How to Create an Outstanding CV

How to Create an Outstanding CV

When it comes to creating your CV, it’s essential to make it as good as possible to ensure you make a significant impact, as it’s your one opportunity to secure an interview with an employer. You're effectively creating a piece of sales and marketing literature where you sell a product (that’s you) to a customer (the employer), and every time you’re selling yourself to an employer, you need to tailor your CV.

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand how the employer is thinking. Employers are often inundated with CVs, which can be stressful. They’re often overworked, busy people with deadlines, so just imagine how they feel with 150 CVs in their inbox to go through. 

Do they sit back and say, “Wow, 150 people want to work for me”? No, they’re likely to be busy people, and it will add to their workload. So it's crucial that, when you're applying for a job, you must remember you have a very short amount of time to grab that person's attention. 

Some employers won’t believe you want to work for them. They may assume you've applied for several other jobs, and you're just hoping you're going to get lucky and land an interview with one of them. 

Take a look at this recent tweet we shared, explaining the thoughts of employer that received 150 CVs:

It's vital you understand they haven't got time to sit there and thoroughly read your CV. You probably have about 10 seconds before they decide whether they're going to continue reading your CV or toss it into the rejection pile. So, you have to make them feel you want to work for them and that you're not just applying to 10 jobs that day, hoping that one person sticks. To be effective in your job hunting, you need to outthink other job seekers.

Here’s our advice on how to create an outstanding CV (warning it's almost 4000 words):

Features vs Benefits

The first thing to understand is the difference between features and benefits. When we're selling anything to anyone, we never sell them the features. They don't care about the features. They care about the benefits. 

For example, the feature of an office chair might be that it’s ‘height adjustable with lumbar support’, but the benefit is that it’s ‘height adjustable with lumbar support, so I don't get a bad back when I’m working’. That's the difference between features and benefits. 

The purpose of a CV is not to tell the employer all about you. The purpose of a CV is to tell the employer how those things add value to their organisation. How are you going to impact their organisation? So it’s not about you. It’s not about your features. It’s about the benefits of those features. 

A great way to get used to promoting your benefits and not your features is to ask yourself, “So what?” So when you tell somebody you have excellent people skills, here’s your opportunity to explain why.

Layout

Next, it’s essential to consider how to lay out your CV. It will be different for everyone, depending on your age and experience, but you need clearly defined sections to communicate different areas, such as your skills, experience or hobbies. 

A typical chronological CV will include your personal details, followed by your personal statement, your education section, your work experience, interests, about me, additional information, and then your references.

Personal Details

In your personal details section, you should put your name, contact number and email address. It's also important to add your social media links too, such as your LinkedIn profile and your Twitter account, along with a link to your blog or website if you have one. These are all great ways for a potential employer to find out not just what you do but why you do what you do and who you are. 

Employers are interested in, “Are you going to make a positive change to my department?” “Are you going to get on with the team I've already got in place?” “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” So, if you have somewhere on the internet that shows somebody who you are, add your links to this section. You have a short amount of time to make an impact. You can't effectively deliver any kind of message to anybody unless you know you've got their attention. If an employer sees the same things over and over again, they lose impact. 

Keep things different

We have to keep things different to make sure we grab people's attention, and we only have a short amount of time to do this. If your personal statement starts like every other personal statement does with buzzwords such as “I am motivated, highly effective, driven”, you know those things are probably true, butut it’s a waste of two inches of paper, and the problem is that, if you don't immediately grab their attention, you won’t have any impact within those first 10 seconds. 

Make it specific to public health

You need to remember to talk to one person about one thing at a time. The way to do this is to refer to the industry specifically, such as public health, health protection or healthcare. So if you want to gain experience within public health, that's fine, but what part of public health? It’s a broad sector. You have to tailor this every time. Don't ever write, “Looking to further my skills in public health” or “Looking to gain experience in public health”. Employers care about their work and the value you add to them; their purpose is not to help you further your career. So you may need to reword things. 

Rather than say, “Further my career within public health” or “Develop my skills within public health”, rephrase it and say, “To add real value within public health”. A more specific example may be, “To make an impact on young people’s health in London”, because then you make it about the employer’s organisation.

Brand Statement

Next, you need a clearly defined brand statement. Your brand statement is one to two sentences answering what you are best at: What is your value? Who do you serve? Who is your audience? Who do you give this value to? Who does this value affect? What is your unique selling point? 

Keep it to no more than 150 words, so it's short and sharp but full of impact. 

Sometimes it’s challenging to do. So start by asking yourself these questions:

1. What is the one thing that everyone says you're amazing at? 

2. What gets you out of bed in the morning? 

3. What have you accomplished? 

4. What are you most proud of? 

5. What do you love most about your current job or your past job? 

Next, ask people you know, such as colleagues, managers or friends, to describe you in three words, and ask them what they think your value is. Then, take all that information, put it together, and sit down and work out what is the value of all of those things to the organisation. 

Now you've created your brand statement; the next part is where the magic happens. This is where you can make a massive impact. 

Get someone else to tell that employer how great you are. If you tell them you’re great, it doesn’t have the same impact. Think about who you know will say fantastic things about you because your testimonials are your greatest sales tools. Don't wait until the end of your CV and just give references. Use them now. 

This will take your CV to another level. Make sure you pick somebody who is going to impress the person you're talking to. And in the public health world, a lot of people know each other. So, for example, if I was going for a job within the third sector, and I had a testimonial from somebody in the third sector, that will have more impact than a testimonial from someone at a shop I used to work at.

Key Achievements

The next section to showcase is to show your key achievements. List three key achievements that display your character and your value, and think about what would impress this particular employer at this moment. Your three key achievements might change every time you apply for a different job. 

Take the job description and reconcile the things they're looking for. Think about the three main things they're looking for. What are the attributes of this employee they want? And then pick key achievements that showcase what the employer wants. For example, some people often ask if they should go straight into education or into work experience. The answer to this will vary depending on who you are and how much experience you have. 

If you are a school leaver or a university graduate or have less than five years of public health work experience, put your education here. If you have more than five years’ experience, then you would put your work experience here and your education after that.

Job Titles

When it comes to talking about your job title, showcase your real job title. Sometimes though, people are given job titles that have absolutely nothing to do with their job. Then, when they go to apply for that job, they get dismissed because employers want to see like for like (remember they probably decide within a few seconds). So when employers are reconciling what they need against your CV, they want to match and mirror as much as possible. For example, if you’ve been a programme manager and you’re going for a job as a researcher, if within your programme manager role, you’ve mainly been doing research, then put “Programme Manager/Researcher”. This then gives you another five seconds of that person's attention to read the bullet points below containing a background to your role. Make it easy for the employer to scan and gather pertinent information quickly. 

Language

Begin each description with doing words. So rather than say, “I was responsible for”, just say “Responsible for”, and start with your most recent job first. 

Also, don't start every bullet point with the same action words. When people see things frequently, over and over again, it loses impact. Your language needs to come to life. For example, rather than use the word ‘led’, you can use words like ‘chaired’, ‘coordinated’, ‘operated’, ‘planned’ or ‘executed’. It's okay to use the word ‘led’, just don't use it all the time. 

For ‘achieved’, you could use ‘outperformed’, ‘awarded’, ‘earned’, ‘demonstrated’ or ‘surpassed’. 

Rather than ‘managed’, you could use ‘guided’, ‘motivated’, ‘inspired’, ‘enabled’, ‘facilitated’ or ‘shaped’.

And rather than using ‘responsible for’, you could say ‘headed up’, ‘took charge’, ‘produced’ or ‘directed’. 

You can enrich and energise your language even more by using adverbs to modify your verbs. This is a great way to make sure your language isn't artificial and makes it more natural. Here are some examples of how you can do it:

Significantly advanced the final stages of the project”. “Reliably informed the local commissioners of changes to the programme”. “Diligently organised the hospital smoking cessation training day”. 

You need to demonstrate how your previous experience can add value and benefit the organisation you're applying to. Remember, this is about them and how you add value to them. You don't want just to list your previous job responsibilities. 

Achievements and Successes

When you're talking about your achievements and successes, you should quantify them. You want to quantify what you've done and talk about your accomplishments, not just your features but also the benefits of what you've done. 

For example: 

“Significantly advanced the final stages of the project, which resulted in early completion two weeks ahead of target”. 

“Reliably informed the commissioners of the programme changes that resulted in a 20% uptake of the programme”. 

“Diligently organised the hospital smoking cessation training day. Feedback was given, which signified the event had increased employee knowledge impacted positively on attitudes”. 

All of those things worded like that clearly show an employer your value.

What if I don’t have five years of work experience?

Here is how you can highlight your skills and experience if you don’t have many years of work experience to show. For example, suppose you want to work in a department that looks to increase physical activity. In that case, you might want first to have a work experience section highlighting physical activity-related work experience. Then you can follow with a section that shows other work experience. These might be part-time jobs, volunteering, etc. 

If you've had various internships, you might want to have another section that says professional work experience. You might even have undertaken lots of volunteering projects, so you could have a section entitled ‘volunteering experience’. Or you might have had quite a lot of roles with responsibility, whether they be work-related, or volunteering, or something you've done at university. Then, if you're going for leadership roles, you could have a separate section entitled ‘positions of responsibility’. This is an excellent way for you, without having all of that work experience, to showcase your skills. 

There are no set rules on how to write a CV. Every single CV will differ, so you have to find a way to showcase your skills in the best way. You just need to ensure it’s communicated effectively.

Education

When it comes to your education, professional qualifications and further training, start with the most recent qualifications first. Ensure you mention both professional and academic qualifications because both are important. You can include relevant soft skills and training courses, but you do not need to include your GCSE grades in detail. Instead, just add the school’s name, the date attended, and just put, for example, eight GCSEs grades A to C, including maths, English, and science. 

Explaining difficult scenarios

One of the most common things we get asked when it comes to creating CVs is how to explain difficult scenarios. That might be gaps in employment, career breaks, temporary positions or fixed-term contract jobs. 

First, it’s vital to mention any career breaks within the timeline of your CV. Either add a sentence explaining what you were doing or briefly mention it in your cover letter if you'd prefer to go into more detail there. You can mention any training courses or skills developed during this time. There's no right or wrong, but it does need to be noted. 

Next, be sure to add temporary roles. Temporary roles are great, as they show an employer that, even when you didn't have that commitment from an employer, you were still getting up every day and going to a role, even if it was only temporary. In addition, every temporary role put you in a position where you were surrounded by different people in different environments, and you picked up and learnt new skills. You might not go into as much detail about every temporary role, but you need to mention them. 

Put the dates of temporary contract positions on your CV and highlight which positions were temporary contracts by putting ‘temporary’ in brackets after your job title. This shows the employer you're not job-hopping; these were temporary roles. Also, if you have lots and lots of temporary positions, you don't necessarily need to go into a lot of detail. Just focus on your transferable skills.

Length of CV

Your CV should never be longer than two or three pages. You don't have to go into detail about every single thing you've done. So, for example, if you have decades of work experience, you might not want to go into detail about what you were doing in your early 20s. That's fine. However, everything should be accounted for, and all time should be accounted for. So it might be that under the dates of employment, you have just one line briefly outlining what you did. Just focus on the most recent and the most transferable relevant things.

Hobbies and Interests

When it comes to showcasing your interests or hobbies, it's essential to remember employers don't necessarily care much about your hobbies, but they do care how you're going to add value to their organisation. Employers will not hire you because you like dog walking or reading or skiing. So, remember this is a sales document and use this section to sell yourself. You have to up your game because there will always be somebody out there that has more experience than you. 

Be sophisticated with this section. If you want someone to fall in love with your CV, you have to show them who you are. This is your chance to connect. For example, if you like skiing, fine, tell them that. But don't tell them you went skiing and expect them to care. Instead, tell them why you like skiing. Tell them how you feel when you are skiing. Why is that important to you? 

Another example is not to say to them that you run marathons. Instead, tell them you run marathons every year because you’re ‘pushing yourself to be the best you can be’. Now the employer can see how you're going to add value and what kind of employee you're going to be. 

Also, you don't have to use this section to talk about your hobbies. You could just talk about your interests. You could speak of your motivators and values. This is the section where they know what you do, they see the value you add, but now they want to know who you are and why you do what you do. This tells the employer what drives you.

You might start this section with: 

“My entire career to date has been driven by my passion for helping people improve their health”. 

Or “I am motivated in my professional life and personal life by...”.

If it's something you want to talk about here, you need to discuss why it’s important to you. Whatever you say in this section, you must bring it back to the job you are applying for. 

References

Earlier on, we talked about opening with impact and using a reference as a powerful testimonial at the start of your CV. However, some of you might not want to do that, so this section is for you. In the references section, please do not write “References available on request”. Remember, this is your marketing document. 

In this section, what's more powerful is if you give them the referees’ details. Firstly, give them their name, email address, job title, LinkedIn, professional social media or website, so the employer knows who this referee is. Then, suppose the employer sees the referee is on LinkedIn and is connected with people they’re already associated with, or have lots of testimonies on LinkedIn, the more positive the employer may feel. And if you have room, have a couple of lines of quotes from them, because it shows the employer you're so good at what you do that people put their name to you.

Don’t wait until after an interview - if somebody said something good about you, then show it now.

Academic CVs

Many job roles in public health are academic ones, so it’s essential to know how to format an academic CV. They tend to focus more on publications, your research activity, and funding awarded. Academic CVs are usually one document amongst a portfolio of documents. This could include your cover letter, your teaching statement, your research statement and your course samples. They’re often lengthier than other types of CV but shouldn't be any longer than four pages. 

An academic CV should contain the following sections (in no particular order): 

  • Objective and profile
  • Education and qualifications
  • Professional appointments and employment
  • Publications and conference presentations (If you have limited or no published work, then consider referring to work in progress)
  • Research experience and interests
  • Teaching experience
  • Professional memberships
  • Grants and awards
  • Referees

You might want to consider subheadings within those sections. For example, include things like teaching and positions of responsibility, so your achievements stand out. 

Other things to remember include using reverse chronological order, so start with the most recent things first. Your document is likely to be scanned, and if the first thing a reader sees is a paper published in 2005, they may think that's your most recent work. 

Next, constantly tailor the application and read through the job description thoroughly. Make sure you focus your sections and achievements specifically around their needs. Use plain English; your application must make sense to people outside of your current role. Finally, be consistent with your referencing. As it is a longer document, make sure you use page numbers and put your name in the header of every page. 

Additional Information

Lastly, let’s talk about the additional information to consider. You have to proofread your CV now. You've created this great CV, and you want to make sure there are no basic errors. So here are our tips for doing that:

  1. Step away from a piece of writing before you proofread it. Give yourself a natural break. Overnight is probably best. 
  2. Read your work aloud. 
  3. Pronounce each word slowly and clearly as you read and check for mistakes. Proofreading should never be a rushed job. 
  4. Proofread more than once. 
  5. Focus on sections separately. 
  6. Check personal names, then headings and subheadings, go through each section separately. 
  7. Pay attention to your formatting style; make sure it’s consistent. 
  8. Use a spell checker and a grammar checker as a first screening, but don't depend on them. 
  9. Ask someone you trust to spell-check too. 

Reduce Bias

Lastly, people often wonder whether they should put photographs on a CV. In public health, I would say that’s a big no, as it’s not relevant to the industry. Maybe if you're modelling or acting, a photo is suitable, but don't give anybody any reason to judge you other than by the content of your experience and your skills. If they want to find out what you look like at this stage, they can Google you, and they probably will. But I would say at this stage, leave it off. 

Wrapping It Up

We’ve shared our top CV tips you can implement for maximum results. And the best part is you can get started on it today. If you take these recommendations, it won’t take long before getting shortlisted for an interview. We would love to hear about any successes you have! Email us here.

But, wait...I need more help

When you join our newsletter, you'll be able to download our free Public Heath Career Management Programme - a collection of advice, templates, resources and videos. It is designed to become yourersonal career management system. This shoud get you up to speed and look out for more blog posts like this in the future.

Other resources