Research shows that, on their first review of applicants, employers look at your CV for between 5-7 seconds, making it imperative that you make a great first impression. After putting time and energy into creating your perfect CV, it’s well worth spending a bit longer tailoring the information to help you stand out.
Think like the employer when writing your CV. An employer wants to know that you have the transferable skills, experience and knowledge which they think makes a quality candidate – these qualities are found on their job description and person specification. Make it easy for them to find this information on your CV, through the formatting and language you use.
- Tailor your headings
Standard headings on a CV include education, work experience, extracurricular activities, volunteering experience, IT and language skills and interests. To make it easier for an employer to identify that you have the necessary skills and experience for the role, you can rename your headings.
For example, if you are applying for a research position and have some related experience, then create a new section, and name it “RESEARCH EXPERIENCE”. Group together any experiences that fall within the new heading, whether paid or unpaid, ensuring they are in chronological order. Piecing your relevant experience together yourself takes a lot of work away from the employer doing it themselves – something which they would not otherwise accomplish within 5-7 seconds.
The rest of your experience related to the role could go under a second heading such as “RELEVANT EXPERIENCE” (relevant experience not only includes similar roles held in the past but also positions where you have gained the required transferable skills). Other headings could be leadership experience, teaching experience, analytical skills; essentially any heading which summarises the main theme of the role you are applying for.
- Format your subheadings intelligently
Within each of your main headings, you will have subheadings. These might include job role and employer name, or degree title and university name. When quickly scanning your document the employer will more easily pick up on bold subheadings, which are aligned to the left, as this is the most scanned area on a CV by an employer in a rush.
For example, if you have job titles which are fairly generic, such as intern or volunteer, then you might decide that the employer name would be more interesting to the recruiter, and position this to the left-hand margin. However, if your previous job titles mirror the role you are applying for, then place the job roles to the left-hand margin. The following examples show the order in which these example students would be advised to list their experience:
- Link your skills and knowledge to what is required in the job
The key is identifying the skills you have and matching them with the skills that are written on the job description and person specification; in other words, identifying your transferable skills. Your education, extracurricular activities, positions of responsibility, voluntary work and work experience give you these transferable skills.
Demonstrate where you have used these skills, on your CV. For example, if you are applying for a job where the person specification seeks a candidate who is innovative, and you started your own business at school, then the bullet point underneath the subheading for the school job might read:
Having identified the word innovative from the person specification, and having matched it to your experience on your CV (as the first active word on a bullet point), a recruiter will see that you have the skills they need to perform their job role. Whilst quickly scanning your CV an employer will pick up on key words related to their required skills, knowledge and experience.
- Show how successful you are
Ideally, every bullet point on a CV would also display a measurable outcome:
Other measures could include stating that your research project was read by senior management, the presentation was in front of the CEO, or your recommendations helped a process to become more efficient. Although outcomes aren’t read in any detail in the first 5-7 seconds they give the general impression of success, leaving the recruiter feeling as though you are a quality candidate.
- Please don’t…
There are also a few things I would avoid doing, unless you want to stand out for the wrong reasons! Do not include a picture of yourself on your CV if you are applying in the UK, try to avoid adding logos of your past employer as this looks messy, and don’t be so creative that your CV content gets overlooked by the design – whilst you can be more creative if applying to the creative industries, still don’t let your content get lost.
These tailoring techniques will help improve the initial readability of your CV, and although this approach takes longer than sending the same CV off to multiple jobs, the quality should get you more interviews.