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MYU: How to write a CV in English - What it takes to write a CV that makes you stand out from the crowd

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How to write a CV in English


The modern world is certainly an age of easy communication, but it is perhaps more true to say that it is an age of information overload. Nowhere is this more true than in the process of selecting people to fill a new position at work. When a job is advertised, personnel departments receive so many letters and have so many candidates for each position, with each year's crop seemingly more qualified than the last, that you have to really stand out to make it onto the interview list. This is where a really good CV is essential for you to look better than the rest, and get you that second read, that extra attention from the reviewer that could mean a place on that all-important list.

A CV that makes you stand out from the crowd

Now let's be realistic. Simply having a great CV does not automatically get you the job. Having the right credentials for the job is also, needless to say, extremely useful. But it does mean that you will be looked at and considered, and that is always the first hurdle to overcome. And of course, once you are actually in the interview room, face to face with the interview panel, with your sweaty palms and pounding heart, well, the rest is up to you. But you would not be there in the first place without a CV that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Exactly what is a CV?

So, what exactly is a C.V. anyway? The abbreviated name comes from the Latin curriculum vitae, which simply means 'list of things I have done in my life'. Many people use another word, resumé, which comes from the French language, but means the same thing. If you do call it that, make sure you use an accented final é, and don't spell it 'resume', which of course means 'start again', as that could be a bad omen!

3 parts to a good CV

There is a lot that an employer will want to know about you, but basically it boils down to three things. First: who are you? This is the easy part: simply give your name, address, age, sex (important if your name is not a common Western name) and current contact details, such as an email address (no need for more than one of them). Secondly, what have you done in terms of work and education? And thirdly, specifically how do your previous achievements make you a suitable candidate for this job?


Education is a good place to start. People will always want to know whether you went to school, or university, or even grad school, but the further back in your past this was, the less important it usually will be, so go easy on the detail.

If you went to the best school in the country, or you were the best student in your class, say so, but the actual name of your senior school teacher is not relevant. If you are applying for an engineering job, for example, list your majors and perhaps your final year project if they are directly relevant to the job, but otherwise keep this section short. Irrelevant detail is never appreciated, and can even count against you. The employer is also using your CV to see whether you can identify the facts that are important and leave out those that are not needed.

Employment History

The next section of the CV is usually your employment history. Here it is important to show that you have been gainfully employed for most of your adult life, or at least doing something useful rather than sitting at home playing computer games. A common way of doing this is to list your jobs in sequential order from the most recent position to the first job you had, including the responsibilities and tasks you had in each of them. You have to give them the impression that you are a dependable and hard worker, and that you have been in constant employment or study since you left school.

Of course, day to day details of your experience and responsibilities as a dog groomer (wash dog, dry dog, clip dog, trim nails, and so on) may not be entirely appropriated for a position as an accountant, but certainly include the fact that you were indeed employed during this period of time, rather than mention nothing at all. Another thing to show off is the way you have fulfilled the targets you have been set. Many people like to list the successful outcomes of each phase of their career in a separate section, while some people like to list them in each step of their employment history. Were you responsible for a three-fold increase in sales in your district? Say so, or they will never know. This is the only chance you have to tell people what you can do and what you have done. This is ultimately what will get you the interview you need.

Skills and Abilities

The third phase of the CV is to show explicitly the various skills and abilities you have, and how these will be an asset to the company. This section takes the most thought, and actually listing for yourself everything you can do is a very useful step to take before you go to the interview. There is no need to put everything down in the CV, as it is important to be focused on the job you are applying for, but this is definitely the place to showcase all those specific skills you have accumulated in your career.

Tell the employer about all the computer programs you can use, and the tools you can operate, and the things you are good at. Are you a brilliant manager of finances? Are you good at graphic design? Can you fix the broken printer faster than the previous repair tech? This final section could include a list of professional referees, usually senior people in previous companies or university departments. This would also be the place to list medals, awards, publications, film credits, and so on.

Control your use of language

The final point is to control your use of language. You want your CV to be brief and to the point, so use point form rather than whole sentences. Check your spelling, especially names of people and companies! There is no faster way to cull poor candidates than by excluding those with bad spelling. It is also probably better to avoid graphics and colors, but a sensible photo of you may help to differentiate your CV from others. And above all, be honest, as people do check! Remember to include a good cover letter rather than just submit a plain CV to show you are making an effort for this specific company.

Keep your target job in sight at all times

Know your target well, and take aim carefully, as the same resume will not be suitable for all the jobs you may apply for. Write a new CV each time so it shows your skills in their best light for this job. Remember to keep the CV as brief as possible while still including all the details that matter. There are no hard and fast rules for writing a CV, so adapt these guidelines as you see fit, keeping your target in sight at all times. Happy hunting!

Also see the Chinese version of this article: 英文履歷自傳要怎麼寫

Written by Harry Wilson who was once a neuroscientist in Sydney, but who now lives and writes in Taipei. Translated into Chinese by Teresa Tsai who works in Taiwan TV, teaches English and sometimes translates what Harry writes.
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