Like many others, I wanted to pursue a career in international affairs after graduating, but quickly realized how tough it would be to find a job in this field. So I decided to volunteer as an assistant recruiter at an NGO for a few months, in order to gain experience and to improve my understanding of what it would take. Based on this knowledge, here are my tips on how to build an appealing CV. (Featured Image © Flazingo Photos)
At the Human Resources Department, I read many CV’s and motivation letters, and attended some job interviews. By doing so, I learned several do’s and don’ts for job applications. I will share the insights I gained in three separate articles: one with CV advice, one with advice for your motivation letter, and finally tips for your job interview. Hopefully, this will help you succeed in your next job application!
The advice that I share with you is subjective. Personal preferences, as well as organizational and cultural norms might differ depending on the application. Therefore, always make a personal assessment of what suits you and what suits the organization you are applying to. To better understand the organization, be sure to check their website thoroughly, read their annual plan and talk to an employee if you know one.
Personal preferences, as well as organizational and cultural norms might differ depending on the application
During my assistance work, I was told that there are many cultural differences between the Netherlands and Belgium, even though these are neighboring countries. The Dutch, for instance, are known for their straightforwardness, while Belgians seem to prefer less personal job applications and thus tend to be more formal in the ways of expressing themselves. Try to understand the company’s context in terms of culture, and adapt to this insofar it suits your character.
Also, applying for a job at an NGO calls for a different approach than applying for a job at an academic institution or a governmental organization. For an NGO, creativity is likely to be more important. An NGO would also want to see that you agree with their norms and values – make sure that all of this is visible in your CV. Thus, be sensitive and assess which discourse and style suits your application best.
Assessment in Six Seconds
Due to the high influx of applications, especially in the field of international affairs, a recruiter spends only six seconds on average on your CV to assess whether you meet the preferred profile. Only then will the recruiter probably read your motivation letter. In order to grab the recruiter’s attention, you will have to ensure that your CV is attractive and accessible. Standing out from the crowd is essential.
Always edit your CV to stress the information relevant for a given vacancy
Recruiters assess CV’s based on the criteria for the vacant position. Play into this and edit your CV to stress the information relevant for this vacancy. Specifically, start by creating your standard CV with all your experience in it, and edit this CV for each specific application. Use a discourse that suits the vacant position, the organization, and last but not least, that fits yourself. Do not be afraid to make it a bit personal so that your CV really reflects you – without lying!
To customize your CV, carefully read the vacancy text. Look for about five core competencies and/or work experiences that the recruiter is looking for, and make sure that this information can be found in your CV within a few seconds. To do so, your CV should include a summary of your career at the top, stressing all the relevant points of interest.
Less is more! Try to avoid long sentences and an overkill of information. For example, it really is not necessary to mention your student jobs if they are hardly relevant to the position you are applying for. Most people assume that more information on your CV shows how experienced you are, but in reality it only distracts the recruiter from the important information she or he is looking for. You can always refer to your LinkedIn profile for an overview of your entire work history.
The Devil is in the Detail
Some things may seem straightforward, but are actually important to mind. For instance, a CV never consists of more than two pages and the used (standard) font is never smaller than Arial 10 or Times New Roman 11. Furthermore, use capitals and bold text to emphasize your position titles, as this is the most important information a recruiter is looking for. Another often forgotten point is to list your studies, work experience, etc., chronologically, starting with the newest information first.
There are different opinions on whether to add a photo to your CV. This seems to depend on personal, organizational, and cultural preferences. However, if you add a photo, make sure that it is a professional one and not a selfie!
No matter how formal the organization, a CV is always more appealing when looking neat
Whatever you do, make your CV readable and uncluttered. When you visit a website, you expect all the information to be clear – bear in mind that this applies to your CV as well. So, for example, using an icon instead of writing the word ‘e-mail’ under your contact information can be a smart move. Consistency is equally important in this regard: use only one font, one type of bullet points and decide whether you go with or without dots. No matter how formal or conservative the organization, a CV is always more appealing when looking neat.
As pointed out before, you need to stand out – minding details such as colors and lay-out could help, while also ideal to emphasize certain information. Chose a color that suits you, but try to avoid using bright colors such as pink to keep it professional. Conveniently, there are many CV templates to download so you do not have to develop your own from scratch.
Finally, you have to double-check your grammar, and ensure to use a consistent language (so either USA English or UK English). Nothing screams ‘unprofessional’ like a poorly written CV.
Organizing Your Experience
Depending on your experience, you can implement different sections or boxes to outline your expertise. These sections can include ‘Contact Information’, ‘Summary’, ‘Education’, ‘Work Experience’, ‘Volunteer Work’, ‘Workshops’, ‘Extracurricular’, ‘Languages’, ‘Publications’, ‘Achievements’, and ‘About Me’. Only insert a specific section when you have several experiences to mention there, otherwise gather the remaining information under ‘Extracurricular’.
Do keep it short. For instance, if you attended several Model United Nations (MUN) sessions, and the competences you gathered over there are relevant to the job, only mention the most prestigious MUN you attended, ideally one where you received an award.
Adjust the grouping of your experience depending on what the recruiter is looking for. If the vacancy text mentions experience abroad as an asset, create a section in your CV labelled ‘Experience Abroad’ if applicable. This significantly simplifies the recruiter’s search for information.
If you do not have relevant work experience yet, start by specifying your study background. Recruiters do not fully understand the content of all study programs, so be specific and explain which minors you followed or what topics you focused on, stemming this to the specific vacancy. Achievements such as honors programs, cum laude graduation, and selective masters are always worth mentioning.
Your working experience is the other most important section. Make sure to mention the year and month you started and ended a certain job, whether it was part-time or full-time, and in which country or city you worked. Clearly mention the organization you worked for, and when this is an unknown company, briefly explain its objectives and scope. Finally, explain your responsibilities at this job in about four bullet points.
Certain activities in a seemingly unrelated job can be relevant for the vacancy
Certain activities in a seemingly unrelated job can be relevant for the vacancy. When a job requires you to do some administrative tasks, it is worth mentioning that you processed a number of documents at a former side job. In short, focus on your gained competences, always relating them to the vacancy.
It is important for a recruiter to get a clear picture of who you are as a person, so mention your hobbies and some of your characteristics in the ‘About Me’ section. Explain what is unique about you, to once again ensure that you stand out. However, try not to brag and avoid clichés such as “I am a perfectionist”.
Keeping these tips in mind, I advise you to now draft your standard CV (the one with all of your experiences in it) and to share it with friends to provide each other with feedback. Sharing your CV with someone else will ensure that it is crisp and clear, as others spot inconsistencies and grammatical errors quicker than you would yourself.
It is a time-consuming task to implement this advice, but it will increase the chances of getting the attention of a recruiter. However, a CV alone will not get you invited for the interview though. Therefore, I will give you tips for your motivation letter in my next article, and the job interview thereafter. Read these next articles, as I truly believe that a proper application strategy can help starters in pursuit of a career in the field of international affairs.
Last but not least, please do share your own experiences and feedback about this article. With more information and debates on this topic, we can pinpoint potential pitfalls to be mindful of during job applications.