Building a strong CV is an essential part of putting your best foot forward to potential employers. It is a key way for you to clearly articulate how your skills and experience align with the employer’s requirements, allowing employers to easily visualize you in the role.
It’s an opportunity to outline relevant experience, skills and achievements, while also telling employers a little bit about yourself and your personality.
Using the following suggestions, we recommend building a standard CV that you can use widely but that you can also tailor for each employment opportunity that you apply for so that it is as relevant to the opportunity as possible.
Many of these tips come from talent acquisition professionals Rabia Moaz, Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition – Tangerine and Sean Araujo, Head of Talent, Klarna Canada, who shared their expertise in a CV workshop for displaced job seekers. This workshop can be viewed in English and Spanish.
Basics of a strong CV
Name and contact information: If you have a preferred name that differs from your legal name, you can use your preferred name in your CV. As for contact details, we recommend including your email address and, if applicable, a link to your LinkedIn profile or other professional page, such as GitHub. There is no need to include a phone number or home address.
Summary: This is an opportunity to summarize your strongest qualifications for an employer such as length of work experience and highest education. You can list core technical skills here. You can also include a career goal, though this is optional. An ideal length would be 2-4 sentences.
Education: List all your post-secondary education. You may include your grade point average (GPA) or designation (i.e. ‘honours’) if it’s a strength you would like to highlight. Only include your high school if it is the highest level of education obtained. If you would like to include incomplete education, you can do so. You can clarify that this was incomplete with a note, such as: “Incomplete due to displacement.”
Work experience: A good rule of thumb is to start by including all your work experience in the past 10 years, all of which should be listed in reverse chronological order (from most recent to oldest). You can also include earlier work experience, depending on how relevant this older work experience remains. Very short-term jobs don’t need to be included, but avoid creating many gaps in your work experience history.
Under each job, we recommend including a few points to describe your responsibilities and any major achievements or key performance indicators (KPIs). Hiring managers often have many CVs to review and have only a short amount of time to dedicate to each CV they receive – being as specific as you can be in your job descriptions while keeping it short and concise allows them to learn as much about you as possible in their limited time.
You may also choose to include unpaid internships and volunteer experience to strengthen this section if you don’t have a lot of relevant work experience. If you have a long gap in your work experience, you may choose to explain it. You can add a note, for example: “Unable to work due to relocation” or “Unable to work while providing care for children and family” or “Worked in several short-term jobs while settling into a new country.”
Projects, certificates, or volunteerism: This is a great opportunity to include items that make you stand out. This may include personal or educational projects outside work, continuous learning certificates, and volunteer experience. Include items that might show you’re creative, curious and dedicated. You may also include links to personal projects, publications, or portfolios here.
Skills (optional): You may want to have a skills section if you think you have specialized or job-related knowledge and abilities, such as software programs or tools. If you do opt to include a skills section, try to focus on your core technical skills.
You may also include ‘soft’ skills or strengths that make you a good colleague. Think of items like communication, attention to detail, reliability, creativity, etc. You may include one or two hobbies outside work that help show you as a fuller person (optional).
Languages: List the languages you know and your level of proficiency. You can include adjectives such as “fluent” or “intermediate” or “beginner” and test scores if you have them.
With this basic structure in place, here are some general dos and don’ts to think about throughout your CV writing process.
- Do aim for 1-2 pages in length.
- Do use consistent fonts and spacing, leave enough white space for comfortable reading, and ensure clear organization of information.
- Do check your spelling and grammar, and once you’ve done that, have a friend check your spelling and grammar to ensure nothing was missed.
- Do keep your CV updated and make sure TalentLift has the most recent version.
- Do, if possible, add photos of your work at the end of your CV, using an extra page or two, if relevant. For example, carpenters or roofers may wish to add photos of their work. Alternatively, a link to a portfolio may be included.
- Don’t include your photo.
- Don’t include private biographical information such as gender, age, or marital status.
- Don’t include references, but you may say: References available upon request.
- Don’t include a cover letter unless asked.
With all this information in hand, we are confident that you will be able to build a strong CV, allowing you to put your best foot forward to potential employers.
We also encourage you to reach out to TalentLift through the live chat on our site or talent platform with any questions you may have. We are here to support you along your journey and hope that you found this guide helpful.
- Workshop on “How to build a strong CV for the Canadian job market: Tips for displaced job seekers” (available in Spanish)
- CV template (available in Spanish)
- CV development tips sheet (available in Spanish)
- Further CV development and job preparation resources are available through the non-profit ACCES Employment.
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