Taking the long view on your CV

Your CV is not a short term tool to get you one job: it's a document that goes through your life with you. And as your career develops, so should your CV.

Once you have graduated and secured your first job in engineering a common mistake is to file the CV away and forget about it, as the excitement of a new job and the relief of securing gainful employment make job hunting the last thing on your mind.

The mistake here is to see the CV as a short-term tool. If you are to succeed in the long-term and have the job of your dreams in the years to come, it is important to update your CV as you go along so that you can effectively reflect your early working experiences. 

You should also be thinking about making the most of your early employment, taking the chance to gain experience that will take your CV to the next level and make it stand out to potential employers.

A CV is an individual document and as such there are no right and wrong ways to structure it. However, here are ten top tips that should help you to make the most of your CV.

1) The nuts and bolts

Keep the presentation smart and professional and avoid any graphics or unusual fonts as these are just a distraction. Put personal details at the top of the page but keep them brief. Employers only need to know who you are and how to get in touch with you (email and phone). If employers have asked for specific requirements then you can give them details here – e.g. where in the country you are prepared to work. Personal profiles on the top of the CV can be valuable but keep them very brief (maximum three lines), talk about what your aspirations for a role are and keep it relevant to the role you are applying for.

2) Your academic record

If you have recently graduated then your academic record is probably still more relevant than your work history and should come next. Keep it concise, though, and highlight professional and degree level qualifications. A levels and GCSEs should be recorded but not expanded upon. Unfortunately, your A level physics project is unlikely to be relevant now!

3) Work history

Your work history is the most important section on your CV. Once you have worked for a year or two then this section should be the main focus of the CV and contain the most detail. Talk about your most recent role first and work backwards. Use bullet points to expand on your relevant experience and have different versions of your CV on file for the different roles that you might apply for in the future. This way, you can more easily tailor your CV when you need to.

4) Your free time

Information about what you do in your free time is important to have on your CV but will only ever supplement the more important information. What employers are really looking for from this section is evidence that your personality will match that of the organisation or the role. There are therefore no right or wrong things to put down but it is likely that evidence of teamwork, volunteering and organisation skills outside of work will be beneficial. For example, it’s better to talk about how you organise a sports team rather than mentioning that you visit the gym regularly. It doesn’t have to be sports; memberships of voluntary bodies and committees or any community work you do helps to make you stand out.

5) Expanding on experience

In your work history section, don’t just list the jobs that you have done or positions you have held. This is your chance to show a potential employer what you have learnt, what it is you enjoyed about various aspects of the job and, most importantly, what your experiences will give them should they employ you. Talk about what areas of engineering you would like to pursue and why. Where possible back up your achievements with metrics e.g. cost savings achieved, targets reached or awards won.

6) Keep it relevant

Don’t expand on every job that you have done and keep the information relevant to the role and company you are applying to. It is not all about the quantity of experience: employers will look for evidence of the quality and relevance of your experience. An employer will want evidence that you always strive to improve and that you have achieved or surpassed objectives along the way. Their expectations of you at the start of your career will be realistic (they know you’ve only just started out) but they will want to see evidence of success. Don’t overplay achievements or make false claims though as these are likely to get found out at interview.

7) Networking pays

Even though you may only be starting your career in engineering, make the most of the opportunity you get to attend professional events. Networking is not only a great chance to make contacts that could help you in the future but you’ll also meet people who will give you advice and guidance on your career. Attending events, seminars, site visits, drinks receptions and socials of relevant trade bodies (such as the IET) will allow you to demonstrate on your CV that you are committed to your career, your industry and your profession, something that employers are keen to see evidence of.

8) Don’t overdo the academic record

Avoid the temptation to expand too much on the courses you studied at university. While you should be proud of your academic achievements and they no doubt helped you to get your first job, the specifics are not a key differentiator. Once you have worked in engineering use your experiences to demonstrate your skills. If you mention academic achievements instead of professional ones then the employer may wonder why you are doing this.

9) Make most of the opportunities offered to you

Early on in your career you will probably get the opportunity to work in a range of different teams and functions and may even get the chance to work in different parts of the country or abroad. Taking these opportunities will demonstrate that you have broad experience and are prepared to work outside of your comfort zone – extremely important in today’s global engineering marketplace. On your CV you should tell the potential employer what you learned from these experiences and why they were valuable to you.

10) Stick to the truth

Your CV is a great chance to sell yourself and like any sales process it is important to make the most of your assets, without being unrealistic or arrogant. If you stretch the truth or lie you will eventually get found out. Likewise, you should be humble and accept that many of your achievements were reached as part of a team. It’s much better to tell a potential employer what your contribution to the team was rather than trying to claim the credit yourself. Good teamwork is key to success in engineering so it’s really important to demonstrate your ability in this area. In your CV you should try and portray a confidence in your ability, make the most of your achievements and show an employer why you have the skills and personality for the job.

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