Writing your CV made easy – with 6 questions and answers
Your curriculum vitae (also known as your resumé or CV) is the most important part of the job application alongside the cover letter. Many recruiters read it first to get an overview of your previous positions and qualifications. When you write your CV, you should be just as diligent and careful as when you are preparing a job application. It is not uncommon for applicants to be weeded out prematurely due to a poorly structured or incomplete CV. We will now answer the six most important questions on the topic of writing the perfect CV.
Contents: The six most common questions about CVs
- How should I structure my CV?
- What design should I choose for my CV?
- What information should I include in my CV?
- How bad is it to have a gap in my CV?
- What should not be included in my CV?
By properly structuring your CV, you have already fulfilled an important prerequisite in convincing HR managers and bosses to take you seriously. So take your time and establish a clear structure that shows all important points at a glance.
The most common form of CV is the tabular CV. If the job posting does not explicitly ask for a different type of CV, you should choose this classic variant. The tabular CV consists of the following elements:
- Personal details
- Current photo (optional)
- Career history
- Skills and additional qualifications
- Interests and hobbies
- Place, date and signature
To find out which special features you need to consider in each section, go to “What information should I include in my CV?”
It is important to keep your CV as short as possible or, to put it another way, only as long as necessary. Try to limit yourself to a length of two A4 pages. Under no circumstances should it be more than three pages.
The design of your CV should be based on the industry in which you are applying. For example, if you are looking for a job at a bank, choose a simple, pared-back design. If you are applying for a position in a start-up, for example as a designer, your CV should look more modern and creative. The subtle use of colours (for example, the colours of the company to which you are applying) is also an option.
Be economical with bold, italic or underlined words and make sure that your font sizes remain consistent. For example, select the same font sizes for headings and main body text that you used in your cover letter. However, you can experiment with the choice of font. You can assume that the majority of applicants are going to use Arial or Times New Roman. Here you can stand out from the crowd by choosing a less common (but still related and readable!) font.
Basically, when designing your CV: Less is more. Make it as easy as possible for the reader to collect all the necessary information as quickly as possible. Avoid optical gimmicks and rely on a clear structure. This guarantees that you will make a good impression with the recruiter or boss.
Unlike your letter of application, your CV should not address the reader directly, and should not contain salutations, greetings or lines of argument. Here, you should clearly list only the most important facts. We will now go into more detail on the CV sections mentioned above, and explain what in particular you should pay attention to.
When you are writing a CV, always start with your personal details. For example, in the header, write Curriculum Vitae in bold font underneath your full name. Then list the following personal contact details:
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Marital status*
- Telephone number
- Email address
- Social media profiles (if they are relevant to the advertised position)
An important note here: Pursuant to the German General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz, AGG), the information marked with an asterisk (*) is voluntary, as it could be discriminatory. So you are not required to provide this information. This also applies to the provision of a current photo, traditionally included on CVs (and not in cover letters). However, many recruiters see a professional photo as the “finishing touch” on a CV and expect it from applicants. Still, while a photo is recommended, these days it is optional.
Probably the most crucial part of your CV is the part where you list your work experience. A practical apprenticeship or a tertiary education qualification is considered an entry ticket to the job market, but many recruiters and bosses place particular value on relevant professional experience.
List your previous positions in reverse order. This means that your last or current position should be at the top, while your previous positions should follow in reverse chronological order. For each position you have held in your professional career, you should include the following information:
- Position: What role did you have in the company? What was your job description?
- Employer: Which company did you work for? List the companys full name and registered office.
- Duration: From when to when did you work for the company or hold the role in question? It is enough to provide the month and year for each position. The time periods should follow on from each other to avoid the infamous CV gaps
- Tasks: What were your main areas of activity? What successes did you have? At this point, briefly list your specific tasks and provide figures representing your successes. Keep it short and to the point.
Education and training
After listing your professional experience, list your education in reverse chronological order. This includes tertiary education, vocational training, and internships as well as secondary education including school-leaving certificate and overall grade. In addition, describe the focus of your studies, training and education (advanced courses) in a few bullet points. If you have done military or civilian service, list it here as well.
However, bear in mind: if you have been working for twenty years, the recruiter will be less interested in which primary school you attended. In this case, list your highest school-leaving qualification as the last point. It is also better to omit student internships or other activities that are not relevant to the job description in question.
Skills and additional qualifications
Do you have skills and additional qualifications that match the position advertised? If so, list them here. This may include relevant further training, awards, publications, grants, IT skills, experience abroad or foreign language skills (including an assessment of your ability, for example basic knowledge or business fluent).
However, be careful not to overdo it. This could have a negative impact on you during the interview. A classic: if you claim on your CV that you are business fluent in a foreign language, the recruiter or boss could suddenly switch to that language during the interview. If all you do is stutter, you will be exposed, and you will lose credibility. If no-one discovers your embellishment until after you have been hired, you might even risk being fired. Therefore, only provide truthful information – both in your CV and cover letter.
Interests and hobbies
The interests and hobbies section of the CV would appear to be less significant. Here, many applicants indicate hobbies such as travel, sport or cooking in order to provide answers that are as innocuous as possible. Basically there is nothing wrong with this information, but you are missing out on a lot of unused potential.
For example, do you do voluntary work? Do you play an instrument in a band? Or are you an animal lover? Mentioning these kinds of interests is an indirect way to communicate soft skills such as a sense of responsibility, teamwork or creativity.
On the other hand, you should think carefully about mentioning risky hobbies or extreme sports like bungee jumping, downhill racing or deep-sea diving. Your potential future employer may be put off by your appetite for risk-taking, or suspect that you will be absent more often due to illness.
As in the previous sections, it also makes sense for the interests and hobbies to be related to the vacancy in question. For example, if you are applying for a job as a carpenter, you can indicate that you enjoy working with wood in your free time.
Place, date and signature
At the end of your CV, add your place of residence, the current date and a handwritten signature. This underlines that the information provided is true, and gives your CV a serious, personal touch.
Every job applicant has heard of the infamous CV gap. There are many ambiguities and myths surrounding this topic. But how problematic is a gap in your CV really? And when do you even call it a gap?
First things first: people usually only speak of a CV gap after three months. So, for example, if you took a long holiday between two jobs, no recruiter will hold it against you. Many employers even see it as positive if you have done something “outside your specialism” over a longer period of time. This demonstrates your courage to break new ground and ability to take a broader view. If you have had extraordinary experiences, you may also decide to include these “gaps” on your CV and go into more detail about them in the interview.
But what happens if you have been unemployed for a long period of time and this has created a gap in your CV? Be assured: many people have been unemployed for several weeks or months (better: seeking work). This can be due to a serious illness, for example. Caring for a relative can also mean that you are unable to work normal full-time hours.
In such cases, it is important to fill the gaps with credible facts and honest explanations. No recruiter will hold it against you if, for example, you werent able to find a suitable job immediately after completing your studies. However, if you can prove that you completed internships or further training while continuing to look for a permanent position, the potential gap wont be important. On the contrary, you have shown commitment and willpower.
Finally, a few important points that you should not mention when writing your CV:
- Information about your parents: In the past it was not uncommon to state your parents professions on your CV. Today, this information is frowned upon. After all, you want to impress the recruiter with your skills – not with those of your parents.
- Personal matters: Leave your private life and personal problems out of the application process. Stick to information that is relevant to the position you are applying for.
- World view: Are you religious? Do you belong to a political party? Do you have a strong opinion on current world events? Great – but this information does not belong on your CV or in a cover letter. Unless, of course, you are applying for a job as a pastor or a politician.
- Photos of your private life: Include a serious photo on your CV. Photos of your last holiday or last weekends events have no place here.
- Salary expectations: Salary expectations should only be included in your cover letter or in salary negotiations. They do not belong on your CV.
- Spelling and grammatical errors: Have your cover letter proofread by a trained eye. In this way, embarrassing mistakes can largely be eliminated.
- Incorrect information: If you provide incorrect information on your CV or in your cover letter, this can have negative consequences later in the application process or even after you have been hired – anything is possible, right up to being fired without notice. It goes without saying that this also applies to fake references, certificates or qualifications. These can even have consequences under civil law.
As you can see, writing a CV is not that complicated if you follow the points above. Together with an individual cover letter, it forms the basis of the perfect application, almost guaranteeing that you will be invited to an interview.
If you have further questions or are still unsure how to write your CV, please contact us.