In a world where hundreds are going for that one policy role or internship it is important to take some time to make sure your CV not only stands out, but also doesn’t trip you up. Some of the advice in this article may be familiar to you from other sectors and some is specific to policy and think tanks.
In the UK a 2-page CV is the most you should be offering to anyone. If it runs over that then you haven’t been ruthless enough in the editing and your audience will finish reading long before they get to the end.
Always remember that the fundamental purpose of a CV, in any sector, is to make it clear what you can offer to the job and the employer. Too many job seekers structure their applications (and interview answers!) around what the job can offer them. Our advertisers regularly report frustration that so many candidates forget to mention what it is that they can offer them. Don’t fall into this trap.
There are infinite structure and formatting options when it comes to CVs, but follow the key principles of keeping it clean and free of clutter. You don’t need fancy borders or multiple fonts competing for your reader’s eye but you do need to make it clear where every section starts and finishes.
Likewise, always keep in mind who your audience is. If you are applying for multiple jobs with different focuses or duties, be sure to check that the CV you are submitting reflects that.
We have broken down some key sections to include in your CV and in roughly what order, but this is your CV so feel free to play with the format if that better reflects your message.
Basic information is your name, email address and a contact phone number. There is no need for date of birth, postal address or any other identifier and given the move towards anonymised CVs for many roles it may soon be that names are not included in the future. But, for now, these are the three items all CVs have. Double and triple check the details are correct however, there would be nothing worse than being selected for interview but never receiving the invite! The advantage of such limited information is that it does not take up too much of your two pages. You can either have it altogether at the top or include it at the very bottom, but the main rule is that your name always appears at the head of the CV.
A short, snappy summary of who you are and what you can offer. This section is crucial. This is your big opener, the paragraph that tells people they should keep on reading so use it to highlight your key skills and a (brief) potted history of relevant roles or projects. If you are a student this can include your degree specialism, any projects/research of note or extra-curricular activities that show a useful skill.
The rest of your CV won’t matter if an employer’s eyes don’t wander past these first few lines so it is important to spend some time getting it right. This is also the part of the CV that is easiest to adapt for each role you apply for, showing an attention to detail that is particularly important in the policy sector.
Keep the language active ‘A highly motivated Policy Officer specialising in net zero macroeconomic analysis’ is much more appealing than ‘I have spent three years working in X think tank as a Policy Officer’.
Education. Education. Education. Vital in any CV, but let’s keep it relevant. Do they need to know what your History GCSE result is? Probably not. Ensure you are accurate with dates for any qualifications that you do list and make sure they are chronological with the most recent first. Remember to keep it to your academic education and serious professional industry level qualifications. Sadly, that means your lifeguarding certificate probably doesn’t quite make the cut. The further you move into the workplace and away from your time as a student the less relevant this section becomes. If you have been working for over 5 years, it might make more sense for your employment history and skills to move above this section.
As with education, this should be in order of most recent first. Here is your opportunity to list your responsibilities within each job and how they demonstrate your suitability for the advertised role. Consider the requirements of the job you are currently seeking, can you highlight any particular role or responsibility you’ve had that ties in well? Here is your chance to make that connection obvious to your reader and sell your skills.
This is a clever way to make the employer see exactly how you fit their requirements. You can either pull this out into a separate, clear section (bullet points work well for this) near the top of the CV or bullet point particular skills you developed or demonstrated under each separate job in the employment history section.
For a policy or think tank CV it is important to highlight key projects you have worked on. For a policy researcher this might be a list of policy publications you’ve contributed to; for an events officer it might be a conference you produced and for a communications role it could be where your organisation has been cited in the press as a result of your efforts. Think laterally and don’t be afraid to really shine.
If you have space and something relevant to put here you could include details of any courses that you have attended outside of academia or employment. Consider ways that you can upskill yourself to impress prospective employers.
A recruiter once told us that unless you have represented your country at the Olympics, nothing in the interests section is really interesting enough. With that in mind, and also acknowledging that if you are a student a lot of your experiences will be from items in this area, we have included it nonetheless. This section, therefore, should be brief. List three to four things that you do as a hobby and that offer some indication about you as a person. ‘Spending time with family and friends’ offers no insight or interest. ‘Road cyclist’ or ‘soup kitchen volunteer’ offers more of a sense of dedication and personality, however.
After you’ve faithfully transcribed all your relevant experience, education and skills onto your CV do not fall at the final hurdle and underestimate the importance of proof reading. In a world where hundreds of CVs are received for one internship, employers are looking for an easy way to cut the pile. Spelling mistakes, incorrect dates or sloppy formatting makes their job easier by immediately consigning your CV to the reject bin.
The sections and details suggested above can be formatted in a number of ways, but remember you are trying to persuade the employer to give your CV a second glance and consideration for the shortlist. Don’t crowd the page with unnecessary information and designs that distract from that. And while you’re checking, another read through is never a bad idea.