How to write your life story in a cv

What makes the perfect cv? Mildred Talabi, who has just written a book on the subject, should know. She talks to

tablet with 'send cv' button


Mildred Talabi has always been good with words. As a child she would go around marking books with a red pen. It was not by accident then that she became a journalist and editor, but it was when she was working as assistant editor at a film magazine that she says she had a “eureka moment”. She was having to read lots of cvs. “I was so tempted to edit them and make them better,” she says. “A lot of people just didn’t seem to get what employers wanted from a cv. They didn’t seem to understand what an important document a cv is.”

She decided she might be able to help and get paid for it in the process. She did a trial run with friends to test the advice she gave. They got a lot out of it and she started to give advice professionally on the side of her other editing and copywriting work.

Now she has written 7 Keys To A Winning CV, an easy-to-read, accessible book which gives tips and advice on how to write the perfect cv.

Telling a story

She says her journalism skills come in very handy when she is advising people since cvs are basically about telling a story and grabbing prospective employers’ attention. “It’s about communicating,” she says. “A lot of people are good at communicating verbally and that can help at interview, but they need to be able to communicate well on paper in order to get to the interview stage.”

CV writing is also an opportunity to review your career to date and where you want to go, she says. If you are sure yourself, then you stand a better chance of convincing a prospective employer you are right for the job.

The good news for those who have taken a career break is that the trend in cvs at the moment is towards skills-based rather than chronological cvs, says Mildred. “Most employers are looking for someone with the skills and experience to do the job they are advertising for. Even if you had the experience two years ago and have had a gap since then your skills do not just go away. People worry that they do, but they are still there. They may need refreshing, but if you have got experience of doing a job once you can generally do it again. The skills-based cv provides a fairer playing field.”

She advises against mentioning why you have had a career break. Many people have career gaps now, particularly in the current climate, she says, and employers are more understanding about it. In any event, you can talk about the reasons at interview if you are asked. “Sometimes when you highlight your children on a cv it brings attention to things that might not necessarily be noticed,” she says. “You want to focus on your skills so that the first impression is about that. If you are asked about your career gaps at interview you can talk about the skills being a parent have brought you. My sister has three children and works full time and I can see all the skills she has acquired in terms of running a household, organising people, prioritising and meeting deadlines.”

Regular review

Mildred recommends reviewing your skills and updating your cv regularly. Talking to a friend or colleague can help as they can ask you detailed questions about what you do and highlight skills you might overlook, she says. “If you do it properly cv writing can give you a lot of insight. It might, for instance, show you that you are applying for jobs that are beneath you or that you might actually be better setting up your own business. You can also put it up on your Linkedin profile. It’s an important document.”

If your skills need refreshing because you have had a long career break you could consider a refresher course or voluntary work. She says: “Voluntary work can give you the confidence you need as it allows you to get back into a work environment, to get back into the swing of things, to realise you can do it and that you have done it before. It helps you ease your way back in.”

If you are looking for a flexible job, she recommends not applying for jobs with full-time hours if you don’t want to do full-time hours. If the employer really likes you they may make an exception, she says, but generally if they say they want someone five days a week that is what they want. You could, however, ring up HR beforehand and ask if there is an opportunity for the job to be worked flexibly. “It’s best to discuss this before you apply. Otherwise you are wasting your and the employer’s time,” she says.

In her years advising on cv writing she says the main mistakes people make are not reading over their cv and checking for things like spelling mistakes. They also forget to do their research and end up addressing their covering letter to the wrong person. And presentation is often bad. “Cvs are 50/50 presentation and content. You want to get people’s attention so you need to take care over the layout and fonts. It all presents an image,” she says.

Mildred’s particular tip for success is to highlight your key achievements on your cv. “They are often missed out,” she says. “But they are really what sells the cv above all else. You need to highlight what you have done which is above and beyond the call of duty. Don’t bury it.”

*7 Keys To A Winning CV by Mildred Talabi is published by Harriman House, price £7.99. 

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