In each of the types of communication that engineers are required to produce there are what I call ‘typical pitfalls’ — things that nearly everyone does but which are sub-optimal (by which I really mean, not very bright!)
In career development in engineering, the pitfall I have in mind is usually signalled by a statement such as the following: ‘Last weekend I finished doing my CV, so now I’m ready to apply for some jobs’.
Note that people typically talk about their ‘CV’ in the singular, as if a CV should have single, fixed, form. This is a damaging assumption to make.
To optimise a job application, the CV should be customised for the opportunity.
Here is my suggestion for how to approach the task.
- Develop a document that records everything that could potentially be included on a CV. Every qualification, award, achievement, job, skill, whatever. This document, which will be lengthier than any CV you send, can be used as an archive from which you can mine data when constructing a CV. So, instead of thinking ‘This weekend I’ll finish my CV’, think ‘This weekend I’ll finish the archive for my CV’.
- Before designing a CV for an application, familiarise yourself with the target role and employer. Note in particular the person specification and lists of attributes that required or desired. Pay attention to the language they use.
- Use the understanding that you’ve acquired from (2) to help you decide what to include and what to exclude. Rather than ‘This is what I always put on my CV’ or ‘This is what makes me feel most proud’, the criterion should be ‘This is what will most help the employer to see that I’m a good fit’.
- Use the same criterion to decide (a) what headings should you give to the various sections in my CV (see whether you can use the employer’s own language here) and (b) the order in which the various sections should go. Note: if you find you’re sequencing content in the same way each time, you’re probably not customising your CVs enough.
My take-home message, therefore, is:
Think in the plural — CVs, not CV.