CVs that stand out from the crowd
Whether you’re applying for your first museum job or looking to move up the ladder, writing a good application is essential if you want to get through to the interview stage. CVs and application forms help organisations understand the skills, experience and motivations of prospective employees. Well-crafted CVs enable them to make informed decisions about who to bring forward to the next stage of the process.
Competition in the sector is high and the first hurdle is to get shortlisted, so you can impress in person at an interview. There are several ways in which you can write an application or a CV to increase the likelihood of being shortlisted.
Know your worth
Before you start writing or tweaking your CV or application, take a moment to reflect on your achievements. Feel a sense of satisfaction and pride – these feelings will affect your writing style, so you can more readily communicate your value.
- Summarise who you are in a profile statement.
- Use “I” not “we” when discussing your work.
- Be clear about your role – don’t share the credit.
- Use active and direct language. For example, replace “I was asked to audit our volunteer programme” with “I audited our volunteer programme”.
Think about your reader
You aim is to be shortlisted for interview, so you need to influence whoever is reading your application. Ensuring it is as understandable as possible is the key to success.
- Use the present tense for your current role, and past tense for previous roles.
- Always spell out abbreviations and avoid sector-specific jargon.
- Present information in a logical order. This might be by date or starting with the most relevant experience. And make sure you are consistent.
- Consider using bullet points, but do balance these with prose.
- Use language that resonates with the organisation’s priorities and values.
Matching the requirements
The key to being shortlisted is to demonstrate how you meet the requirements of the job. You don’t need to meet every aspect of a job description, but providing evidence-based examples of your experience is essential.
- Look at the criteria of the job you’re applying for and share examples that show you match it.
- Include clear outcomes and metrics as evidence of your achievements. For example, if you are responsible for an organisation’s social media, share the stats that illustrate how you’ve increased traffic or engagement.
- Make it easy for the employer by presenting your evidence in the same order as the criteria are presented on the job description.
Consistency in how you present your previous roles can help you focus on providing the relevant information. It also helps the employer understand your employment background and experience.
- Always give the job title and dates of previous roles.
- Include a couple of lines summarising the intention of the post. You can often find this in the existing job description.
- Include your responsibilities – this gives a sense of the scale and scope of the role.
- Share your achievements as evidence of your track record.
- Don’t be afraid to include metrics. For example, the number of staff you manage or the budget you look after.
- Including your reason for leaving a job can be a good way to communicate your ambition and values, as well as explaining any fixed-term roles.
- If your career includes volunteering, then consider sharing these chronologically as part of your career history, rather than in a separate section.
In my experience, the perfect job advert comes along when you are about to go on holiday, you are unwell or you have a big work deadline looming. So having prepared content can really help.
- Create a primary CV that includes your achievements over your career, and draft a covering letter that positions your CV.
- Identify generic competencies and prepare 200-word responses to them outlining your experience. You could use job descriptions from jobs you’ve previously seen advertised to help you decide which competencies to focus on. Alternatively, look at the Museums Association’s competency framework for inspiration.
- It’s easy to forget projects you’ve worked on or smaller achievements, so keep a record and update it on a regular basis. Also make sure you update your primary CV and covering letter.
- It should be noted that while written CVs and applications remain the norm in the sector, museums are increasingly looking at how to make their recruitment more inclusive, and are accepting filmed applications or audio. However, many of the principles shared here remain true whatever the recruitment process.
Tamsin Russell is the workforce development lead at the Museums Association