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When a role attracts hundreds of applications, the quality of a CV can be make or break.

Standards can end up being set so high that employers might miss out on genuinely talented and experienced applicants because of mistakes in their CV, or it simply not catching the eye enough. However, there’s a thin line between attracting the right and wrong kind of attention.

The perfect CV may be subjective, and what’s deemed important in a CV can change depending on the role. But there are a few universal constants, and things that all employers tend to look for. Above all else, the effort that you put into a CV and shaping it for a specific job reflect the level of care and dedication you will bring to the job – making accuracy and efficacy the order of the day.

Prioritising presentation

First impressions matter, particularly when applying for a competitive role, and your CV is your first chance to make a positive one. In some cases, employers may move onto the next candidate the second they see a mistake. Attention to detail is important in all manner of jobs, and to a certain extent, the effort you put into your CV will reflect the seriousness with which you take the application. Running your CV through Grammarly or a similar tool is always recommended to catch mistakes that you or your word processor have missed.

The structure of a CV is also important. It’s traditional to start with your name, address and email address, along with a professional photo of yourself. Some employers will remove the photo and even name to reduce the chances of unconscious bias, so it’s best to send a Word doc or other easily editable file format. Make sure to use a clear font style and sizes, with separate headings (using heading styles) for each section.

Tailoring your CV

The next step is usually to write a profile. This should be a short description of yourself that encapsulates your most valuable talents and attributes. Sometimes, it’s easier to write this once you’ve finished writing about your past work experience and hobbies, as well as your cover letter (if you choose to include one). You can then look through these to determine which skills and experiences are most applicable to the role you’re applying for, so you can include them in your profile.

While you can leave the rest alone, it’s sometimes worth rewriting this for each job you apply to, particularly if they are in different industries or niches. This is something you can apply throughout your CV, though it’s not necessarily required. Sometimes, you may have jobs that you would rather not include, either because you’ve had too many jobs to list, because your tenure at a job was very short, or because a job bears little to no relevance to your targeted role.

It’s ok to only include the most relevant experience as long as it accurately reflects your professional journey. However, you should be ready to account for any gaps in your employment in a way that’s both honest and accentuates the positives, such as the things you learned and the way you grew from a negative experience.

It generally isn’t enough to simply list the roles you’ve had and the things you’ve done, though. Try to qualify and contextualise your accomplishments whenever possible, embellishing them with metrics and stories that highlight your skills and attributes. Talking about any projects or tasks you took leadership on, difficult challenges you overcame, and ways that you applied your abilities to do good work for notable clients will all help employers to gauge the impact of your contributions.

Reinforcing your skills in your writing

Your CV isn’t just a list of skills and experiences; it’s an opportunity to showcase your writing ability, communication, and presentation skills. The way you write and design your CV is as much a reflection of your character and personality as your profile and work experience, and a useful tool to gauge suitability ahead of an interview. Just as an interesting opening line can keep you reading an article, an expressive and characterful CV can capture an employer’s attention.

Use the active voice to describe your accomplishments, talking about ‘doing things’ more than ‘things you have done’. As well as emphasising the impact of your actions, try to talk confidently without seeming too arrogant, with precise and descriptive language rather than clichés or overused phrases. If possible, try to tailor your writing style to the job you’re applying for, ensuring that your tone and phrasing align with the way the company comes across in their communications, and what they are looking for in the job description.

There is a balance to strike here, and it’s possible to be too flashy and try a bit too hard. Touches such as custom banners, layouts and iconography specific to one company can simply be over-elaborate, and distract from the assets in your CV that are actually relevant to the role. Unless you’re applying for a design position, the look of your CV is less important than the contents, so make sure what you’ve written encapsulates your strengths more than the look and layout.

While there are fundamental aspects to a good CV, it should be a dynamic document that evolves as you gain new skills and experiences. Above all else, make sure to keep it updated regularly, ensuring that it accurately reflects your current qualifications and career aspirations.

With careful attention to detail, strategic skill selection, and a compelling writing style, you can craft a CV that will make a lasting impression and land you the job of your dreams.

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Mark Fryer

29th December 2023

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