Describing Jobs

Whatever kind of CV you do, you will need to describe your current and previous jobs. Future employers will be interested in where you have worked and what you have done. Sounds straightforward? In fact, presenting your career history in an accurate, relevant and engaging way is far from easy. It may take many drafts to get it right.

How can you present your career history to maximum effect? Here are some tips.

1. Don't copy your official job description!

Official job descriptions usually do not make good bedtime reading. Nor do they work well in CVs. They tend to be too long, wordy and bureaucratic. They are organisational documents, describing your post in relation to corporate goals.

If you copy/paste your job description into your CV you will end up with a list of duties rather than skills and achievements. It will not really be about YOU. Moreover, your official job description may not cover all the things you actually do in your job.

When writing your CV:

* edit your job description to the essentials that you wish to form part of your career profile
* emphasise transferable skills
* add specific achievements in the job (eg projects completed, initiatives, awards)
* include the 'value added' things which you do as part of your job but which may not be explicitly stated in your job description
* simplify 'jargon' phrases which do not easily translate outside the organisation
* cut out phrases like 'as required' and 'when needed'

It may help to keep a record of the things you actually do in your job in a typical week. Find the verbs which best suit your jobs and your approach to work. These may make good sentence openers in your CV.

Avoid listing too many routine duties in your CV unless they are relevant to your career objective. They may just clutter up your text unnecessarily.

Some achievements need to be 'translated' in order to be accessible to a new audience. For example, a statement like:

Researched and designed the 'Internal Operational Procedures Manual' for staff induction programmes

would read better if edited to:

Designed a user-friendly internal operations manual for new staff

When editing job descriptions, look out for 'doubles' and 'triples'. These are multiple verb lists where the items are very similar in meaning and can usually be reduced to one word on a CV:

Plan, schedule and arrange meetings for the Chief of Section.
Arrange meetings for the Chief of Section.

For the purposes of a CV, 'arrange' here covers 'plan' and 'schedule'.

Similarly, edit unnecessary lists:

Deal with faxes, emails, letters, transmittals, requests and other correspondence, both ingoing and outgoing.
Deal with all office correspondence.

Only give specific mention to forms of correspondence which demand special knowledge or are particularly relevant to the target job. Use 'including' to highlight:

Deal with all office correspondence, including requisition orders.

An addition like this may be interesting if it echoes something in the target job advert.

2. Layer your presentation: scope and achievement statements

Communication problems with CVs often arise when too much information is given about each job and the reader has no clear pathway through the text. A long paragraph of short sentences broken up by semi-colons is not very reader-friendly, especially if the grammar is inconsistent (mixing, for example, past and present tense) or there is too much repetition.

To 'layer' your career history, create a scope statement - a single sentence summarising the responsibilities or 'scope' of the job - followed by accomplishment statements - bulleted sentences giving specifics about what the job involved and what was achieved in it.

For a current job you may need more bullet points than for your previous and earlier jobs. Aim for 5-6 bullet points for your current job, with maybe only two for the earliest job on your CV.

When you describe jobs, try not to use the same words over and over again in the CV. Vary the vocabulary to bring our different aspects of your career profile. Remember that the reader will have only one eye on the chronology. He or she will also have an eye on your professional profile as a whole, and what you may be able to offer in the future. He or she will also, of course, be thinking of the target job.

Words convey impressions. The fact that your accomplishment statements are in a career history does not mean that they do not have relevance or power in the present.

For the UN PHP, you need to separate your employment history into 'duties' and 'achievements' for each job. See the course manual for more on this.

3. Be Specific!

It is helpful to include some specific and, if possible, quantifiable information in your CV. If you are a supervisor, it is helpful to state how many staff you supervise(d). If you are in control of a budget, state the amount. If you introduced various initiatives of a similar type (eg database search techniques), try to put a number on them. Use any piece of information which backs up your claims to have particular skills in a results-oriented way.

This does not mean filling your CV with numbers, but substantiating certain accomplishments.

Supervised 17 case workers and technicians.
Established 10 in-house and inter-agency programs on extended medical care and adoptions.

In your profile, or qualifications summary, it is also helpful to say how long you have been active in a profession.

If you do a functional CV with a 'Career Accomplishments' section (or similar), it is essential to include some quantifiable items. All items in such a section should have something specific in them, in contrast to a professional profile which emphasises more general qualities and areas of expertise. A powerful effect can be created by having both sections in your CV.

4. Delete!

The longer your career, the more you need to delete. Jobs in the previous fifteen years should be included in a CV. Jobs from more than fifteen years ago can be deleted or summarised very briefly, unless you are returning to an old career. Don't fill your CV with job descriptions from many years ago.

If you had a previous career which differs completely from your current one, you could mention this in your professional summary. Mentioning a previous career (eg 'ten years' experience as an advertising manager for a large retail company') need not be a digression but can add depth to your current profile. Only a few words are necessary - don't overdo the details or the whole thing could become a distraction. Remember, it is words that leave an impression on readers more than dates.

5. Join the Dots

When describing jobs two things at least need to be clear: where you worked and what you did. Make sure that you leave no major information gaps.

For example, after giving the name of a company it is sometimes helpful to explain its area of business. This is not necessary for well known employers, but is important if the employer is not well known. For example,

Aurora, Amsterdam
Web Designer

could be rewritten:

Aurora, Amsterdam (web design and software marketing agency)
Web Designer

For the same reason of accessibility, avoid too may abbreviations in your CV.

6. One job, many roles!

If you moved around a lot in a single job you may need to do some selection to make your career history readable. It is better to put your last and/or most responsible post as the main job title, beneath the organisation's name and the overall dates of work. Then give previous posts held with sub-dates, distinguishing them from the overall dates by using different indentation or point size, or by putting them in brackets. Brief 'scope' and 'accomplishment' statements for each post can be used, but if you have too many posts listed your text can easily become cluttered. It may be necessary to highlight the ones which are most useful for your current application by editing out the less important ones. A phrase like 'Posts included' can be used to tell the reader that you are giving a selection.

Promotion can be indicated in brackets after a post title: Chief Transcript Coordinator (promoted August 2006).

7. Too many jobs!

If you have a lot of jobs in your career history you should consider doing a functional CV instead of a chronological one. This will focus the first page of your CV on key skills. Your career history can then be listed on the second page.

8. Turn a Job into a Skill

You may have some less important items in your career history which could be omitted or mentioned elsewhere on your CV . These might include part-time jobs while studying or jobs which lasted less than a year. If you include these jobs in your main career history they may attract an undue amount of attention from the reader simply because of their position on the page.

To solve this problem, you could omit these items from your main career history, perhaps renaming the section 'Career Highlights'. Then add a smaller section later in the CV called 'Additional Employment'. Alternatively, you could add an explanatory sentence at the bottom of your career history (eg. 'Various part-time jobs in catering and retail, 1994-7') without listing all the employers.

You need to decide how important these jobs are to you in your current career situation. In some cases it might be effective to omit a job from the career history but mention it as a skill later in the CV. For example, if you worked for one year as an au pair or a babysitter, you could say something like 'Possess experience of caring for young children (worked part-time as an au pair while studying in London, 1997)' under 'Additional Skills and Experience'. If this is tucked away on page 2 of your Cv it should not dominate the reader's attention in the first 20 seconds, but may be of passing interest if the CV gets a more detailed read. Using this 'tuck away' technique may also allow you to explain a gap in your career history.

Be creative with your CV. Try to see the sections of your CV as spaces that you can change and redesign, rather than as fixed boxes that need to be filled in with information.

Don't forget also that work does not have to mean paid work. Voluntary work also has a place in a good CV. A vivid impression of you as an all-round person with a life outside the office can be conveyed by brief examples of contributions to the community. Mention, for example, school and PTA involvement, staff union and welfare activity, charity and fundraising work, sports leadership and organisation, and any active participation in pressure groups or societies.

Such details may be secondary to the career history, but they can lend your CV interest, personality and warmth.

9. Hit the Verbs

Try to use active and dynamic verbs in your CV. See the document 'Verbs in CVs' (on this site under 'Resources for Download') for a list of active verbs.

For your current job, use present tense ('Research and report') and for previous jobs use past tense ('Researched and reported'). Participles ('Researching and reporting') can also be effective. Make sure, however, that you are consistent in the grammatical approach you adopt.

In the CV as a whole, try to vary the verbs you use instead of repeating the same ones. At the same time, make sure that the 'core words' of your CV are repeated (for example, in the profile and in several accomplishment statements). These words may well be verbs.

Also make use of adjective + preposition phrases, such as:

highly skilled in, familar with, adept at, qualified in, trained in, up to date in, focused on, accustomed to, fully appraised of, informed about, sensitive to, experienced in, recognised by

10. Teamwork

Despite having an individual job description, you probably work most of the time as part of a team. Teamwork and collegiate skills are usually highly valued in job recruitment. How do you show these skills in a CV? Here are some suggestions:

* Use the word 'team' somewhere in your CV. Although you do not need to add 'worked as part of a team' for every statement on your CV, it is helpful to use this phrase - or a more specific one such as 'worked in a team of seven investigators' - in at least one scope statement.
* Use phrases like 'working closely with colleagues' or 'in close cooperation with others' to describe projects which involve inter-departmental or inter-agency teamwork.
* Stress skills that imply teamwork and cooperation.
* Use the prefix co- for some of the verbs on your CV. For example, 'co-wrote guide for new interns'.

11. Target jobs

When you apply for a particular job, edit your current and previous job descriptions to foreground skills and achievements which anticipate the target job. This may mean changing words or removing/adding details; but it may be as simple as re-arranging your bullet points to draw attention to a skill you have.

If, for example, you are applying for a job which demands budget management, you could foreground details in your CV which are related to financial management. Or it could be communication and liaison, or computer skills, or a language. If the job advertisement identifies a particular skill as 'essential' and you have experience in that skill area, consider mentioning it first in your Key Skills section or Profile. Clear away routine tasks which could stand in the way of your special skills.

By editing in this way you can show that 'readiness factor' that gets CVs on the short list.

12. Highlights

Above all, make sure the highlights of your CV stand out. Don't let routine and secondary details block out the big picture. Before your send your CV, try it out on some friends or colleagues. Give them just 20 seconds. Then ask them to tell you what they remember from your CV.