How to sell yourself in a crowded marketplace: CVs and personal statements

Edd Williams is the author of Now What? Education, Career and Life Choices, a reference book and guide offering practical advice to teenagers as they approach key decisions regarding their futures, whether it be careers, university, apprenticeships or something else. In this extract, Edd talks about the importance of writing a killer CV or personal statement.


No matter what or where you choose to go when you leave the hallowed halls of your school, some truths are universal. You will at some point have to write a CV or an application form. Benjamin Franklin may as well have put it down on his list of inevitabilities alongside death and taxes. Working in recruitment for as long as I have and do, I have seen something in the region of 100,000 CVs. Sounds ridiculous, right? Twenty-five to thirty CVs a day, 260 working days a year for eighteen plus years. It adds up. Working as an academic consultant I have seen many, many personal statements. So when a teacher tries to instruct a student on how to write a CV or personal statement and considers their job done and that box ticked, it makes me laugh. Because they don’t have a clue. End of. They might argue otherwise, but searching ‘how to write a CV’ on Google is not really the same thing. If you listen to them you are getting a raw deal and most, if not all, schools are failing to use genuine experts in the field. Even an average manager from a local business will likely only see a handful of CVs in any given year, as they will have been vetted, checked and filtered before they reach their inbox. Your guidance counsellor is unlikely to have ever been on the other side of the table when it comes to working out whether an application is good or bad. So next time a teacher tells you what to write on your CV or how to construct a personal statement designed to sell YOU, consider the source. 


Before we tackle the how-tos let’s consider the whats. In its most basic form the CV or personal statement or application form is just a chronological breakdown of your experiences. At its heart this is what it is, but presented in a way that best highlights your attributes and makes them as marketable as possible. If you have followed the earlier advice, by the time you come to write it up, those experiences should amount to something worth shouting about. Sadly, what happens when you take advice from people who don’t know what they are talking about is that you end up with clichéd drivel. If I read on just one more CV that someone is adept as both a team player as well as being able to work on their own, it’s possible I may gouge my own eyes out. 


Think about what that actually says and consider whether it’s worth bragging about. ‘I can behave myself around other people without being unnecessarily difficult and don’t require constant babysitting if on my own.’ 


If these are the most positive attributes you can muster to justify why you should be granted a place or a job, then the pickings must be pretty slim for those making the choices. Only they are not: the job market and places at the best universities and apprenticeships are competitive and the capacity to not misbehave unless permanently supervised is not the selling point it once was. 


Writing down what you can offer someone should not be seen as an unenviable task but rather a gold plated opportunity to sell yourself and put your best foot forward. It is, in essence, a marketing brochure designed to woo and tease the reader into wanting to know more about you, at least enough to open the door enough for you to get in front of them and seal the deal in person. You don’t need to tell them everything at this stage, just enough to convince them you are interesting enough to merit further consideration, and you do that by selling to a particular need or desire. No good trying to sell bacon to a vegan, so you need to understand your audience and work out what is going to excite them and sell to that need.


For more advice, check out Edd’s book Now What? 

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