People often ask me what a CV should look like. Here are my top 10 tips.
- Page one is the most important – If you haven’t grabbed the reader’s attention on page one of your CV then you may find yourself in the ‘No’ pile. Use the first page of your resume to communicate your skills, experience (what, where, doing what) and what you’ve achieved. Think about the language you use to hook the reader (see keywords below).Tip: Use the first page carefully and focus on information that will differentiate you from others and demonstrate the match between you and the role. All other information can go further down the document.
- Easy to read document – Recruiters often have hundreds of CVs and cover letters to sift through. They need to be able to scan read your document and, most importantly, find the information they are looking for with ease. A document with paragraphs of black and white crammed onto the page is not nearly as easy on the eye as a document that has some colour in it and provides information in bite-sized chunks. Make your CV stand out by adopting these practices.Tip: Use headings, bold text, short paragraphs and bullet points
- Formatting – Should you use fancy formatting in your CV? Within reason, yes. Colour, headings, headers, footers and interesting page style templates are all tools you can use to create a stand-out CV. The important thing is to ensure your document looks professional, is easy to read and conveys the right messages about you. If you are using fancy formatting, lock this into a pdf version of your document to ensure the formatting is not lost when the recruiter opens your document in their version of Microsoft Word. Also make sure you read the exception to the formatting rule in the tip below.Tip: Always have a plain text .docx version of your CV in addition to any PDF or fancy version. Some companies use automated applicant screening/tracking programs that will either only be able to a read plain text CV or will convert your fancy CV into a plain text version (without formatting). If you only have a PDF version you run the risk of your CV not being readable by the system and therefore the people doing the shortlisting.
- Attention to detail/professionalism – There is nothing worse than reading about a candidate’s alleged attention to detail and then spotting a dozen spelling, formatting or grammatical errors.Tip: Check, check and check again and then get a friend or colleague to also proofread your CV
- Most recent role – Recruiters want to know what you’re doing now. They are looking for a link between your current/recent role and their role and something that demonstrates that this is the obvious next step for you.Tip: If the link isn’t obvious, then use your cover letter to explain the reasons for your move. Help the employer to be confident that this is a planned move and makes total sense for you and them.
- Career progression:
When recruiters read through your career history they are looking for career progression and roles with ever increasing levels of responsibility. They are also looking to ensure your past experience and responsibilities are what they are looking for.Tip: Write up your experience in a way that will appeal to the target audience and relate your skills and experiences to the type of issues or problems you might be able to solve for them. Tell your ‘career journey’ story in your cover letter to help explain your path to date.
- Relevant words: Whether your CV is being read by a human or a computer, they are both looking for relevant keywords so they can work out whether you have the right experience and skills for the role. If your CV doesn’t have the right keywords, chances are it will be cut and you’ll get a rejection email. It is essential therefore, to have the right keywords in your CV and to tailor these each time to the role in question. Leave out irrelevant information.Tip: You’ll find relevant keywords in the job advertisement, job description and the organisation’s website. Also use your industry specialist knowledge.
- Include your LinkedIn profile URL plus any other relevant (and appropriate) web presences: Your LinkedIn profile is a great validator of your skills and experiences. You can also include links to your website and other social media profiles if you think they will add value to your application.Tip: Manage your personal online profile very carefully and set appropriate security/privacy settings with things like Facebook and Instagram. Many employers will google a candidate’s name during the selection process to see what comes up.
- Have a life outside of work: Explaining on your CV what kind of stuff are you working on in your free time is another great way of differentiating yourself from others and showing employers that you have a life!Tip: Write your hobbies/projects up in a human voice so that they are more than a bullet point list: Sport, Reading, blah, blah which can make you sound like everyone else. Show the passion in what you enjoy doing outside of work.
- Personality – Recruiters are staring at CVs all day long. If your CV doesn’t shed any light on your personality then it may look as bland as the next one and you’ll be missing an opportunity to stand out in the crowd. Throw something in to your CV (and cover letter) to show your personality. Maybe it’s a bit of humour, a personal story that helps connect you with the industry or organisation or information about a relevant hobby. Be careful to use your judgment as to how far you go with this!
Tip: Use a ‘human voiced’ cover letter/CV to help prospective employers get to know you as a person. Check out this fabulous article for more on this topic, including examples.
Not sure how your CV will fare? Get a health check on your CV with our CV review service.