+ Why this Guide is Unique No doubt you’ll have come across the widely available CV writing guides on the net – many offering generic advice about applying for any type of job in any industry. This PsychFutures Guide to CVs has been specifically designed with candidates of a psychology background in mind. As well as established best practice tips for producing a winning CV, we’ve provided targeted guidance for psychology students and graduates wanting to stand out from the crowd.
+ First Impressions First impressions really are critical in giving yourself every possible chance of getting to the next stage in the recruitment process. In the same way you worry about your social networking profiles not showing you up in the best light, ensuring that snapshot first impression of you by the recruiter is a positive one, you’re already boosting your chances of getting to the next stage. Remember they don’t know you from Adam at this stage, and all you have is a piece of paper or PDF to communicate several necessary things about you: A good presentation style, word processing skills, accuracy and conscientiousness in producing an important document, and pride in how you put yourself forward.
+ Keep it Formal So what exactly should it look like? You may be tempted to play around with WordArt and publishing templates to add some zing to the page, but in fact, based on research conducted at the BI Norwegian School of Management, a formal-style CV is the way to go. For a brief summary of their findings, check out the PsychFutures blog post on the creative vs formal debate.
+ Formatting to Impress Type your CV rather than hand- write it. Avoid fonts which are difficult to read and use a font size no smaller than 11 – we recommend Tahoma, Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic or Helvetica Neue. If you’re even thinking about using Comic Sans, you’re going for the wrong job! Divide your CV into sections and head these with titles in bold/ underlined text. Print your first draft and glance at it quickly – is it broken up into easily digestible sections that you can scan your eye down quickly? Be brutal and keep refining it until you can get the key points within 17 seconds – that’s how long the average person has to read a CV.
+ Formatting to Impress Avoid lengthy paragraphs and keep the whole CV to a maximum of 2 pages. Bullet points for skills and experience are your friend and don’t be tempted to be over-wordy because it sounds good. You’re much more likely to impress with straight talking, friendly sound bytes. Don’t try to cram everything in: You want to communicate the key points of your experience, remember they can always ask for detail in an interview. What can you leave them with that will prompt them to want to ask more? Convert to PDF (you should be able to do this via the Word ‘print’ function or if not, there are free plugins online): It’s essential to a professional impression and to prevent anyone being able to modify it.
+ What to Write About: Contact Details Opening Statement (Skills and Specialities) Qualifications Employment History Work Experience Awards
+ Contact Details Start with up-to-date contact details at the top: email, phone, postal address. If your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, you might want to set up a new account for professional use going forward! Steer clear of using many non-letter characters (hyphens, underscores, full- stops) (e.g., email@example.com) since addresses like these are more likely to be copied incorrectly by the recipient.
+ Skills and Specialities Begin with a 2-3 line opening statement about yourself that helps the reader get a feel for your core areas of experience and personal attributes in a nutshell. As relevant as it can be to the job in question, the more you’ll invite the reader to read on for more detail. Provide an overview of your skills and specialities. For psychology students/ graduates these could include: knowledge of SPSS; Excel; Microsoft Word, research projects; presentations etc. Ideally tailor this section to the job/course you are applying for. For instance, if you’re seeking a postgraduate course in clinical neuroscience and have experience in conducting EEG brain scans, then make sure you state this here. However, if you’re applying for an office-based job then such a skill will not be necessary and the aforementioned software packages would be far more important.
+ Qualifications These should be listed with the most recently completed first. If you’re currently studying for a qualification, then add this at the top of the list stating the date you expect to complete it. Provide details of the grades acquired and the institutions you studied at. Most CVs should include (where applicable) details of: postgraduate degree, undergraduate degree, A-Levels (or equivalent), GCSEs (or equivalent) and any other professional qualifications. If you’ve completed the Extended Project in Psychology or any Key Skills courses then these should be included in this section too.
+ Employment History Just like your qualifications, your employment history should be listed with the most recent listed first. There is no need here to go into too much detail, but nevertheless make sure you highlight the key responsibilities and skills you acquired from each role (especially those which are required by the next post you are applying for).
+ Work Experience Thereafter should follow details of any work experience or professional activities you have undertaken. For psychology students/ graduates this may include: working for the BPS as a representative; serving the role of a committee member for the Psychology Society or representing the Departmental Board at your university/ college. If you haven’t got much to write about re employment or work experience then you could write about your dissertation or mini projects undertaken during your degree, whereby noting the types of research design you adopted, the measures you included, and the analyses you carried out.
+ Awards Finally list any awards you have acquired, with the most recent listed first. These may include: sources of funding; scholarships; BPS prizes; university awards. If your research projects have been published then make sure you reference these too!
+ What NOT to Write About First, don’t lie – at some stage you will get caught out! Only include details of prior jobs which you feel have equipped you with skills you can transfer to the next job – it’s really not necessary to include every job you’ve ever had. Don’t include reasons for leaving past jobs (unless absolutely necessary). Don’t be unprofessional about previous employers. Don’t try to include humour or sarcasm – it’s only likely to go against you. Don’t be vague – if you think you deserve to get the job, tell the employer why!
+ General Points to Consider Ask someone to check your CV for you before you submit. It’s always beneficial to have someone else proof-read to ensure it reads well and there are no errors. Don’t rely on spell-checker. If you’ve typed ‘there’ when you meant to write ‘their’, then obviously you won’t see any red underlining! Where possible tailor your CV to each job you’re applying for. You may wish to end your CV with details of referees, although many job applications which you need to submit alongside the CV already have a designated space for this.
+ Final Words of Advice It’s easy to get fed up with having to produce yet another version of your CV (and if you’re struggling to find work in general understandably your CV doesn’t represent something fun you want to spend time on), but try to remain positive as it really is the most critical action on your part in finding a job. After all, you won’t have the chance to impress at interview if you can’t get through the first hurdle. GOOD LUCK!