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The truth about CV writing

New Zealanders don’t sing their own songs of praise very often, probably because we’re well aware of what happens to those who do – their tall poppy is viciously decapitated by an eager crowd of amateur gardeners.

penelope whitson idealogSuch modesty can make writing a CV and ‘pick me, pick me’ cover letter mildly tricksy. How do you condense your life down into a short but informative wankfest when talking yourself up is practically treason?

My first CV listed my full name, date of birth, marital status (single, but had finally kissed someone) and my health. It was five pages long, heavy on the white space, italics, bold and underlining, and the hobbies and outside interests section was longer than my job experience: babysitting, retail and thistle grubbing. One referee was my mum.

My current CV is down to the required two pages but owing to my penchant for font fiddling, it often explodes into three, which I gather is a Bad Thing. As I also have issues with repetition, my bullet points rage out of control as I try to use different verbs to start them with: Completed. Liaised. Won. Taught. Wrote. Licked. Cried. Walked away.

A surprising CV hint a friend received from the helpful folk at WINZ was that vague time frames for short work stints, e.g. EIGHT months as a builder's labourer, instead of actual dates, will conceal any time you have spent in prison. She hasn’t been to prison but presumably this can also be applied to short stints of unemployment, as happens to the best of us. Looking at you, 2009.

Another chum who works in recruitment handles a lot of overseas CVs that usually have photos attached. I was under the impression that photos were a bit 90s and like dates of birth, aided discrimination and should therefore be avoided like one avoids syphilis. I don’t like syphilis so I don’t have a cover photo.

Lurching from the CV to writing the cover letter doesn’t mean the stress eases up – by this stage I’m necking whiskey from the bottle and eating ice cream with my fingers. I keep wanting to write ‘honest’ cover letters declaring what I really learnt in previous jobs. Things like:

• Having worked for the government I am now incapable of working more than 37.5 hours a week. If that.

• Working in a newsroom increased my knowledge of obscenities and I am willing to demonstrate this if required.

• Grubbing thistles is all about getting to the root of an issue.

But I don’t write such letters because I worry employers don’t want honesty, they want well-rehearsed lines such as: ‘I enjoy working as part of a team but am also more than capable of working autonomously.’ Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe they would prefer to know that one of my better time management skills involves buying clothes that don’t need ironing.

Got any CV secrets? Know how to get an interview? Have you ever made a terrible boo boo such as when I misspelled the name of the company I was applying to? I bet you have. Own up.

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