When it comes to landing the role of your dreams, a compelling CV is your strongest weapon.
But the CV writing process can be daunting – after all, attempting to stand out in a competitive job market is no easy feat.
So, to help you get this right, we asked Andrew Fennell, recruiter and founder of StandOut CV, for his take on 8 of the most common CV questions. He shares all you need to know to get your CV on point and secure that all-important interview:
1. How should I structure my CV?
It’s important to remember that your CV’s structure is just as important as its content.
I always advise job hunters to make the most of the top quarter of the page. This is what recruiters will set their eyes on first, so it needs to immediately prove your suitability for the role and entice them to read the rest of the application.
So, use this top section to display your basic contact details, a 4-6 line profile summarising your key selling points and 6-8 short bullet points listing your most relevant skills. Then, use the remaining CV space to list your previous roles and qualifications.
Often, recruiters will skim your CV whilst making an initial shortlist of candidates – so make sure your key information is highlighted and that the document, as a whole, is easy to navigate. Keep paragraphs short, use bullet points and ensure that CV sections are clearly divided.
2. How long should my CV be?
It’s an unwritten rule, but most recruiters would agree that a CV should be no more than two A4 pages. Recruiters and hiring managers are generally very time-strapped, so anything more than 2 pages risks overwhelming them before they’ve even started.
3. What should I write in my CV profile?
The aim of your CV profile is to hook the reader’s attention, prove you’re a suitable match for the role and, ultimately, entice them to read further.
So, start with a brief and punchy sentence which summarises your experience and sets the tone for your candidacy – for example, “Senior sales manager with an extensive insurance background.”
Then, highlight your most relevant hard skills, sector knowledge and highest qualifications, as well as any impressive results and accomplishments.
The key here is to keep the job you’re applying for in mind – and try to instantly prove that you’ve got what the employer is looking for. Before you set pen to paper, review the job description and aim to match the candidate requirements as closely as you can.
4. How can I make sure my CV impresses employers?
It’s important to sell yourself. The employer’s main objective is to find someone who can fulfil an essential role in their organisation and make a significant difference to profitability or efficiency. Your job is to convince them you can do that.
Write in a confident, active tone of voice – for example, you’re not just a sales professional; you have “a proven track record of driving sales in a highly competitive industry”. You should also include your biggest achievements, especially if they’re measurable stats or facts.
5. Can I send the same CV to numerous companies?
One of my failsafe pieces of CV advice is to always tailor to the job you’re applying for. Every role is different, so it’s not a good idea to send an identical CV to every organisation you apply to.
Make sure your CV covers the job description’s main priorities. If the role is looking for management experience, your CV should tell them exactly what management experience you have. Don’t just hide it in your previous role descriptions – put it in the top quarter profile and skills section, so the reader spots it immediately.
6. Do I need to include all my experience?
If you’ve got a long employment history, make sure you prioritise space for you most recent and relevant roles. Recruiters are more interested in the past 5-10 years of your working life, as this displays your current skills and capabilities. While your internship at age 18 certainly shows a great work ethic, it doesn’t exactly say much about your skillset after 10+ years of sector experience!
So, place more emphasis on the roles that are most relevant to the position you’re applying for. If you run out of space for older roles, you can simply list the basic details — for example, the job title, company and dates — without expanding on your duties and responsibilities.
7. Should I add colour and graphics to my CV?
I generally advise job seekers that a simple CV is the best CV.
Adding colourful graphics and quirky fonts might look nice, but most recruiters are time-strapped and simply want to scan through the written content as quickly as they can. Elaborate designs often make a CV more difficult to read – so it’s normally best to stick to a clear, simple layout and muted colour scheme.
The one exception to this rule is for creative professionals. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, it makes total sense to show off your skills – but do keep readability in mind at all times.
8. How should I send my CV?
If you’re applying for a role through an application form on the organisation’s website, there’s normally a specific place to upload your CV. However, you’ll probably apply for most jobs by email.
In these circumstances, I’d recommend pasting your cover letter into the body of the email and uploading your CV as an attachment. This way, your cover letter is immediately visible to recruiters, making it far more likely to be read.
In terms of file format, I’d recommend a Word DOC. Nowadays, CVs often go straight through scanning software before being read by an actual human – and this software can’t always read PDFs. On top of this, recruiters may need to make quick edits to your CV before sending onto an employer or hiring manager – a Word DOC will allow them to do this.
It takes some time to write the perfect CV, but it’s well worth it. By writing a CV that is tailored to the role you’re applying for, focuses on relevancy and has a well-defined structure, you’ll be able to impress employers and land the job you want. Good luck with your job search!
About the author
Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV – he is a former recruitment consultant and contributes careers advice to websites like Business Insider, The Guardian and FastCompany.