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How long should my international development CV be? Avoid these 4 common traps.

A common question anyone new or seasoned in development asks is: how long should my CV be?

The short answer: 3-5 pages.

But it’s not about word count, or page numbers. Your first and main concern is to make sure you provide proof that you can deliver on what your dream job demands.

International development job applicants around the globe, though, fall prey to focusing too much on this question from the get-go.

A brief world tour

CVs vary tremendously across cultures and societies.

In the United States: the 1-page ‘resume’ is king.

In Europe, you worry a great deal about adding too many details and not seeming arrogant.

In several parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa: full bio details, including date of birth, married or single status, number of children, and your mugshot are part of the CV.

In other parts of the world, especially with millennials, design seems to be a concern. A wide, empty column on the left is used to create the impression of space, and font playfulness is more common.

And then there’s organizational culture.

The United Nations system generally requires both your CV and the dreaded P-11.

The multilateral banks want your profile uploaded onto their respective databases.

Meanwhile, big NGOs will often more closely follow the CV culture of their host country.

All of this leads to CVs apparently serving among the last front of resistance to globalization. Who knew!

One thing is certain: in global development, your CV must tell a story of results you’ve achieved, with data and information that demonstrates your ability to deliver on the expectations of the role you’re applying to.

Without this clear storyline, your CV is doomed.

 

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Four common traps

In all this diversity, you should avoid four traps that worrying about CV have you fall into.

 

Trap #1: It should be short.

Yes, nobody has time to read your novel of a CV. And you definitely shouldn’t use any font size below 11-point to cram more words on a page.

But your CV shouldn’t unnecessarily cut out key chapters in your professional and educational history for the sake of being short.

If you’ve done it, done it well, and it shows how well-prepared you are for the job, in it stays.

Trap #2: It should be long.

The heart of this fallacy is that, the longer the CV, the more you have done, therefore, HIRE ME.

The megalomaniac CVs with over 10 pages of content usually go into excruciating detail of each responsibility held in every job for 20 years. Or list dozens or hundreds of peer-review or news articles published. These are just never fun to read.

And what’s worse is: they invariably tell the reader that — Well, yes maybe this applicant has a long list of accomplishments, but they didn’t bother to read the Terms of Reference very clearly, and are likely more interested in copy and pasting their way into any job, than taking an interest in this specific job I have to spend days of my life reviewing applications for.

The pitfall here is the CV should include everything I have ever done. In my life. From day 1. To the time I saw this job advert. Maybe even lunch.

No.

Rather, make the effort to make your CV the most relevant read it can be to your audience. Cut that bullet point if it doesn’t add direct value to demonstrating your ability to deliver results in the exact role you’re interested in.

If you happen to have published 13 pages of 8-point font articles in the field of interest to your target job: great. Use it, but make it reader-friendly.

Rather than a mass of reverse chronological order article titles, group them into categories for a reader to organize them better without reading every single title.

Trap #3: I don’t have enough experience to fill-out the pages.

Another common pitfall – especially among soon-to-be or recent graduates, and even among professionals with less than 10 years of experience – is that you simply haven’t done anything worthy of filling several CV pages.

First of all, yes you have.

You completed 30+ courses to get your educational degrees. You volunteered to help immigrant kids better learn algebra at the local middle school. You have watched each of the 67 TED talks on global development.

There is something that attracts you to this world — to making an impact on global injustice. Something that makes you think others will find your skills, knowledge and passion important for advancing world prosperity.

Find what that is, specifically for the job you’re interested in, and tell a good story about how that has prepared you for that job you’d give anything to get. There is always something. Really.

Trap #4: I’ve done more or less the same roles for different organizations. I shouldn’t get too detailed because I’ve done the same work.

We often get pigeonholed into certain job types. If you’re excellent at answering calls, then you take on a series of customer service jobs. If you’ve mastered a great deal about HR policies, remuneration packages and organizational change, then you’ve helped 2 or 3 different organizations or companies weather their own hiring storms.

It can look like you have performed the same job, over and over again, just in a different organization.

But I promise you that’s just never the case.

What you delivered in each role is unique. A particular customer experienced absolute joy in your problem-solving of their issue? That happened in that job, not the other one.

You helped save 5% on the cost of finding great new hires? Again, this job, not that other one.

Focus on your results delivered, on your performance. These will always be achievements for a particular boss, team or organization, regardless of the fact that you’ve held the same job title for 6 years straight.

And don’t get bogged down on the duties and responsibilities noted in your job description. While those can remain remarkably sticky across companies, what you get done day in and day out is what has prepared you to deliver accomplishments for that specific international development job in your sights.

It’s this that matters, not what your job description says.

Avoiding these 4 traps will help direct your focus in finding the results that best demonstrate your ability to deliver in that role you’re interested in. Don’t start with the question of how long your CV should be: the answer is, as long as it needs to be to tell the most compelling story about your preparation for the new job you’re about to get.

Have you fallen prey to any of these traps? Let us know what happened in the comments.

Tired of people telling you to "tailor" your CV and add "keywords" but not showing you how?
Get the free ULTIMATE IMPACT CV CHECKLIST that got my students their first interviews in 2 weeks! It uses real-world CV samples from professionals we've helped to get jobs at the World Bank, Save the Children and UN agencies.
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

One reply on “How long should my international development CV be? Avoid these 4 common traps.”

Tolulope Toluwadesays:

Thanks for this great piece.

I have done this and included it in my CV. But still has not landed any job.

I really need to know why potential employees usually don’t get back to me after applications and sometimes after interview.

Thank you

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