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'Victorian Clerkship Basics' Series #2: Building a CV


This is the second article in our four-part series, 'Victorian Clerkship Basics'.

​​Drafting a CV can be a very daunting experience. But, updating your CV is like hitting the gym: the more frequently you engage with it, the easier it becomes. Where should you start? Looking around the internet, you’ll find a lot of contradictory advice. There are far too many misconceptions about CV writing. This article details the basics that will help you get well on your way to creating a stellar CV.

1. What is a CV and what is its purpose?

A CV, also known as a resume, is an opportunity to show your skills, knowledge and experiences all in one handy document.

2. How should I layout my CV?

CVs need to be ordered, have a consistent layout, be free of typographical errors and be an accurate representation of your skills and experience. They don’t need to be colourful, include pictures, or have a fancy layout and text.

Basic CV Layout:

Header

In the heading section, you should include your name in a size larger than the other text in the body of the CV. This makes it easier for the reader (i.e., employer) to immediately identify your CV within a pile, which makes the experience more pleasant for them while making you more memorable. Further, you should include your personal email address and mobile number below your name. If you have a LinkedIn profile, add the URL. Because everybody now communicates via email, you do not need to include your address.

Education

List your educational experience from most to least recent, including those you are currently doing. You should start by naming the degree/qualification, the school, university that you attend, and stating the dates you started and finished it (if you are still studying that degree/qualification, state the end date as ‘current’.) In terms of formatting, employers like dates to be on the left of the page so that they can easily see what you have spent your years doing.

Under each degree/qualification, make sure you include any awards, scholarships, study abroad experience, or other achievements. If you achieved “Honours” or “with Distinction”, make sure you also include this. You can include your average mark (GPA/WAM) and highlight some of the subjects you have done well in (for example, 85 (HD) in Contract A). Have a think about which information you should include: what is the job you are applying for, and what experiences and skills are needed? Try to highlight those subjects that are most relevant. If you did a subject that is relevant but didn’t do as well as you had hoped, you can simply say that you successfully completed it.

Importantly, you don’t have to include everything: you can list your academic results as “available on request”. Often you will have to upload your academic transcript to your clerkship application, so there is no need to use precious CV space for this. Information also becomes less useful as it gets older, so your high school experience will call for less explanation if you’ve done two university degrees since then. Remember, the purpose of a CV is to capture the employer’s attention by highlighting your positive attributes, without going overboard, and always telling the truth!

Professional Experience

Here is where you outline your work experience to show the firm that you are the right person to be a clerk. This might the most important part of your CV. In our modern job market, more and more people have degrees and qualifications that show they can do the technical side of the job. Because of this, employers are placing more and more value on people’s experiences that show they have “soft” employability skills.

You should list your professional experience from most to least recent, including any roles you currently hold. Make sure you include:

  • The name of the role, the institution (i.e., your employer) and the dates you started and concluded your time spent in the role (using the years and months, for example, “January 2018 - March 2018”);

  • A description of your role, outlining your key tasks and responsibilities in one or two sharp snappy sentences; and

  • Any awards or achievements whilst in the role.

Not sure how to write your role descriptions? We suggest writing them with the idea of “soft” employability skills in mind. In 2002, the Business Council of Australia and Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry identified eight key generic employability skills as part of the Australian Core Skills Framework. This list is still used today by University Career Counsellors when advising students how to develop their skills to create a well-rounded CV. The skills are:

Communication;

  • Teamwork;

  • Problem-solving;

  • Initiative and enterprise;

  • Planning and organising;

  • Self-management;

  • Learning; and

  • Technology.

You should look at your experiences and draft your explanation of your roles with these skills in mind, as ultimately employers will place a higher value on you as an applicant if your experience demonstrates your aptitudes. Note, however, that as you build more experience you may find that your CV becomes too long if you have a full description of every role. For this reason, you may need to exclude descriptions for some of your older or less relevant positions.

Volunteer and Community Work

This section is basically the same as Professional Experience, but it focuses on your volunteer and community work. Outline these roles in the same way. The great thing about volunteer and community work is that it has heart. Try to outline the purpose of the organisation in your description (e.g., “doing X, Y and Z in a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to improve access to education in remote Australian areas”).

Additional Accomplishments

In this section, you can start to show your personality. Employers love seeing that the people they are recruiting will contribute to their firm culture. They want to have fun at work: the last thing they want is to be surrounded by robots! Make sure you detail your:

  • Personal achievements, such as in sport, music and extracurriculars. Employers love reading about additional activities that show your passions and engagement in the community, so do not downplay the value of listing these involvements; and

  • Your interests. It is great to include one or two lines to make you a relatable applicant. It will also create an easy ‘get to know you’ conversation with the firm staff in a later interview.

References

Many people list their referees on their CV. However, this is actually an outdated practice. It is better to simply note that your referees are “available on request”. When requested, out of respect, make sure you actually ask your referees before giving their details to any prospective firm. If they give you permission, make sure you give them a ‘heads up’ after each individual time you submit their details so they know to expect a phone call. You should also brief them about the company and role you are applying for, so that they will be able to speak to your strengths and how they will help you in the role.

Further Tips

Once you manage to hit the above, here are some additional items that will make your CV stand out:

  • Keep your CV to two pages. HR personnel are busy and they rarely fully read a full application;

  • Be strategic. Put your most impressive information on your first page. The best advice we have ever received about CV drafting is that it is supposed to “whet the palate” of the reader. This means you don’t need every fine detail, just the juiciest morsels that will leave the reader wanting more;

  • Delete anything more than ten years old unless it is significant (e.g., high school results);

  • Where you can, use numerical figures in your role descriptions or achievements to show your experience (e.g., “responsible for managing a $5,000 budget” sounds more impressive than “budget management”);

  • Don’t underestimate the power of white space (that is, don’t feel like you need to fill every part of the paper with information about yourself);

  • Keep a consistent font and format and don’t play with the formatting too heavily (use bold, italics and underline sparingly); and

  • Include page numbers.

Worried that you don’t have enough experience to flesh out a full CV that will impress the firms? Put your mind at ease: you can easily beef up your Education and Additional Accomplishments sections. Think back to your Education and the transferable skills you have obtained during it: have you been involved in any clubs or societies, have you done assignment pitches, or have you performed well in a group project? These are all valuable to list as they show transferable workplace skills such as communication, planning and teamwork. In your Additional Accomplishments, have you fundraised for a charity event or written for a blog? Again, these are all experiences that you can validly list on your CV and importantly they show personality. You can also add a section in which you note any additional skills you have, like proficiency in computer programs, first aid accreditation or an additional language, as these are sought-after skills. You can also start looking to gain more experience: have a look at your broader community and try to find entry-level volunteer roles that you can take on. Without going overboard, you can also fiddle around with the formatting of your CV: perhaps you can increase the font slightly or add white space between sections.

Once you have created your spruced-up CV, print it and proofread it in hard copy. Once complete, pass it around to people in your network to obtain feedback: try to find people in your profession, recruitment or in HR, or a friend that had landed the clerkship. Giving it to someone that doesn’t know your professional background can be really helpful, as they will easily be able to identify if anything is unclear. Once you have integrated all the wonderful feedback from your network, ensure you engage in one last hard copy proof. Save two copies of your CV to a cloud-based system: one in word and one in PDF. We suggest this as the word version can be used to adapt to future versions, and the PDF version should be the one you send in your applications.

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