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Career Insights: Preparing your CV for success in your job search

In our latest Career Insights blog, YAIA’s Careers Director Lauren Twine discusses techniques for preparing and refining your curriculum vitae for your job search, whether in Australia or overseas.

Your curriculum vitae (CV) is generally the first impression that an employer forms of you, and research shows that it is often made within a matter of seconds. As such, you need to make your CV stands out, yet is simple to absorb, in order that an employer flicking through potentially hundreds of applications will stop at yours.

Whether you’re applying for your first job or your next opportunity, it is important to keep your CV up to date, simple to read, and unique to help you get to the next round of the application process. If you’re looking for some tips on creating or refining your CV for your career in international affairsdomestically or internationallykeep reading!

Start with the basics

The first page of your CV is often described as prime real estate, so this is where you sell yourself! At the top of the first page, include your name, phone number (including the international calling code), email address, and LinkedIn page.

YAIA’s Strategy, People and Culture Director Tony Che explains that while “many of us applying for graduate positions have a range of exciting and important professional and volunteering experiences”, we need to “remember quality over quantity”. A two-page resume is generally sufficient for young professionals, unless otherwise specified in the job advertisement. This helps you to reflect seriously upon which of your professional experiences so far will provide the best evidence that you can be successful in the role.

Tony also reminds us that our CVs should be tailored to the role that we are applying for. A simple way to do this is to “record all of your experiences in a general CV”. Then, when you go to apply for a role of interest, you can revise your resume according to the selection criteria by keeping your relevant roles and emphasising applicable skills and experiences, while removing the rest.

Some early-career IR roles require specific training, such as a degree in economics or law. However, all roles are looking mainly for the demonstration of ‘soft skills’, which are transferable interpersonal skills, like teamwork or problem-solving. These skills are particularly important to emphasise in both your cover letter and CV for the field of international affairs, where developing and demonstrating interpersonal skills like communication and relationship-building are at least as important as the IR theory. Evidence for soft skills can come from paid industry experiences, your casual retail/hospitality job, internship, exchange or volunteer experiences—you just need to make the connection and justify it.

Following your education and work experience, common headings include your language skills, awards and achievements, a skills summary, professional memberships, extracurricular activities, and referees. Check out the various CV templates available online from Seek, the Australian Government and others for further advice.

Details and presentation

As with many parts of the job search, attention to detail is critical in polishing your CV. Proofread the document and get someone else to as well.

With regard to fonts, pick a common and simple one to assist with readability. Further, ensure that your sizing is consistent throughout the document, at 11 or 12 points. Keep your formatting consistent: for example, if you decide to list your work experience roles in bold, ensure they all are. The same goes for the date structure and dot point styles that you choose.

Beyond these details, the layout of your resume should be uncluttered and clear, with some blank space, bold heading titles, and bulleted achievements. A 2018 eye-tracking study showed that resumes with these features were more successful at capturing the attention of employers. Resumes with an E- or F-pattern layout also fared better, as they optimised readability.

Applying for jobs overseas

Although you may feel well-versed in CV expectations in Australia, it’s important to note that CV expectations and job applications differ from country to country, so look into the specific country you’re interested in for tailored advice. What generally remains the same is the length of your CV at two pages, and the structure, format and consistency of the document.

Spelling conventions (for instance, the use of American or British English spelling) and attitudes towards including photos in your CV are good starting points. If you are planning to prepare a CV in a foreign language make sure to get a native speaker to review your CV before submitting.

Conduct some research into whether including a photo on your CV is the norm in that particular country. Employers abroad will also be interested in your visa status so you may wish to include this upfront in your CV to assist with their decision-making.

If you’re applying for a role in the European Union (EU), take a look at Europass, a free initiative by the European Commission to help job applicants communicate their skills and experience effectively for employers across the EU.

Don’t give up!

Remember that it is perfectly normal to not be successful in everything that you apply for. It is also okay to be disappointed, especially when you’ve invested so much in the process. The best thing you can do is take the time to process the disappointment and learn something from the experience to help you grow for the future.

Ask for feedback on your job applications when you’re unsuccessful. While not all employers will respond with tailored advice on how you could have improved your application on request, you are more likely to receive something if you ask.

If you’re feeling a little disheartened by the job application process, check out this Princeton professor’s CV of failures, which includes all the opportunities he missed out on! Even the best of us ‘fail’ sometimes.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to create or update your curriculum vitae, you are always welcome to contact the YAIA Careers team.


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