I review hundreds of CVs every week and am always available to offer candidates advice on how to get theirs noticed in a cluttered market. So, I thought it would be helpful to put my advice on paper.
Here are my 11 top tips for writing a killer CV:
1) People don’t read CVs
…. they scan them. Myself included. When looking at hundreds of CVs a week, people don’t have time to read every line and try to decode what a candidate is saying about themselves. So don’t tell your life story or write an essay. It’s always best to keep sentences short, simple and to the point; no long, confusing words or waffling sentences.
The first thing we look at is where someone’s worked, at what level, and for how long. We scan the paragraph for keywords and attributes that are required for the role in question. The more we see that aligns, the longer we keep on reading until that person ticks all the boxes.
If a hiring manager can’t immediately see what they’re looking for, or if the CV is mainly block text in a small font, then unfortunately they’ll pass over it and move onto the next one.
2) Your CV is your market stall
In a very busy marketplace, are you standing out more than everybody else? Does your CV make me want to stop by and take a look?
To give yourself the best chance of getting a great job, you need a great CV that provides an instant response from the hiring manager.
You need to “spoon feed the reader”. You literally want to give them the information they are looking for upfront, quickly and in an easily-digestible format. Therefore, fulfilling what they are looking for and be actioned as a “yes” for interview.
3) Remember the two page limit
CVs should never be over two pages. Some recruiters may disagree, but in my opinion, people switch off by page 2, so anything after that is a waste of time and paper.
Be focused and reduce your content – you have the interview to tell your story and prove your charisma.
Please don’t use a Serif font! They can appear too thin on some computer screens and become impossible to read, making your CV immediately less desirable. You may think it looks super sleek, but the aim here is to communicate your key skills and selling points quickly and efficiently; not make the reader squint and press their nose against the screen.
A good font is a Sans-Serif one; such as Ariel, Helvetica or Calibri.
5) Make it interactive
People buy with their eyes so if you can visualise your projects, campaigns, work experience and achievements by linking to PR articles, videos and webpages, then your CV is immediately more valuable and relevant than the next.
6) Write an engaging profile
I like a profile, but not everybody writes them, which is fine. If you do, then there are three parts to a good profile:
- Who are you
- What are your passionate about
- What do you want to do in your next role
Let me give you an example:
A senior digital marketing professional with both agency and brand experience across the Telecommunications, Entertainment and Financial Services sectors.
I am passionate about digital transformation, connected user behaviour and driving growth for global businesses through innovative consumer products.
I am looking for a senior Director level role where I can leverage existing digital experience to drive performance and growth for a dynamic business.
7) Your key skills
This is the most crucial part of your CV. An employer wants to hire the candidate with the best skill set and fit for the role. Set this up on Page 1 and spoon feed it to them so they can’t help but know who you are and why you’re their candidate.
It doesn’t matter whether you work in a brand, an agency, a trade body or a completely different sector – businesses need skills and that’s what you need to sell them.
Your key skills should come directly after your profile on the first page, and you should have no more than five. However, these five should always be tailored to the job you’re applying for. Swap and change them based on what they ask for in the job description and always start with a keyword (or set of keywords), followed by an explanation.
Here’s an example:
- Digital: Experience gained from both client and agency-side roles across multiple sectors (FMCG, Travel, Entertainment and Fashion Retail) across marketing communications, social media, technology, UX, products, mobile and eCommerce.
- Strategy: A strategic thinker who is able to drive insight from data, analytics and consumer behaviours, to formulate and articulate strategies that increase engagement and ROI.
- Creative: Able to lead teams and formulate creative solutions independently that deliver cut-through and engagement for brands and audiences
- Acquisition, optimisation & conversion: Strong understanding of how to drive acquisition through the wider sales funnel, value through optimisation and conversion at the point of purchase/basket,
- Stakeholder management and influencing: Able to operate and influence at all levels, across markets and global teams, communicate simply, engage both internally and externally, whilst taking people on a journey.
8) Your past experience
Less is always more here. Provide an overview of your role and the company you worked for, and if it’s a well-known brand (Amazon or Diageo), or the role is a common one (Business Analyst or Marketing Manager), then you do not need to explain who the company is and what roles and responsibilities your job entailed. They will know that or can ask for that in the actual interview.
The most important thing to focus on is your key achievement from each role. And be specific. For example:
I was the key strategic team leader for NPD across the Gin category launching a portfolio of 3 Gins in 2016, selling 1.2M 9ltr cases in Y1, and an increase in category ownership of 4%.
I constantly read CVs that have plenty of text but aren’t clear in saying what they did and what they achieved. Don’t fall into this trap.
Adding statistics/data of what you achieved proves that you did it, over someone who says they did all this “great stuff” but doesn’t provide any evidence to back it up.
9) Your personal interests
Businesses want people who will add to the fabric of their culture. If you have passions, talk about them. I’ve seen many successful interviews built off the back of a shared appreciation of the candidate’s interest; be it a love of travel, music or Malbec.
10) Design and Layout
Now this one is a little trickier. There’s a fine line between adding some personality to your CV and over-designing it.
If you work in design or marketing and have some understanding of ‘experience design’, then apply that thinking to your CV.
Always ask yourself, “Am I giving the best and most effective experience to the reader of this CV?”
You need to ensure that yours is clear, signposted, easy to read and offers up all relevant information.
Only then can you add a little personality, such as the logos of your employers, different colours and weighted typefaces and a distinction between block text and bullet points.
Bullet points are great for punctuating between information. But try not to write 3-4 lines alongside each point – it ends up becoming a block of words that aren’t bullet points at all.
11) Education, training and all that other stuff
It goes without saying that you need to include a section for your education, certification and/or the training you’ve received.
If there are things like a personal blog – great! Just make sure it’s clearly marked and fits within the two pages.
CV template download
I hope the above has been helpful to you. If you need more guidance then I’ve provided a download example template to illustrate all the above points. I haven’t spent time designing this document, but I have laid it out to demonstrate the hierarchy of information throughout your CV.
I review hundreds of CVs each week, yet I rarely see one that includes the crucial “Key Skills” section, or one that’s easy to read. By following some of the key principals in this article, you will create a “better market stall” that stands out and that people want to invest their time with.
Good luck creating your CV and I hope it helps you create better opportunities for yourself in the job market.
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