Make Your CV Stand Out Print E-mail

Your CV is probably the most important tool during your job hunt, so getting it right is absolutely essential.

It is also one of the few aspects of the job search that you are in control of – your CV dictates whether or not you will be invited to interview so it must be able to sell both your skills and your experience. The sections below highlight what you should and shouldn't do when writing your CV, how to make your CV work for you and how to target it towards each different position that you apply for.

The CV

CV writing is a controversial subject - part art, part science. If you ask any two people their idea of the perfect CV, you are likely to get two different and rather subjective responses. However, there are a number of 'do's, 'don't's and common pitfalls, which most personnel professionals would agree on. If you bear these in mind when preparing your CV, you stand a much better chance of surviving the 'CV cull'!

Length

Far too long - Probably the principal mistake people make when preparing their CVs. Your CV should be brief and cut out the waffle - 2 pages is generally a maximum, and for those with little experience, writing a 1 page CV generally makes more sense. Techniques such as bullet pointing help make your CV easier to read and help make it punchy.

Detail

Eliminate what a prospective employer would see as unnecessary detail, e.g. only list years, not months (this also helps to cover up chronological gaps). Look at each piece of information which could be included in your CV and think, 'Does this help my case?' If it doesn't then we leave it out.

Contents

The CV should contain up to date contact information so that potential employers can call or email you during office hours. Ideally, this should come at the start of the CV and be followed by an introduction or “profile” section which summarises your qualities and introduces your career objectives.


The most important or relevant information should go on the first page of your CV so if your strengths lie in your academic background, the introduction should be followed by your education and then your career summary. If, however, you have enjoyed more success in a professional capacity than academically, the reverse should apply.


The last section of the CV should be a brief summary of your interests outside of the workplace. Try to make sure that you include any achievements here that may help you to stand out from the crowd and to avoid mentioning common interests such as reading, listening to music and socialising as these are generally accepted as hobbies that most people enjoy doing.


When writing a CV, always concentrate on recent history and summarise older information. If you've got A Levels then don't list all your O Levels/GCSEs on the CV. Similarly, if you've got a degree, there's no need to include A Level grades unless they're all As or Bs. Employers are most interested in what you've done most recently, although they obviously still need to know the basics of older information.


You can demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of your chosen profession by using relevant terminology and 'buzzwords', although this should not be overdone. It is much more important to be specific about your achievements and experiences. Also, you should aim to include information on additional skills such as your ability to speak other languages or your proficiency in the use of computers.

Using Power Verbs

An effective way of making your CV have a greater impact is to start your sentences with Power Verbs. These are words such as Achieved, Developed, Launched, Managed, Empowered, Maximised, Strengthened, Implemented and Realised. These words can be used to describe your skills and experiences in such a way as to emphasise what you achieved rather than just what you did. However, you should be careful not to over-use Power Verbs and also to make sure that the ones you use are as relevant as possible to the role for which you are applying.

Interests & Activities

A common mistake is writing far too much in this section. With the CV trend moving increasingly towards the American résumé style, which precludes such a section, we recommend keeping it to a minimum.

Key Skills

The inclusion of a 'Key Skills' section in a CV is progressively less popular these days. It is now considered better to spread evidence of key skills and abilities throughout your employment history. Specific points should be addressed in the covering letter, a vitally important part of any application.

References

Details of referees shouldn't be included on your CV. They clutter it up and, more importantly, you will find that your referees get pestered unnecessarily by time-wasters. By the time they have given their umpteenth enquiry they are a lot less likely to say nice things about you!

CV Writing Mistakes

Some of the mistakes that people make when writing a CV are very obvious and others are much more subtle. Here is a list of some of the more common mistakes seen in CVs:

  • Too long and too “wordy” - summarise your information as much as possible to ensure that it is both clear and concise
  • Disorganised layout – by following the guidelines above as to how to present the CV, you can make sure that the information is presented logically in the CV
  • Spelling and grammatical errors – it is essential to run a spell check through the finished CV and to read through it to ensure that it makes sense
  • Including photographs or other decorative embellishments – this should be avoided as they distract attention from the important information contained in the CV
  • Use of first person – too much use of “I” or “Me” in the CV can appear arrogant and is also too informal
  • Irrelevant information – it is not advisable to include anything that does not add value or could appear negative such as reasons for leaving jobs
  • Too much use of jargon – some technical terms are acceptable but it is important to explain these if there is the possibility of them being read by someone not familiar with them

Targeting your CV

Whilst some people prefer to have a general CV that suits any position, it is arguable that greater success can be achieved by tailoring your CV according to the needs of the specific role to which you are applying. Sometimes, you may not be responding to an actual job advertisement but may be sending a speculative application to a company you particularly wish to work for. Either way, it is important to do your homework on the company, ideally using the Internet as a research tool, so that you can highlight particular skills, experiences and attributes that you think that company will be looking for.

Although the CV is your tool to promote and sell yourself, it is also your opportunity to explain your understanding of the company you are applying for and how your skills relate to their specific requirements.


Where possible, use relevant key words in your CV that you have picked up either from the job description for the position you are applying for or from the company website. It is not enough just to say that you have the skills and experiences that they are looking for – you have to be able to demonstrate this by providing evidence where possible. So, if you are applying for a sales management position, rather than simply saying that you have many years sales management experience, explain the achievements you enjoyed in this role in terms of increasing sales and profitability. This shows the potential employer that you have the ability to add value to their business.


Once you have created your initial CV, it is usually possible to use this as a template for all future CVs so, when applying for a different job, you do not necessarily need to rewrite the whole CV but can instead just amend and update your existing CV according to the essential criteria for the role. Make sure that you actually fulfil these criteria and provide evidence accordingly otherwise it may not be worth you applying for the job.


These CV and letter principles apply to all career moves. Having a good CV is essential for full-time jobs, part-time, internal, external, promotions, new jobs, career changes, internships and work experience placements - wherever an employer or decision-maker is short-listing or interviewing or selecting applicants.

Short-listed and successful candidates are invariably the people who provide employers with the best CVs and best covering letters.