I spend a lot of time proofreading students’ CVs and making suggestions for how a document can be reworked to represent each individual as strongly as possible. As my job focuses specifically on the TV and film industries, where conventions are a little different from standard CVs (not that I believe there’s a one-size-fits-all solution – but that’s another blog, perhaps), I find discussions around format are just as important as honing the content. I love a good visual metaphor, and while watching The Great British Bake Off a couple of years ago it struck me that Mary Berry’s insistence on clearly defined layers was akin to my own slight obsession with nearly formatted sections on CVs. I pondered on this for quite some time, before eventually writing my own recipe for baking a perfect CV…
Think of the Great British Bake Off and the care and attention each contestant puts into their signature bakes. Visualise the beautiful cakes they present to the judges and how these demonstrate their skillset and meet the weekly brief, from creating the perfect blend of flavours to showcasing a flair for presentation through icing, tempered chocolate or spun sugar. Now picture a CV.
To my mind, crafting a cake for Mary Berry’s discerning gaze and taste buds is similar to drafting a CV for a prospective employer. Let’s start with you: just as the Bake Off judges want to know what they’re about to sample, an employer needs to know whose CV they’re going to read. This starts with an appropriate file name for your document (you wouldn’t provide a blank label, or just write ‘Cake’ at a village fair would you?) and also displaying your name clearly at the top.
Next up is the aesthetic appeal and content of your baked goods. A mirror glaze cake is expected to have a smooth and shiny surface, and a CV must clearly reflect you. As Donkey once said to Shrek, ‘Cakes have layers’ and so do CVs: clearly defined sections that are perfectly formatted to help build the pleasing whole. Whether you have a technical skills and training section at the top (perfectly iced flowers adorning the cake) or showcase your capabilities through examples in other sections (a talent for blending flavourful butter cream fillings), you construct a CV to be as enticing as possible for the target reader.
This leads me to what I think of as the ‘format vomit’: just as bakers have come under fire for lurid icing colour combinations and adventurous decoration, throwing everything Microsoft Word has to offer at your CV is not necessarily a good idea. Neatly headed and structured sections do not always need further embellishment with bold, italics, different fonts and underlining – it would be akin to topping a Jaffa Cake with cherries, peanuts, silver balls and caramel sauce simultaneously.
(I hear some of you cry, ‘what’s wrong with that?’ and my answer is ‘how do you know where to start?’. If faced with an over-formatted CV, the initial impression could be distracting and potentially put off an employer).
The judges also want to see their briefs met and that promises are delivered upon. Think of the mammoth bread cornucopia in a recent series: there was almost too much to consider and a more selective approach may have worked in the baker’s favour. Providing an appropriate level of detail and relevant experience on your CV (the correct ingredients to suit the employer’s dietary requirements, if you will) shows that you understand the role you’re applying for. On a similar note, there’s no point in adding additional detail purely because you think it’ll make you seem a better candidate, especially if it’s not true – after all, if a cupcake promises lavender flavour then doesn’t deliver when the customer takes a chance and tucks in, there’s inevitably disappointment.
No Bake Off analogy would be complete without reference to a soggy bottom, and thus we come to references. Rounding off your CV with details of people who are happy to be contacted about you provides a solid foundation to support all the work you’ve put in above.
So when you’re next revising your CV for an application, consider the efforts you’d put into a show-stopping cake to win the role. Construct your layers, showcase your skills, make sure it’s neatly finished, and allow plenty of time to get it right: after all, no employer wants something half-baked.
Originally published, before the Great British Move to Channel 4, at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/baking-perfect-cv-jemma-saunders/