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Writing an effective CV

As the average recruiter takes just six seconds to make an initial decision on a CV, deciding what to include can be difficult. How can you make sure yours makes the right impact? Matt Moody gathered a few different perspectives

Format and presentation

As jobseekers resort to increasingly quirky application methods in an effort to stand out from the crowd, it’s easy to think of CVs as redundant in 2017. That might be true of the creative industries, but don’t start delivering your applications by drone just yet – when it comes to planning, less is often more.

  • Hard copy can show commitment if you’re applying speculatively. For advertised planning roles, “time is of the essence, and an email will likely hit home first,” says David Bainbridge.
  • “If your CV takes too long to arrive, interview slots may already be taken,” says Henry Taylor. “Hard copies risk getting lost or not reaching the right person – there’s probably a protocol, so always follow instructions.”
  • It’s best to save your CV in PDF format – Word documents can be edited, so are less secure.
  • There are no hard and fast presentation rules – simple and concise is the key. “Simple formatting has worked best for me,” says Eleanor Gingell, “although there’s definitely a place for bullet points and bold text to make certain sections stand out.”
  • Layout is a matter of personal preference, but “planners are judged by their attention to detail”, says Taylor, so it’s imperative that your CV is clear, accurate and easy to scan.

Personal statement

A vexed question: The personal statement is a vexed question when it comes to CVs. As recruiters, CJ Obi and Henry Taylor think they’re unnecessary. “It’s not essential to include a long introduction about yourself, although it is generally still acceptable to do so. Let the rest of the CV do the talking,” says Obi.

Taylor feels more strongly. “I believe personal statements are a waste of time, unless you’re specifically asked to write one. Hiring managers receive dozens of CVs every week, and don’t have the time to sift through large paragraphs.”

Maximum impact: Because a personal statement goes at the top of the CV, it’s most likely to be read first and therefore needs to have the greatest impact. If you think a personal statement is more likely to grab the reader’s attention than your most recent experience, it’s worth including – if not, you might consider saving it for your cover letter.

What to include: If you do decide to include one, you should use it to give your CV a personal touch, rather than wasting space by just summarising other parts. “You should try and describe your outlook on life and what drives you,” says David Bainbridge.

The contributors

David Bainbridge is a planning consultant and partner at property consultancy Bidwells LLP





Eleanor Gingell has recently taken up a new role as a planner with the Department of Communities and Local Government. She is a former recipient of the British Empire Medal for services to planning. Eleanor’s views are her own and not those of her employer



Henry Taylor is a recruiters at Osborne Richardson, a recruitment consultancy that specialises in planning





CJ Obi is a recruiter at Osborne Richardson, a recruitment consultancy that specialises in planning





Career history

The big bit 

Your work experience forms the main body of a CV, and it’s arguably the most important part of the whole thing. Inexperience is an immediate red flag for employers. Equally, too much detail is likely to dilute your achievements, or will simply not be read.

Make it snappy

“It depends on experience, but I would say never more than two sides of A4,” says Bainbridge. Eleanor Gingell goes further: “Speculative CVs can be broader, but it’s best to fit your CV onto a single side.” Obi agrees that the closer to one page you are, the better, but adds “if you’re senior, there’s more leeway for a slightly longer CV”.

This is key – your position on the career ladder determines how much detail to include. If you’re a new graduate or changing careers, how can you fill out your CV with limited experience to draw upon? Conversely, if you have years of experience and a maximum of two pages to work with, how can you decide what makes the cut?

Be interested 
“If your experience is limited, you should highlight things that demonstrate your passion for the industry,” says Obi. “New graduates without much experience can volunteer with Planning Aid, or do a short-term work placement within a local practice or authority.”        

Stress skills 
Rather than focus on specifics of your role, think about the skills and knowledge you took away, says Gingell. “Graduates can include part-time jobs or voluntary experience, as long as you consider how it relates to the skills of a good planner.

“Sports club involvement can demonstrate teamwork, for example, and waitressing or bar work might demonstrate an ability to juggle and prioritise your responsibilities,” she continues. “It’s also worth considering joining the RTPI networks – involvement with the institute can help a CV stand out.”

Add value 
With more experience it’s a question of picking out the most valuable points. Rather than listing responsibilities, “focus on your key achievements in each role”, says Gingell – “ask yourself what value you brought to each position”.

Other channels 
If you feel like you can’t do yourself justice, don’t worry, says Obi. There are other ways to get your experience across. “Your cover letter, follow-up email, and most importantly the interview, are all opportunities to expand on your key points and provide extra examples.”

Be exact                                                                              
Regardless of your level of experience, it’s a good idea to emphasise achievements that can be quantified, adds Obi. “Rather than saying you   ‘worked on a large scheme’, you could say ‘worked on a 300-unit scheme in south-east London’. If your achievements can be broken down numerically, they seem much more real.”

Hobbies and skills

Including a small section about your life outside of work is a good way to inject some personality into your CV. That said,it’s important to consider your audience, says Gingell.

“It’s helpful to get a bit of personality across, but always consider what your hobbies might say about you. I run regularly, but mainly because my other interests are eating chocolate and watching box sets… a friend of mine has completed the Snowdonia marathon three times, so that definitely shows perseverance! Would I include running on my CV? Probably not, but my friend may well do.”

Taylor’s advice is similar. “Hobbies are very important because they give an indication of the type of person you are,” he says. “But you need to be aware of less positive stereotypes, too.

“Tech-related interests may suggest someone who is forward-thinking, and taking part in sport can illustrate commitment and resilience. On the other hand, some recruiters may consider that video games suggest reclusiveness.”

Although your skill set should be evident from your experience, there are some skills worth drawing special attention to. Which deserve a mention can vary depending on the area of planning in question, says Bainbridge. “Development management will involve different skills than a policyfocused role, for example. Try and reflect the job description where you can.”

Find out more

For more guidance on building your career in planning, read our professional skills advice on the Planner Jobs website http://jobs.theplanner.co.uk/careers/professional-skills/

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