Author: Sarah Dudney
Our careers consultant, Sarah Dudney, provides advice on how to stand out from the crowd
The topic of writing CVs is wide and varied, and one where everyone is an expert. There is a no right answer to building a successful CV, but there are many guidelines that can help, especially given the complexity of audiences, and the increasing use of digital intermediaries, such as CV screening supported by AI, which many corporates now use.
So given all this, I am just going to focus this commentary for CFA UK readers on key principles for developing a career message, and the best methods of CV writing.
I recently wrote about the need to realise that a planned career transition may be a necessity for some of you, given the current state of the market. If you have gone through the questions in my earlier article, you might have a view on what you want to do in the short to medium term. This may still be a work in progress for many.
But many of you may be looking to achieve a straight forward career move from one role to another. In this case, be crystal clear about the scale of the business you work in and summarize your achievements. Try not to over attribute all achievements to your good self, explain processes and your role in these processes.
Regardless of your career destination, you all know that a CV document is the bait to get you on the hook for a job interview. So the CV has to be clear, precise and interesting. It is also a sales document. The CV has to tell a factual story about you and illustrate the benefits of having you in a business. If you have just regurgitated your current job description, then this will immediately be obvious to your reader, who will be short on time.
If you have a good colleague you trust or a partner who is keen to help in a constructive way, they could offer a supportive amateur editorial facility.
Developing your CV Messages
The art of messaging your CV is a subtle one. It is always easier to write a CV against a role and corporate outline, while providing your own valuable context. When you are given a corporate outline, it is a gift, because you can simply chart out on one piece of paper a bit about yourself and your skills on the left hand side, and the role on the right hand side and a simple matching exercise ensues.
That is not always the case though. Life is imperfect, and so you may have to start off with an elemental outline and not much to go on, and use a sensible amount of guess work. I do admit this latter point is really hard. If you are transitioning from an analytical role in an investment firm to, say developing quant modelling for a commodities firm, then the analytical and quantitative parts are the key factors to summarize, as well highlighting how and who used your outputs.
If you worked in a sales team and are keen to transition to education or academia, then advocacy is often the key skill required, and you have to work on emphasising this and other skills. Transitioning to another sector means you have to be very agile at summarizing your transferable skills.
Tailoring your CV to match it to any given corporate may take some time, trial and error, but it is worth the effort.
Ladies! Regardless of whether there is a significant corporate outline or not, not be put off please by applying for a role if you do not have a perfect 100 % match. Please try and continue the application. There is some evidence to suggest that women are reticent to put themselves forwards for a role unless they are a 100% match for it. Men apply for a job when they only meet 60% of qualifications.
When you have finished adding key information to your CV, take a step back, and look at it holistically. Does this CV project a strong sense of who you are? Have you included all your technical skills, including programming languages? Have you added in any foreign languages with the correct level of fluency? Can you measure what is on the page and what is your personality? Is there a gap and is there a way to bridge that gap? Have you added in current sporting and cultural interests as well as any relevant volunteering activity? This is the point to wheel in one or two editorial helpers (friend/ partner/ colleague). Listen to their advice and do not take any criticism personally.
Methodology of CV writing
In terms of method of developing a CV script, it is always good to have a password protected base document of all your dates and achievements in reverse chronological order. Do write this up in one basic format. Also if you can keep your technical data (performance track record or sales record) in one well formatted spread sheet under a password lock that is also a useful discipline which will save you time and hassle further down the line. Set yourself a diary reminder to update both every quarter.
If you need a basic writing tip, think about starting off with a notepad. Often, writing immediately onto lap top screen means we type without purpose. Instead, sometimes it is easier to write out your CV on paper and script it out. There is always something very comforting about writing with pen and paper.
In terms of formatting your CV, I could write thousands of words on this. If I can summarise this for you, it would be: use white space and use it well. Try to work hard at summarising. Do not overcomplicate your CV with exotic formatting and too much bold underlining. Try to ensure a consistent use of headings and texts. I would suggest investigating 2 -3 templates and try to work out what is best for you. Always try writing your career story in a simple reverse chronological format first and that will keep you straight before you launch into other formats. Most formats allow for a 50-word summary which should carefully sum up where you are now in your career and where you ideally would like to be, and your track record. To me this is like laying out words on a Scrabble board and to do it really thoughtfully and in a truly impactful way, it can take a while.
As you create all these formats, you may wish to use a simple method of file naming so you can keep a track of all the versions over a certain time period.
If you are moving sectors, some experts suggest using a functional CV. Any google search will bring up suggested templates and formats. If you are targeting a US corporate audience, please try to keep the length of the CV format to one page (this is not done by using tiny 6-point font). German-speaking corporates will prefer a CV with a photo, so the cultural variances of the CV are many and varied. Please note that for UK CVs, there is no legal need to supply your date of birth, and for your own privacy, you may wish to keep your home address off the page.
There are some very basic low tech ways to check your document. My favourite proofing tips are firstly, read your CV out loud. You will most certainly find errors both in language choice and grammar. Please weed out what I call weak words such as 'financial services professional' and overused adjectives like 'good' and 'strong'. It is usually possible to find a replacement for these. If you spot investment jargon in your CV, please edit the jargon out, and find another way to explain things.
After you’ve done this, take a ruler and a print out of your document and then read your CV out backwards. This will slow you down and stop your eyes racing ahead and missing errors. You can use more high tech methods too, of course, and I can recommend great apps like Grammarly, which have a basic free service which can be very useful at ironing out simple errors that we all make.
CV writing may not be the most the interesting writing you do in your investment career, but it is one of the most important skills to develop as your career path develops. Learn it, practise it, and try to share your learning with others.
Career queries can be emailed confidentially to email@example.com. It may not be possible for our consultant to answer every query. Sometimes, we will amalgamate queries we receive from a variety of different channels.
Sarah Dudney is an Independent HR and Recruitment Consultant.