Working in the social impact sector is nothing short of rewarding. There’s a lot to love about the idea of making a living out of one’s passion to propagate concrete change in the world. Yet, joining the sector, including top international organizations and the United Nations, can be overwhelming. Among a list of things you need to get right is your CV writing — one of the most important professional documents for most of us.

While it can be true that the sector will ask you to be a cut above the rest to make it further, the same applies to almost any other industry.  You’ll go a long way by mastering your CV, the first step to take if you hope to break into your target industry.  

It is a known fact that most recruiters spend less than 10 seconds viewing a CV — an average of 7.4 seconds to be precise. Job seekers today face even more challenges through applicant tracking systems (ATS). The tools that automatically eliminate applications simply for lacking the right keywords.  Thus, to boost your chances, you must know how to shine almost immediately. Follow the top recruiter tips tailored to the social impact sector (but are also relevant to most industries) if you plan to leave the right mark in your application.

1. Stand out with a solid ‘Career Objective’

CV advice

A short 50-word Career Objective at the top of your CV summing up your skills, experiences, and career goals gives recruiters a good glimpse of you from the get-go. Though this is debatably optional in CV writing (as this all too often comes across as fluff if done wrong) this is a great space to summarize what you can offer.  If you’re breaking into the industry, try to hone in on your transferable skills and goals instead of your years of experience. For your reference, compare the two examples below.

Good example:

A communications professional looking for a competitive role in the development sector where I can apply my three years of strategic communications, research, and project coordination skills, with my background in human rights, to support the team in effectively communicating impact.

Bad example:

“I do not have much professional experience yet but as a motivated graduate of King’s College program in International Studies, I know I am ready for a challenging position in a public relations or digital marketing organization.”

The good example shows clear skill sets and experience and demonstrates a clear objective and aspiration for joining the organization. On the other hand, the bad example fails to provide any substantial and relevant information.

2. Tailor your CV to the job description

CV writing

Effective CV writing allows you to cater to a specific audience. If your career objective is a good match to the job you’re interested in, you’re already one step ahead.  Now, ensure that every section of your CV caters to the required responsibilities, qualifications (including skills and competencies).  

The most direct way to create a cohesive and impressive work experience section is to list keywords that align with the job’s top requirements. Use these keywords in your CV writing, especially as you elaborate on your past experiences.

While it is a must to appropriately mirror the sector’s language, you can further identify relevant key terms, competencies, or even jargons used by your target organizations. Employ those keywords with tact to show that you understand the role and organization. To make this process more efficient, select only a handful of roles that you think you have a higher chance of success. This way, you can dedicate ample time to understand them and tailor your applications effectively.  

For entry-level professionals and those transitioning from other industries, you can focus on relevant experiences and skill sets to show that you have the competencies required to become a successful candidate.

Bonus tips: Incorporate any values you share with the organization

Most impact-driven employers have clear values and operate on certain principles. Not only does an effective CV contain descriptions of relevant past experience, but it also reflects the individual’s principles. Internalize your target organizations’ missions, visions, and values so you can find traits of yours that match up to theirs. Consider fleshing out your passion to highlight your individuality.

3. Hone in on ‘soft skills’ and weed out clichés 

CV template

In the age of automation, ‘soft skills’ are increasingly important in most industries and are required for many roles in the social impact sector.  Many employers find ‘soft skills’ to be more in-demand compared to hard skills, particularly in jobs that require human interactions. Knowing which soft skills are in-demand is a good first step. At the end of the day, most hiring managers would prefer a good team player with leadership potential over someone who simply meets all the basic qualifications and hard skills. 

Incorporating ‘soft skills’ into your CV in the sections mentioned above can improve your tailored CV writing.  But to make you stand out more, make sure you avoid using terms that can be found in most CVs. Avoid using clichés or buzzwords as they can weaken your CV.  Stay away from statements like these: You are a [motivated] [team-player] who is [creative], [passionate], and [detail-oriented]. Only use them if you find them relevant to a particular point or story you want to convey. 

4. Showcase your achievements with ‘measurable metrics’

Resume advice

Another effective way to win over your recruiters is to demonstrate past experience in a convincing and tangible way. Once you’ve tailored your CV and ironed out relevant keywords to feature your qualifications, never forget to highlight key achievements.  As you list down your experience, ensure that you are quantifying your impact by honing in on any relevant figures in your work.  You want to inform your future managers of the impact you’ve made in your previous workplace. 

If you “managed” a project team in the past, illustrate the results. You can follow this template to narrate your past experiences: By doing [x] I accomplished [y] as measured by [z]. For example, “I spearheaded digital literacy training and led a team of ten across Cambodia. The training improved the skills of 25,000 young people, resulting in a 25% increase in job placements in 2020.”

Backing up your experience with measurable results is typically a sign of good CV writing and can easily set you apart from the rest of the applications.

5. Heed CV formatting & etiquettes

Resume template

Although a great CV prioritizes content, bad formatting can cost you a career. While historically, a CV (curriculum vitae) is longer than a resume, we use the terms interchangeably as the distinction is almost absent nowadays, even in the social impact sector. 

Today, most recruiters prefer shorter CVs, and a golden rule for CV writing is to keep it to one page. This is especially true for graduates and entry-level professionals. For mid-career and senior professionals, a CV can go up to no more than three pages, unless indicated otherwise. As noted, while most recruiters spend under 10 seconds on a CV, presenting a shorter CV also shows your ability to synthesize information and present what’s most important about you as a candidate. 

If you’re an entry-level professional, don’t feel discouraged if you’re left with a handful of experiences to showcase. Hiring managers value volunteer work or related part-time jobs that show your career aspirations and soft skills. It is also advisable for entry-level professionals to place the “Education” section above “Work Experience,” as your recruiters will likely receive more relevant information in this order.  

When it comes to CV writing formatting, it is customary to stick to plain structure and consistent font type and font size. Avoid using colourful formats, unless instructed otherwise (e.g. if you’re applying for an inherently creative/design-oriented job). In general, ensure that you’ve reviewed and proofread your CV to spot any mistakes. Keeping your CV spotless will let recruiters focus on your experience instead of grammatical errors.

Bonus tips:  Avoid unnecessary, subjective, and sensitive information 

While you should showcase your entire self in your CV in whatever way you can, steer clear from unnecessary information such as your religious and political beliefs, along with sensitive personal information such as your race, age, and gender identity in your CV. 

Your CV is ultimately your personal brand that you present to your potential employers. Your CV is the first impression that you make and your ticket to a job interview, after all. Hence, the more time you spend perfecting your brand the higher chances of success you’ll have. 

Job hunting can be a daunting experience and being unemployed can make one feel vulnerable, especially during these tough times where the unemployment rate is soaring. However, to stand out from the crowd, you need to take the time and treat this piece of document with care and tact. 

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At Devcurate, we want to make it easier for people planning to work in the social impact sector. Now, you can weed out some of these worries, skip a few steps (e.g. formatting and making spelling errors), and save some time with our sector-dedicated and recruiter-approved CV template.  

Your CV tells the story of your life, and good stories are capable of making waves of impact on the world we live in.

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