Writing the perfect CV
Looking for work, or thinking of updating your CV? Simon Wright, talent executive for BBC Vision, suggests that keeping your CV factual, concise and relevant could be key to improving your chances of landing that job.
Is there such a thing as a perfect media CV? Maybe not, but there are some rules and principles that can improve your CV, sell your skills, get you an interview and hopefully, a job.
Make sure your personal information is up to date. It’s common sense, but crucial. There is nothing more frustrating in Talent than when you need someone for a production starting asap only to find that the email bounces back and the phone is no longer in operation or the number is typed incorrectly and you end up speaking to a dry cleaner in Peckham.
Phone and email are most important. It’s fine to have your address there and that helps with HR admin, but make sure there is an immediate way of contacting you. Even if you’re sending your CV for internal jobs put a mobile number on it so that we can get hold of you quickly.
Be conscious of your email address as well. It might be fun when emailing your friends to have the email address firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com but it doesn’t create a good impression when sending to potential recruiters. Keep it professional.
"Make the most of your most recent experience, as that is the thing that people will pay most attention to - there is no point having one line about your current role and ten points about a job that you did ten years ago."– Simon Wright
Personal statements – "So what?"
Lots of people have a personal statement on their CVs but ask yourself, "Why do I need this?" and "Is it important?" Incorporate what I call the 'so what?' factor - this works especially well for TV CVs. You might think it’s great to say you are "Hard working, efficient, keen and responsible" but these should be a given. They make the production manager or recruiter go "So what?" and think "That’s nice but what have they done?"
Personal statements should be about what you have done, not your personality traits. Effective personal statements can start like this, "Self shooting researcher with over five years experience across a range of genres including arts, live studio and history based programmes." Then in no more than a couple of sentences highlight your big selling points. These could include international filming, contributor finding, wide range of research skills.
This is the first thing that people will see so make it punchy, make it relevant and make it about your achievements.
Keep it factual
Whether you’re applying for a job in the company that you are working for or externally, don’t presume that your job title alone automatically tells your reader about the work you’ve been doing or your level of responsibility. Think of your CV as a list of achievements. Tell me what you did and what you were proud of in each job. List what you were given to do and how you did it.
Personally I think bullet points under your job title and dates of working are most effective. TV people are notoriously busy. They want to find people fast and often don’t have the time or patience to go through paragraphs trying to find snippets of information. Think about what you did, think about figures, tasks, timelines and again ask yourself "So what?" and "Is that relevant?"
When I give people this advice, they often say to me, "Oh but I don’t want to be arrogant". Being arrogant would be saying something like "I am an outstanding researcher". Being factual is saying "Responsible for sourcing, interviewing and filming 20 expert contributors from five different countries to discuss the effects of global warming". Let what you have done sell itself.
Make the most of your most recent experience, as that is the thing that people will pay most attention to. There is no point having one line about your current role and ten points about a job that you did ten years ago.
Try and keep it to two pages if you can. Keep it relevant and pertinent to the job you’re applying for.
Also, don’t have gaps. If you were off travelling or not working during particular time periods, put that in. It’s better to be honest and open about this stuff.
Often I speak to people about their careers and jobs and they tell me "Oh I worked on that" or "I made my own film" or "I won that award" and I say "Why isn’t it on your CV?" If it is relevant and it can get you your next role then put it on there.
Be careful of gimmicks
There is a common misconception that gimmicky CVs get you noticed. Well they do, but not always for the right reasons. Scented CVs, origami style CVs, CVs sent with doughnuts, well all very nice but it doesn’t mean you’re going to get the job. This is particularly relevant when what is on the CV isn’t that impressive. You may well think you are being daring, creative and avant garde but the person might interpret that as trying too hard, desperate and a little bit needy. They might love it but in general it’s better to go with the standard CV format.
Hobbies and interests
Yes you want to show that you have a life outside work and that’s great. However, whoever’s reading your CV might think that you’ll want to leave work early or not be committed to the job you are doing. "Enjoy socialising with friends" could read as "Drinks too much", "Loves boxing and contact sports" could read as "Aggressive". This might not be the case but be conscious about why you are including stuff in there and the relevance of it.
However, hobbies can also work to your advantage. If you’re going for a job in Sport and you talk about your passion for sport or going for a job in Arts and you mention that you are a member of the Tate these things could be advantageous.
- Keep it relevant
- Keep it concise
- Ask yourself "So what?"
- Keep it factual
- List achievements rather than replicating a job description
- Talk positively and enthusiastically - use empowering words like "Responsible for", "Ensured" etc
- Don’t have false modesty - if you are proud of what you have achieved get it on your CV
- Don’t presume people know what you have done - spell it out
These are my thoughts on what makes a good media CV. There’s other advice out there too, some of which chimes with mine and some of which is a bit different. There are no hard and fast rules. Except one: a CV is a sales pitch. So make sure it doesn’t sell you short.
Why not listen to our podcast episode on getting a job in TV? Lots more advice on how to get, and keep, jobs.