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Give your CV the edge

Published on: 20 May 2009

Do you like candlelit dinners, walks in the rain, watching old movies and slow dancing until sunrise? So do I, but none of the above will add anything to your CV.

Your CV is not a personal ad. It's a sales pitch, selling you. You need to grab attention, demonstrate talent and say as much as you can about your value to an employer in a limited amount of space.

That said, you're not a list of previous jobs, or even the valuable skills you've gained in each position. You're a fully-rounded human being with a personality - and associated hobbies and interests - and you need to let that shine through in any job application. Picking the right extracurricular activities to mention can elevate your CV from the crowd.

David Standerwick, head of professional people strategy and implementation at Boots, knows how hard this can be. "Quite often, people will tell us they like walking, which is nice, or that they like to go to the cinema," he says. "Well, that's super, but it doesn't really help us in determining if that person's got a focus on customers and patients, which is what we're looking for."

You should always prioritise hobbies that show you go the extra mile. "The kind of thing we're looking for is voluntary work, such as working over the summer with Barnardo's, which demonstrates a predisposition to customer care and service," Mr Standerwick says.

Involvement with sports teams and community groups are a positive. These not only show that you have good social skills, but will emphasise teamwork and good planning and co-ordination.

A commitment to organisations such as the Scouts or Guides is also interesting to employers, especially as this will often involve organising groups that can be difficult to manage, such as children. However, these are only relevant if they are recent or you were involved for a long time.

"If [a candidate] got a 'rubbing sticks together' badge when they were 12, that's less interesting," explains Mr Standerwick. "But if they've stuck with it, that's interesting to employers."

So how far back should you go? Mr Standerwick says that activities as long ago as university can be noteworthy, especially if you held office.

Languages are important to mention, and those native to UK ethnic populations such as Urdu and Chinese may be looked on more favourably than French, German or Spanish. However, don't be disheartened if you can only speak English, you won't necessarily lose out. And it's always better to be honest about your ability, rather than say you can speak a language when your abilities are limited to asking for directions.

It's also worth setting down any effort you've taken to explore your career options, including time in hospital or industrial pharmacy. What works really well on a CV, Mr Standerwick says, is when a candidate shows he or she "has really thought about what they want from a career, what would be a good launch pad for it, and they've gone and done it".

Additional qualifications always add another string to your bow. Make sure you mention if you have a business degree, such as an MBA, or taken any courses that have provided you with a certificate. These again show commitment and a willingness to take proactive steps to develop skills and further your career.

You should also look to include qualifications gained during hobbies. For example, many voluntary medical organisations allow you to take first aid certificates, and scuba divers may gain training in search and rescue and resuscitation.

Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules about which extra activities you include on your CV. But what's important is to stand back and consider what the line says about you as a person.

If it indicates teamwork, organisational skills, commitment, planning or any other qualities desirable by an employer, it could be the eye-catching line that makes you stand out from the crowd.