This article was first published in Horizons magazine July 2009.
In an industry where people move from organisation to organisation frequently and many staff are seasonal, it can sometimes feel like life in the outdoors is one continual job hunt. As bad as it is to keep applying it can be just as bad to be a centre manager who is on the receiving end of 300 CVs a year and has to sift through them to work out who is the right person for the job.
Below is some advice for people who are either writing their CV for the first time, or are updating it before applying for full time jobs or freelance positions. The overall aim should be to keep it short and neat and to provide only information an employer is interested in. By following the advice below, being honest and with a bit of luck, you will maximise your chance of at least getting to an interview. From there you're on your own!
Make your name obvious. If an employer is leafing through a bunch of CVs, they won't notice your name if it's in 10pt text. It should be legible, so choose a sensible font and make it big enough to read from a short distance. If you're emailing a digital copy, don't send yet another "cv.doc", put your name in the filename.
By all means include the words 'Curriculum Vitae' if you wish but, if you are running out of room, they take up valuable space.
If an employer can't get hold of you, they can't employ you. Make sure your contact details are up to date and clear. Put them near the top of the CV.
Include an address where post can be sent to you and where you will receive it reasonably swiftly, as contracts need to be sent out and you will almost certainly have to sign and return forms.
Email is the preferred means of communication for many people nowadays so if you have an address, put it under your postal address and check it regularly. A mobile phone number is ideal if you are out and about a lot but it is worth also putting a home number where you can receive messages if you work in areas where there is little reception.
This is what will initially decided whether your CV gets kept or binned. Most centres cannot operate without appropriately qualified staff so an employer wants to see straight away which qualifications you have.
List all your national governing body qualifications, grouped by activity. If you have watersports qualifications, put them together, likewise with climbing or mountaineering. Include any 'training' modules you have completed as although they do not allow you to work at a higher level, they give an employer an idea of where your career is going. You should also include the dates on which you achieved the qualifications as this gives an employer some idea of your experience.
The outdoor education industry is one of the few where having lots of previous jobs is considered a bonus. Having worked with a lot of centres/institutions shows that you have a range of experience and an understanding that there is more than one way to deliver outdoor activities.
You should start with the most recently held position and work backwards in chronological order. Include the job title and the dates during which you held the post and the job title. You should also include a short description of the role, your duties, the type of clients you worked with and the activities you delivered. Here is an example;
May 2002-September 2002 Group Instructor, Snowdonia Outdoor Education Centre
Delivering Outdoor Activities, including canoeing, kayaking, orienteering, sailing, archery and assault courses, to groups of up to 12 primary school pupils from deprived inner city areas. Pastoral duties included overnight responsibilities and character development. Other duties included equipment purchase and maintenance and general office work.
Freelance work should be listed as such, with a list of clients and examples of activities and courses you have run. Some details of the range of clients you have worked with is a useful guide to the employer of your experience. List any relevant voluntary work you have done with the same information as above.
If you are new to the industry, or haven't worked for many organisations, list any work you have done with groups such as the Scout Association or schools.
Also, list your previous jobs, even if they are not outdoor related, your employment history can tell an employer a lot about you even if it is in another sector such as teaching of the armed services.
Limit your education history to the two highest levels that you achieved. For example, A-levels and then Degree. List the highest first and include the name of the establishment, the dates you attended and a summary of the qualifications you achieved. For example;
1997-2000 Isle of Skye Sixth Form College 2 A-levels (Maths A, Art C), NVQ2 Spanish
If you have just left school, it is worth mentioning if you have Maths and English GCSEs and the grades.
Your personal interests can tell an employer a lot about your attitude towards the outdoors. List your outdoor interests here, along with some idea of the level at which you do them. For example;
Rock Climbing I took up climbing around 4 years ago and have climbed all over the UK. I lead at VS and F6a. Venues have included Stanage, Harrisonís Rocks, Llanberis Pass, Gogarth, Wye Valley, Pol Dubh and the Isle of Lewis. Overseas, I have climbed in Northern and Alpine France, Spain, Italy and California.
Try to give the employer an idea of how much you have done and how broad a spectrum it has been over. If you have been involved in a project as a volunteer, for example, conservation work or public education, include it in a similar manner.
Conservation I have been volunteering for the BTCV for eighteen months. During that time I have been involved in three rubbish clearance projects at a local woodland and have been an assistant warden, helping the public discover these beautiful places.
List any major trips you have been on and, in particular, any you have planned or helped organise. A trek in the Himalaya with a trekking company is very different to one you have organised yourself.
Any competitive sports you have competed should be included, along with significant results or records. Don't limit yourself to outdoor sports, include any major achievements. e.g.
I raced in two marathon seasons, one in K2 and one in C2. High points of the seasons included finishing the Devizes to Westminster race and winning at the Schools National.
Include at least two referees. Ideally one of them would be from your previous job, although this is not always possible. In addition to their name, put their position or job title and the organisation they work for. If they work independently, list their highest qualifications. More important to most employers is not what your referees say but who they are.
Once again, make your potential employers life as easy as possible. As well as a postal address, include a telephone number and email address for your referees, speeding up the time it takes to contact them.
Nobody expects an outdoor instructor to be a graphic designer. However, your CV needs to be well laid out and clear. As mentioned earlier, employers are interested in specific information, so lay your CV out in the order suggested above. Have clear headings and make sure you don't cramp everything together
The font should be legible, try a sans-serif like 'Arial' or something that is easy on the eye like 'Times New Roman'. Avoid script fonts, curly writing and the like.
Unless you are exceptionally talented at desktop publishing, resist the urge to 'jazz up' your CV with pictures, coloured boxes, wavy lines, zebra stripes etc. Bad design is worse than no design. The exception to this is a picture of yourself, which can make your CV stand out from the rest but make sure it is small, clear and shows you at your best. A head and shoulders shot is probably all you need and, as above, if you can't do it neatly, don't do it.
Keep your covering letter brief. Describe yourself in a couple of sentences if you must, but avoid cliches and hackneyed phrases such as "I am a good team player but I am happy to work by myself if needed". Show that you have done some research about the company, describe why you want to work for them and what makes you right for the job. Keep this to two paragraphs, it's you CV that will sell you, not your letter.
In your final paragraph include two very important bits of information. Let the employer know the best way to contact you (home phone, mobile, email) and when you are available from. If you can start immediately, say so.
The most important step in writing your CV is the final one. Get someone (or two or three people) to read through your CV and covering letter and check your spelling, punctuation and grammar. Nothing looks more careless than an obvious mistake.