1. CVs are more important than ever in today’s competitive job market. What are the best ways for job seekers, particularly project managers, to grab the attention of HR/recruiters?

  • HR managers and recruiters desperately want to find the right candidate as quickly as possible. You will grab their attention the moment they can find the information they need to validate a decision to interview you. Give it to them on a plate by presenting your relevant qualifications and experience near the beginning of your CV/résumé.
  • One way to do this is to create a section called, “Professional Summary” or “Key Qualifications” or similar. Present your information relating to the job criteria in bullet point form and embolden the first few key words, if appropriate. Start with an action verb (e.g., Spearheaded the project …) and state the benefit(s) that your actions brought to the company (… that resulted in …).
  • Under your name in your letterhead, include your relevant qualifications (e.g., B.Eng., PRINCE2).
  • Instead of using the section heading “Profile,” use a positioning title. That is, use as the heading your most relevant job title and subtitle it with the relevant industry in which you have experience. For instance, Project Manager – Oil & Gas Industry.
  • Present information about your projects in a uniform way. For instance, Challenge: … Actions: … Results: … or Project: … Activities: … Results: …

2. What are the biggest mistakes that people make when writing their CV/resume? How can they avoid these mishaps?

  • There is a fine line between arrogant boasting, succinctly explaining the value you offer, and humbly describing your job duties. It is important to tread the middle road. Honestly, but descriptively, tell the reader about your accomplishments.
  • Ensure that you have addressed as much of the job criteria as possible. Do this as early as possible in the document.
  • Do not include irrelevant details or out-of-date qualifications.

3. In terms of design, what are some creative approaches that project managers can take?

  • Use a dark color from the target company’s logo in your section headers.
  • If you want to include a list of skills, use bullet points in columns.
  • Divide your document into two columns – allocate less than one-third for your section headings and at least two-thirds for your body text.

4. In terms of design, what are some mistakes people often make? What sorts of things are considered “over the top” e.g. too many colors, etc?

  • Easy-to-scan is the most important design feature, so using all upper case letters, underlining, and more than two fonts can impede this. If you use two fonts, use one Serif and one Sans Serif.
  • Never use WordArt or similar word processing design features. A project manager’s CV/résumé should be a professional-looking document, so one color (e.g., dark blue or a dark color from the target company’s logo) could be used for your name and section headings.
  • Do not choose a font that is uncommon. If the recipient doesn’t have it, their computer could replace your wonderful font with an unsuitable font. Consider using the super-safe Times New Roman or Arial, or the semi-safe, but more interesting, options of Book Antiqua, Calisto MT, Californian FB, Cambria, Candara, Corbel, Garamond, Georgia, Goudy Old Style, Lucida Sans, or Palatino Linotype.

5. What advice do you have for print CVs versus online CVs?

  • For international applications, be sure to use the correct paper size (8.5” X 11” for North America and A4 for the rest of the world) whether printed or electronic.
  • Use good quality paper in either white or cream if a hard copy is required.
  • Use a good quality laser printer if you are going to print your document.
  • Do not use a font size smaller than 10 point Times New Roman.
  • Give at least 2 cm or .75 inch for a margin.
  • Never fold or staple a hard copy CV/résumé. Protect it with a board-backed envelop.
  • Send a digital/electronic version in .doc or .pdf by email in addition to submitting a required paper copy.
  • Electronic versions of your CV/résumé should conform to the instructions from the target company. That is, don’t upload a .pdf or a .docx file when they ask for a .doc.
  • Don’t copy and paste your Word document into online forms because they are unlikely to support formatting features, such as bullet points. Save the Word file as .txt, fix the formatting problems, and then copy and paste from the .txt file.

6. When should project managers seek professional help? Is this really a job for a professional CV writer?

  • If you feel that your CV or résumé does not compare favorably to other CVs/résumés – your colleagues’ documents or examples on the Internet.
  • If you are qualified for the job and your CV or résumé is not generating interviews, it is time to seek help.
  • If you are not fully qualified for the job and you want the best chance of getting an interview.
  • There are plenty of very good CV/résumé writing books if you want to take the time to read them and apply their advice. I would recommend Expert Résumés for Managers and Executives by Wendy S. Enelow and Louise M. Kursmark.

7. Any additional CV tips?

  • Always tell the truth.
  • At an interview, you will be asked to elaborate on information contained in your CV/résumé. If you don’t want to discuss it, try not to include any aspect of it in your CV/résumé.
  • There is no need to include your references or the statement, “References available upon request. It is understood that you will give references upon request.
  • Do not include personal information (e.g., age). Include work permit status if there is an issue with permission to work in the country.
  • Do not include interests/hobbies unless they are highly relevant (e.g., you lack paid employment project management experience, but have experience as a volunteer).

Thanks to Denene Brox for these questions. Parts of this post were quoted in Denene’s article, Top of the Stack / Build the right resume and they will call, which was published in the August 2010 issue of PM Network (Project Management Institute).