Write a great CV and it opens doors. It is a document that gets you the opportunity of an interview.  It doesn’t get you a job, but it gets you on the road towards it, and is therefore vital and well worth spending time on.Don’t think of it as chore – see it as an investment.  Once you create a core CV you are pleased with it is easily adjusted to make it relevant to each application and allows you to get it over to the person hiring quickly.

Tailoring your CV is not an option – it is essential. Each vacancy will be looking for a different combination of skills and experience and each organisation has its own culture and style. Your CV has to show how you fit a specific role and environment. One size won’t fit all. With perhaps 200 people applying for any one job you have to shout loud and clear how you meet the specific requirements of any job you are applying for.

Many people write CVs that try and prove they can be everything to everyone. This “generalist” approach means breadth not depth. Most roles are looking for depth somewhere – be that technical expertise, sector experience or proven ability to deliver projects. Make sure your CV demonstrates exactly what the advertisement is asking for.

Chiumento has regularly undertaken research to establish from 3000 employers and recruitment organisations what makes a great CV. The following guidance is based upon the results together with the collective experience and best practice methods of our career consultancy team.

Chiumento CV research results

Based on a series of annual surveys of employers and recruitment specialists we have compiled the following top 10 tips for creating an effective CV:

  • Try to aim for a 2-3 page CV (a little longer is fine….war and peace is not!)
  • Reverse chronological CVs are preferred – Remember education includes recent studies or training courses as well as more formal qualifications.
  • Create a strong profile – ideally 3-5 lines in length and focused on specific experience (including sectors) and skills.  Include key statements on your style if you wish, but make sure you can give examples of those qualities if asked.
  • Stand out from the rest – create a strong personal brand that shows how you are different and is appropriate to the targeted job and/or marketplace
  • Contact details – details of how to contact you are essential, consider informing us of the best way to initially make contact so you can call us when it is convenient
  • Presentation really matters – don’t crowd it in order to keep it to the two pages.  Aim for plenty of white space and use appropriate headings that signpost the reader
  • Be clear, accurate and appropriate – get someone else to check for errors, inaccuracies or irrelevancies and consider their comments before finalising
  • Support your CV with a short, high quality covering letter/email­ – use reference numbers if given, state the position you are applying for, and pull out some key points that match with skills, competencies and experience requested.
  • Keep personal details brief – use this section to express something of who you are, but keep this section brief.
  • Remember the purpose of the CV – simply to get you to the interview stage

Key points to remember

Most CVs only receive between 20 and 90 seconds of initial reading time. Only include the information that the recruiter wants to learn in order to initially select you. Most CVs are scan read initially so you must make sure that you convey the critical information and don’t hide it in a lot of blurb.

Here are some simple principles that you can apply which will ensure that your CV is eye catching, memorable and relevant:

  1. Use their language, not yours.
  2. Keep it uncluttered.
  3. Follow the rules of scan reading:
  • Remember the eye scans the page in a ‘Z’ pattern
  • Avoid spaces between headings and text as this slows down scan reading
  • Manipulate the eye line using bold where appropriate – but use it sparingly
  • Italics and underlining are not picked up when scanning
  1. Avoid fancy fonts – research on fonts shows that Times New Roman 11 or 12 is reassuring and gets a high response rate, whilst Arial 11 suggests ‘cutting edge’
  2. Use Microsoft Word – it is still the most commonly used package
  3. Avoid any templates that make it difficult to edit and tailor your CV
  4. Be conventional – avoid photos unless you are applying to be a model, don’t include references or testimonials unless asked for.
  5. Avoid right justification of text – it can disrupt eye flow causing vital information to be overlooked.
  6. Your CV will be electronically read and categorised – make this easy to get right remembering that key words relevant to the role will be sought.  Here are a few points to keep in mind:
  • Some systems limit the amount of text they scan, so what you say on page 1 is the most vital.
  • Where a match occurs with recruiter requirements, the system will flag it, making sifting easier for them.  For you, this means the right and only relevant detail is vital.
  • Keep the design simple and use white space.  Software picks up white space to recognise where one topic ends and another begins.
  • Avoid graphics or decorative artwork as it can confuse the software – for example boxes around text may prevent the software reading whatever is in the box.

CV validation

  • Review your finished document to make sure the formatting is spot on before sending your CV to an employer.
  • Ask yourself – if you only had a 30 second interview in which to convince a prospective employer that you were their ideal candidate what are the four or five most important things you would want to get across?
  • You may also want to run it past those whose opinion you trust.  Ask for honest feedback after only 20 seconds of reading.   Have they recalled your four or five key messages?
  • Run a test by sending it to yourself and a friend to make sure it is received intact.  This may highlight formatting problems your system won’t identify but others with greater or lesser sophistication will, and allow you to resolve it.

Before considering our tips, remember that CV writing is not an exact science and most people you meet will want to give you their opinion on how to make it better.  The absolutely critical thing is that you ‘own’ it and that you feel comfortable that if quizzed on it at interview, you can give credible and immediate answers.

Remember, your CV is a marketing tool to get you to interview and nothing more.

Covering letters or e-mails

  • The CV is an historical document looking backwards.  The covering note looks forward and is focused on what you can bring to the next role and your ambitions.
  • A good covering note acts as a signpost to the CV – it never replicates or replaces it.
  • Keep it relevant, no more than one page, and focus on how you match the job description.
  • Don’t forget to state the role you’re applying for – it sounds obvious, but simple things are often missed.