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How to write a CV that earns you the interview

How to write a CV that earns you the interview

Posted on January 25, 2018

You want to write a CV that knocks spots off the competition and secures you an interview. Get set for CV success with our comprehensive guide.

The principles of a knockout CV? Simple.

Putting those principles into practice? Not simple.

Selling yourself with just two pages of A4 is a challenge for anyone. You have a few short seconds to grab your recruiter’s attention and the stakes are high. But knowing how to create a CV that really shows off your skills will give you the best chance of bagging the interview you deserve. Fret no more. Here’s our short guide to CV success.

Keep a steely focus on your goal

Lots of people become frozen with fear when it comes to writing a CV. The task feels too big and scary: as if your next job - maybe even an entire career - is riding on it. Relax. The goal of your CV is to secure an interview. No more, no less. Take one step at a time and you’re less likely to become overwhelmed by the recruitment process.

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes

Nobody wants to spend the rest of their life reading CVs. That’s why you only have a few seconds to make yourself stand out. The person deciding whether to invite you for an interview most likely has a towering pile of CVs to tackle. Maybe they’re tired or perhaps they’re about to go on holiday and have a million jobs to complete before hitting the airport. Make the reader’s life as simple as you can.

Try to zero in on what the recruiter wants to see. Make it obvious from the initial scan that you tick the right boxes. Most recruiters will do a preliminary sweep of CVs to discard the applicants who aren’t the right fit. Your first aim is to make it clear that your CV demands further inspection. That’s why it’s so important to...

Adapt your CV to the role

A generic, one-size-fits-all CV is fine for a starting template. But to really make yourself stand out, every CV you send out should be adapted to fit the vacancy you are applying for.  Depending on the position, some of your achievements will be more important than others. Read the job spec and if you have the skills and experience the recruiter is looking for, make sure it stands out. Well-considered CVs are the ones that boost your chances of securing an interview. Oh, and most recruiters can tell when you’ve regurgitated a CV from another application- so forget about hitting copy and paste.

Follow a logical structure

What do you think matters more, the GCSEs you studied ten years ago or what you achieved in your last job? Exactly. Frontload your CV with the most relevant information. You may want to consider a “relevant experience” section. Pull out specific, relevant highlights from your career or extracurricular experience. Then provide a one or two sentence summary for each.

That might give you a structure like this:

• Name and contact details

• Relevant experience (optional)

• Personal statement (optional)

• Career history

• Education

• Achievements (optional)

• Hobbies and interests

A personal statement isn’t always necessary - especially if you are going to include a “relevant experience” section. Personal statements tend to mean opening your CV with a chunky paragraph. That’s not always what your recruiter wants to see. Whatever structure you plump for, remember to be concise. You should make your impact in two pages - three at the absolute max. Brevity is key.

What about digital or animated CVs?

Digitally-based CVs are increasingly common, where an applicant creates a website, app or animation to showcase their career skills. Some recruiters find these types of CV incredibly engaging, particularly if recruiting for more digitally or creative based companies. Our advice would be to indulge your creative side if you feel the application warrants it (and it looks good!). If in doubt, it’s best to stick to the tried-and-tested black text on two pages of A4 paper.

Speaking of which...

Stick to a consistent layout with a simple typeface

Remember that your goal is to make it as easy as possible for your recruiter to accept you. That means your CV must be easy to read. Avoid fussy fonts and stick with something that’s clear. Stop putting every other word in italics. Oh, and no decorations or fancy borders. Simple and clear wins the day.

Bullet points are your friend

Bulky chunks of text are a big no-no for any CV. You need to communicate the stuff that matters – and no more – using as few words as possible. That’s where bullet points can come in handy. Embrace the challenge and learn to separate wheat from chaff. Your recruiter doesn’t need to know about the tastiest meal you cooked in your home economics cookery class. Be concise.

Shout about your achievements

Your recruiter doesn’t care about what you do, but what you have done. But don’t just talk vaguely about some of the things you’ve accomplished…

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Make your achievements measurable

Whenever possible, aim to quantify your achievements. Put them in numbers. Make them tangible and easy for the recruiter to digest. What’s that, you increased sales? Give a percentage. Reduced overheads? State a figure. Employee of the month? Say how many staff you were up against. Talk about the outcome of successful projects. The easier you make it for the recruiter to understand the context of your achievements, the better.

Don’t forget soft skills 

Remember that’s it’s not always about your technical talents. No matter what job you’re applying for, you’re going to be interacting with people. It’s why soft skills never go out of fashion- just look at the emphasis put on “emotional intelligence” these days. Sharp communication, problem-solving and leadership abilities are always in demand. So, don’t forget to shout about yours. 

Oh, and don’t write about yourself in the third-person...

“At Noisy Hamster Inc, I increased leads by 40%.” You have our attention...

“At Noisy Hamster Inc, Ronnie increased leads by 40%.” Cringe.

Bottom line? It is your CV therefore talking in the third-person isn’t right.

Make sure your email address is fit for purpose

It’s best to include your email address on your CV. But [email protected] doesn’t exactly scream professionalism, does it? Make sure you have an email address that sets the right tone and is fit for the working world. For a few quid you could even purchase a domain address for your name – and get web hosting that offers email addresses. How about [email protected] as your email address? Worth it.

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There’s no need for a mugshot

You’ve put some new clothes on your credit card and you look seriously smart in your new threads. But take it from us: including a photo with your CV is not required. Your CV alone should make the right first impression. There will be plenty of time to impress with your dress sense and personality later.

>> How to dress for a job interview

Experience and employment history

This is one of the simplest sections to complete. For each role include start date, end date, job title and company name. Then provide a brief summary - again, 2-3 bullet points works well - of your responsibilities and achievements.

For example:

JULY 2014 - APRIL 2016 Marketing Manager, Fizzy Camel (give brief overview of business and sector)

• Created marketing campaign that enhanced sales by 25%

• Briefed designers and wrote over 50,000 words of copy

• Oversaw website relaunch that doubled monthly traffic (add link to website)

Start with your most recent job and work backwards. A decade of career history/work experience is ample. If there’s anything from earlier in your career that you’d like included on your CV, put it in the “relevant experience” section or your cover letter.

Plug the gaps in your employment history

Gaps in employment history are more common than you think. And while they make some recruiters jittery, you are unlikely to be at a disadvantage if you explain your employment gaps and turn them into a positive. If you went travelling, talk about any voluntary work you were involved with. If you were off work for medical reasons, explain how the experience made you hungry to return to work and make an impact. You get the idea. Freelance activity and extracurricular achievements are also great things to mention in the quest to plug those pesky gaps in your employment history.

Education, education, education

Like your employment section, the education part of your CV should be in reverse chronological order. There’s no need to list the specific GCSEs or A Levels you studied, unless the recruiter is searching for specific qualifications. “10 GCSEs – Grades A-C” is enough information to suffice. If you went to university, you may want to list any relevant modules you studied along with the degree you earned.

Be professional, but don’t be afraid to get personal

It’s a common mistake to underestimate the importance of the personal interests section of your CV. Think about it: it’s often the only opportunity your recruiter has to get insight on what you might be like as a person. Most people want to hire a professional who has some personality and interests beyond work.

But be careful. Instead of listing every last hobby, find a way to make your extracurricular interests relevant to your application. For example, it probably doesn’t matter that you play tennis every Tuesday evening. But if you were responsible for starting a thriving tennis club? That shows leadership and is something to shout about. Again, try to highlight your achievements.

Show that you care about your professional development

Technology moves at warp speed these days - and most industries are affected. In your personal interests section, it’s a good idea to state how you keep up with market developments and new technologies in your sector. That could be as simple as listing one or two industry blogs that you follow. It shows that your interest in your industry goes beyond the superficial and suggests you can bring more to a business than raw technical skills. If it’s a tight race between you and another applicant, showing that you invest personal time in your professional development suggests that you’re a safer bet.

Watch your language

Nothing undermines your credibility like typos, spelling mistakes and grammar gaffes. Proof it, proof it and proof it again. Then get someone else to proof it. There’s simply no excuse for poor written communication on a CV. It will turn your recruiter off quicker than you can say missing apostrophe, and gives them an easy excuse to discard your application and move on to the next one.

Save as a PDF not DOCX

It’s the digital age. Chances are you’ll be sending your CV by email or uploading it to a web portal. Regardless of the word processing software you use, it’s best to save your document as a PDF. That way it will preserve your formatting and make sure everything is neat and tidy - rather than spread all over the place - when your recruiter opens the document. If you write your CV in Microsoft Word, just hit Save As > PDF.

Let’s wrap this up...

Okay, here’s a quick recap on how to create a CV that wows your recruiter:

• Keep things focused by remembering that you are writing to get an interview, not the actual job

• Remember that your recruiter has lots of CVs to read - make it quick and easy for them to see that you tick the right boxes

• Read the job spec carefully and adapt your CV to the role - recruiters can tell when you have recycled a CV from another application

• Follow a logical structure and frontload your CV with a summary of the most relevant information

• Use a clear, simple typeface and keep your language concise - using bullet points where appropriate

• Shout about your achievements and quantify them with tangible numbers and data whenever possible

• Don’t forget to mention soft skills - they never go out of fashion

• Never make the cringe-inducing mistake of writing about yourself in the third-person

• Make sure your email address is fit for purpose

• Plug any gaps in your employment history with extracurricular achievements or a positive explanation of why you were off work

• Write about your personal interests in a way that showcases achievement and - if possible - relates to the role you’re applying for

• Show that you care about your professional development

• There are no excuses for poor written communication - proof your CV several times, and get somebody else to check it too

• If you’re sending your CV digitally, save it as a PDF to preserve formatting

You may also be interested in:

>> How to prepare for an interview >> Social media dos and don’ts during your job hunt >> Interview formats, common questions and how to prepare >> 5 interview questions that aren’t as scary as you thought >> 15 body language tips to ace your interview >> New year, new job: 6 actions points to take control of your career >> Easy and effective ways to spruce up your LinkedIn profile >> Want career happiness? Don’t follow your passion.

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