting previous Northern Ireland employers to provide written references is decreasing in popularity. Nowadays, an employer wants the names and contact details of references. Obviously, you must gain a person’s approval before using him/her as your reference. It is also a good time to remind that person of your skills and previous work history with the company as a means of refreshing their memory. A well informed reference is a valuable one.
In general, referees are only contacted when a candidate has already been approved or has been chosen on a shortlist. Alternatively, you could write ‘References available upon request’. This can be justified as a space-saving measure because you will not need to provide them unless you are interviewed. Most employers have no issue with this tactic. An exception needs to be made when an opening specifies that referees must be provided with the CV.
Although it is tempting to show off your mastery of the English language, the most successful CV’s are written clearly and concisely with simple to understand language used. Employers in Northern Ireland are sometimes inundated with hundreds of CV’s for any given job and do not have time to spend wading through your ode to James Joyce. Stick to concrete facts rather than abstract ideas and always use the active voice (I made 40 sales) rather than the passive voice (40 sales were made by me). Also, CV’s that are written in simpler English have less spelling and grammatical errors.
Generic CV’s have zero chance of being successful when looking for jobs in Northern Ireland. Every position is unique and requires a certain mix of skills and experience. Forget about crafting the CV you want, start focusing on what each individual employer needs. This seems obvious but using journalism.co.uk and their application process in 2005 as an example, they stated that their job position requires someone with RSS knowledge. To their amazement, only 3 of the 82 applicants mentioned any experience with RSS. Incidentally, 37 of the applicants failed to leave links to their previous work which is a minimum requirement for a writing job one would assume 5.
You simply must research the company and the industry it is in. (This is also a good time to find out how easily you can get to and from the workplace). Go out of your way to find out the challenges and problems faced by the company. This is necessary for the interview stage anyway so you also get a head start.
Take a close look at your work history and find the skills and experience you have that are more pertinent to the position. Don’t mention parts of your work history that are unsuited to the job. You are not lying, just emphasising the good and leaving the bad in the shadows where it belongs.
You also have to consider the tone of your application. For example, a sales job may warrant a CV that sells your abilities aggressively whereas a writer may prefer to highlight his/her creativity. Make sure that a second pair of eyes read your CV before it’s sent in order to highlight spelling/grammar errors and to ensure that the application is well written and relevant.
No matter how basic the position being advertised is, make sure you read it several times and write down the most important points. Companies in Northern Ireland receive tens of thousands of applications each year which seem generic or have no relation to the job being offered. We can sum up CV Writing in a do and don’t format below:
- Read the position’s requirements carefully
- Present and format your CV in an aesthetically pleasing manner
- Check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors while also asking someone else to help you
- Have several paper copies to hand
- Use the combination format CV unless you have gaping holes in your work history
- Add a personal profile
- Keep personal details short and to the point
- Mention how your skills helped previous employers
- Contact references before including them
- Use simple language
- Create a tailor made CV specifically for a job and alter it as necessary
- Rush your CV and leave mistakes uncorrected
- Provide the same CV for every job
- Include irrelevant personal details
- Add a career objective unless absolutely necessary
- Pad out your CV with fluff
- Provide large levels of detail for educational achievements and/or work experience that has no relevance to the position being applied for
- Have a separate section for skills and character traits
The Northern Ireland Economic and Labour Market Statistics & Resources link
4 Northern Ireland Economic and Labour Market Statistics and Resources 2008