First impressions matter. Never more so when you’re applying for a job. Instead of your winning charm and captivating smile, however, you have to rely on a summary of your working life. If you don’t measure up, your CV and all hopes of bagging that dream job are relegated to the ‘unsuccessful applicants’ pile. With hundreds of people applying for every vacancy going, it’s getting harder and harder to be noticed. It is possible, though. You just need to sex up that curriculum vitae!

I know, I know, you’ve heard it all before. You’ve seen enough CV templates, read enough books and nodded your way through enough advice to know what you need to do. So why – if I might be so bold – are you still struggling to get a response from prospective employers?

Let’s get the obvious stuff out the way, shall we? Tell the truth. In this day and age, all it takes is a quick Google search to check you out so don’t take the chance. Don’t claim you have motorsport experience if you actually wash cars! Keep it to no more than two sides of A4. As a rule, keep your job history down to the past 5-7 years, and provide a full summary of duties for only the latest 2 or 3 jobs (voluntary roles count, by the way). Ask yourself if your 2000 metre swimming badge is really relevant here. How important is that GCSE Biology now that you’ve got a BSc? Probably not very.

(Oh, and PLEASE, don’t make everything fit on one page by making the font tiny. Nobody will squint to read it, they’ll just reject your application.)

Tea. Laptop. CV. GO!


Then proofread again. Get someone else to proofread it, then, just before you send it, proofread it again. There are loads of different criteria that HR-bod use to whittle the original five-hundred CVs down to a manageable few dozen. The one, universally agreed method, though, is to reject any with poor spelling and grammar. Sorry. Not sorry, just proofread the damn thing!

Summarise yourself

You know how all those CV ‘how to’ guides tell you to tailor your CV for every job application? Quite frankly, that’s bollocks. If you’re applying for ten jobs a day, do you really have the time and energy to re-write your C.V. to fit every job specification? Hell, no! Anyway, that’s what the cover letter’s for (we’ll talk about that another day). Use the first 100 words to sell yourself and highlight the parts of your experience, education, skills and interests make you right for this job. Catch their attention here, and your prospective employer will read on.

This is, however, the part that most people struggle with. Ask a friend, workmate or even your boss to describe what makes you a valuable colleague. Take snippets from your appraisals or feedback and use it in your summary. Don’t be all British and modest about it, do this well and employers will take note.

Stand out

  • GSM – Go big or go home. This will sound odd, but bear with me. Imagine that you’re leafing through dozens of CVs and you come to an extra thick sheet. Have two gotten stuck together? No, it’s just one CVs, printed on lovely, high quality paper! It’s already got your attention so you might as well read it. 
  • Share a photo. It’s quite an American trait to include a photograph of yourself, but if you’re applying for a customer-facing position, it’s worth a go. Make sure it’s a professional headshot, not a random holiday snap, though. 
  • Go Legally Blonde. Eye catching, stylish letterheads are another great way to grab attention, as is using coloured paper (a la Elle Woods). Scented CVs are an option, too, but once it’s been bundled up with all the rest, it’ll be hard to know whose CV is the smelly one!

Know your audience

The above suggestions above might raise an eyebrow or two at an austere family accountancy firm, but delight at a modern marketing company. Use your judgement here. A GIF-tastic electronic CV is an awesome thing to do if you work in web design, whereas it’s less suited to an application to The Times, for example. 

Keep up-to-date

The best way to hone that CV into a thing of beauty is to update it regularly, once a month should do it. Don’t leave your CV untouched from one year to the next, even if you’re deliriously happy in your job. Look at it with fresh eyes every now and again, get rid of the dross. Get someone else to read it, too. They’ll pick up on those irrelevant bits that you just can’t bear to lose and spot the parts that read clunkily. Listen to their feedback and refine accordingly.

What are your best CV tips?

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