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Keep your CV out of the bin

Originally published in Forward, the Newsletter of the UK STC Chapter, July 2008

Whenever a recruiter or an HR department advertises a new vacancy they generally get inundated by CVs (sometimes known as “résumés”). But the truth is that most CVs go straight into the bin, as they don’t pass the first stage of filtering. David Farbey has been a technical writer for the last 14 years, and has also worked as a specialist recruitment consultant. In this article David gives some hints on how to keep your CV out of the bin when you apply for a job. This article is based on a presentation David gave at the STC Summit in Philadelphia in June 2008.

The employment market

When you start looking for a job it’s inevitable that you will find the employment market “difficult” – at least for you. But at the moment there’s a growing feeling of gloom in the economy, and the knock-on effect of that is that fewer firms are hiring and more candidates are applying for every job. This means that you need to plan ahead and to be prepared for a long search. Think in terms of months, not weeks.

You may even want to consider a geographically wide search as well. Maybe now’s the time to move to a different part of the country? Of course, moving home can be difficult if you have dependents- of any age – to think about.

In the current economic climate, it’s more foolish than ever to walk out of your current job before you have your next job lined up, even if you really and truly can’t stand your boss. You may find yourself without work for several months, so don’t contemplate quitting unless you have a financial “cushion” equal to 3-4 months income safely in the bank.

Finding a potential employer

There are many ways of looking for a job. As well as the obvious sources such as vacancies advertised on the internet and in newspapers, you should contact specialist recruitment agencies and let them know you are looking for a new opportunity. Look for general vacancies in your industry and approach the advertisers directly. For example, if a local software company is advertising for programmers you can contact them to see if they might need a technical writer as well. You can also try contacting local companies and approaching them directly.

Networking is becoming more important, so go to suitable meetings and events held by your local STC Chapter and other organisations. Make sure you introduce yourself to other people, as getting to know people is probably more important than asking for a job. Networking is a long process, however, and so don’t expect it to bring immediate results.

Preparing your CV

You should always keep your CV up to date, but you must be ready to revise and adapt your CV for every job application. No two job adverts are the same and the CV you submit should always highlight the experience and skills that are mentioned in the job advert. I explain how to do this later on in this article.

It may sound cruel, but most employers are only interested in what you’ve done in the last 12 to 24 months, as they want to know that you have recent and relevant experience that they can exploit without needing to re-train you. You should also be aware the practice of machine-scanning CVs is becoming more common as a method of filtering applications, especially among major corporations and large recruitment agencies. This can mean that your CV is rejected before a human has ever read it.

Although it sounds like stating the obvious, it has to be said: you must never make a deliberately untrue statement on your CV or at a job interview, or make any claim about your qualifications or experience that cannot be verified. Basic CV structure Here’s a fictional sample showing my recommendation for a basic CV. You’ll probably be more surprised by what I’ve left out than by what I have put in.

Josephine Bloggs


Entry-level technical writer looking for a challenging position to get my career off to a solid start.

Skills summary:

RoboHelp 7, FrameMaker 8, Microsoft Office 2007; some knowledge of HTML; interviewing and interpersonal skills.

Employment history:

August 2007 – present, Junior Technical Writer, Some Software Company Ltd., collaborated on development of 2,000 topic help system for leading B2B software product, carried out research with product users.

August 2006 – July 2007, Donor Communications Assistant, Well-Known National Charity, created marketing materials and newsletter articles for range of different audiences.

Education and Training:

January 2007 – July 2007 (part-time) ISTC Open Learning Certificate in Communication of Technical Information.

September 2004 – July 2006, BSc Media and Communication Studies, University of Loose Chippings.


07788 999 999
127, Railway Cuttings, Lower Backpayne,
Rutland, QI7 9SF

Let’s examine this sample CV in more detail. It starts off with you’re your name. It doesn’t say “CV” or anything else. It doesn’t start off with your address or phone number or date of birth. (In my plan, you don’t need to put your date of birth anywhere on your CV.) All these things stop the recruiter from finding out about you.

Next comes your Objective, which is a very brief personal statement that describes the type of job you are looking for, and why. A personal statement like this may be brief, but it can be difficult to write.

The Skills Summary section lists all the tools you’ve used and the technologies you are comfortable with. These are often keywords terms that are searched for by OCR and scanning systems. You can also include your “soft skills” here, particularly if they are relevant to the job requirement you are replying to. This section is followed by a list of your recent and relevant employment positions in reverse chronological order. Remember to describe each position in terms of what you did and what you achieved rather than relying on the formal job title.

When people ask me how far back in their career history they should go on their CV I like to remind them that a CV is a sales tool, not a signed confession or a witness statement under oath. There are jobs where you will be expected to give an account of your entire life since the moment the midwife slapped you on the back, but you don’t have to volunteer all that information when you are preparing your CV.

Both the employment history and the education and training sections should be presented in reverse chronological order, with the most recent item at the top of the list. If you are about to change careers as a result of a new qualification you could put the education section before the employment history section. The last item on your CV is the Contact section where you list your email address, phone number, and postal address.

My CV model has no photo, no Hobbies and Interests section, no background graphics (or any graphic at all), no peculiar fonts, no details of your marital status or family situation, and no date of birth. It does have nice wide margins so it can be printed without distortion on any regular office printer, and you have tested that.

Making your CV relevant to the job advert

Each time you reply to a specific job advert, make sure that your CV is an answer to a question in the job requirement. Use tool and technique names in your achievement descriptions. For example, don’t just write that you created an intranet, write that you used Dreamweaver to create an intranet. If there is anything you’ve done in your career that is relevant to the specifications in the job advert, make sure it gets a mention at the relevant place in your career history and in the skills summary as well.

Don’t forget your other skills

As a professional technical writer you have probably developed a range of additional skills that have helped build your career. These are the things that aren’t directly related to writing and editing, but that are worth mentioning at an interview, or even on your CV if they are relevant to the job you are applying for. Most of us have done some of these things in our career, and if you are a “lone Writer” you’ve probably done them all. Here’s a list of possible “flexible skills” to start you thinking:

Don’t forget

A winning CV is the ticket to an interview, not a guarantee of a job. You have to make a success of the interview yourself, and there are lots of factors that can have a bearing on the outcome – not all of which depend on you. Good luck with your job search.

Copyright © STC and David Farbey 2008. All rights reserved. Links to this article, and properly acknowledged quotations from this article which include a link, are welcomed.
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