People often talk about how an employer does a quick first scan of a CV to decide whether to bother exploring it any further (If you don’t agree that people often talk about this, you must attend different parties than me). Its a quick 10 to 30 second scan which is done to quickly weed out bad applications from the bunch. What gets CVs put in the bin is often simple things that seem like they shouldn’t be that hard to get right but which somehow go wrong time and time again. Things like formatting, the correct use of formal conventions, grammar and spelling. In this post I’ll be focusing on Formatting and structure.
It’s What Exactly?
Formatting and structure are how you lay out your document. Page margins, bulleted lists and spacing are all examples of formatting. Formatting and structure are separate consideration from content, but if you’ve done them right they’ll be backstage with their feet up happy with a good days work while the content stands center stage reaping the rewards and lapping up the attention… capiche?
Let me try that again. Formatting and structure is presentation, bad presentation sticks out like a sore thumb and detracts from the content – good presentation makes content the star, easy to look at and easy to follow.
So You Mean Style?
Not quite, though there is a lot of cross over but formatting and structure focus on the bigger picture. Speaking of pictures you could compare it with art and say they are the composition, the larger shapes you’d see if you look at it with one squinting eye whereas style is the sort of differences youd see if same compsition was painted by a different artist. Capiche?
Well likewise formatting and structure should separate your CV into clear shapes – distinct and easy to digest sections with subjects indicated with clear headings. So you wouldn’t put your headings closer to the section before it than the one following because it would look like it belonged to the content above. It’s a funny thing actually (you’re gonna laugh out loud), its all about the white space between the content where there’s nothing!
To illustrate this, an example once again from the world of art: this time if you can imaging music with no spaces between the notes. This would leave no space to really express anything, no time to digest it, you’d end up with thrash metal and how many employers do you know who like thrash metal? You see my point now.
Just Give Me An Actual Example Please!
Headings! How big you make your headings and how much space you have above and below headings are a matter of formatting. If I decided to make the above heading have twice as much space above it as below it I would have just formatted it but it would have been a bad move. Why? Because you should format a document not just a header. Formatting should be consistent across the document. That’s why we’re talking about formatting your document rather than just formatting text.
How you organise your document into sections using headings is an example of structure. Look I’m doing it now! Every heading in this post is posed as a statement or question from the readers perspective. For example, when I wrote “Look I’m doing it now!” I thought about making that a heading but that doesn’t fit the structure I’ve chosen.
What Difference Does It Make For My CV?
Ouch! It hurt to do that to the heading above but I just wanted to show how inconsistent formatting just ruins it for everyone. It’s like having an ear on your forehead, it’s just an ear but it’s out of place and you can’t help but notice it to the detriment of an otherwise perfectly good and well proportioned head.
A badly formatted CV makes a deep impression. Though an employer may not be able to pick out the fact that section headings aren’t all the same size or have different spacing thats not to say these facts go unnoticed. They add up to form an impression; an impression of a rushed application perhaps, perhaps of a lack of attention to detail or that the applicant doesn’t actually know how to use that office software they’ve said they’re proficient with.
So What’s Next?
I’m so glad you asked… to be honest I’ve just been trying to arrive at this point. We’ve astablished what it is and why it’s important so we can start focusing on how to improve it. The specifics of formatting and structure can be a little more difficult and I’ve already run around the topic enough like a ship on the edge of a whirlpool slowly spiralling in on the point so that I wont plunge into those specifics in depth here and now. I hope I’ve said enough about formatting a document to help already but how you structure your CV has a lot to do with the requirements of the role description you’re responding to. So, this is the theory, we’ll put it into practice in my next post.