How to Write a CV/Resume That Stands Out
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
This has been designed to help you put together a clear, compelling CV/resume (which we will refer to as a CV in this guide). It’s informed by our experience (we’ve seen a lot of over the years), by feedback from our clients, and by best-practice guidelines.
A CV is a written summary of your professional experiences, skills and education. It exists to help employers select candidates throughout the recruitment process. The employer is your customer; you have a limited window of opportunity to get their attention, so your CV has to work as hard as it possibly can to sell you – and to get their attention as quickly as possible.
Is there a “right way” to do it?
There are as many different ways of writing and laying out a CV as there are candidates (and almost as many resources online to tell you the ‘right’ way to do it). But whichever layout template you use, there are some broad rules that we believe apply to everyone. We’ve summarized them briefly below, and in more detail later on in this document.
ALWAYS DO THE FOLLOWING:
Keep it brief and to the point: If it doesn’t help convince someone to meet you, take it out
Keep the layout simple, clean and easy to navigate: Employers spend 10-20 seconds skimming CVs; help them find the important information
Write an introduction: Include a (very) short paragraph that explains who you are, what you bring, and what drives/excites you
Tailor your CV to each role: Be selective; highlight the skills and experience that are relevant to the role you’re applying for
Include personal awards or achievements; industry training courses: e.g. Marketing Academy, 30 under 30…
List desirable skills: e.g. Foreign languages, coding skills …
Don’t forget… - Spell check, proof-read, then proof-read again - Create a portfolio of your work - Create (and link to) a LinkedIn profile - Keep it updated - Be yourself.
Keep it brief and to the point.
2 pages if you can, but don’t compromise legibility: 3 well-spaced pages are better than two packed with tiny font and dense paragraphs
Use simple English; try and avoid jargon and clichés: YES: “I managed integrated global campaigns for clients including Coca-Cola and HSBC” NO: “I have proven experience of managing complex multi-channel global campaigns for a series of leading blue-chip organizations across a range of geographies and sectors”
Make it easy to navigate and read. Employers spend, on average, 10-20 seconds skim reading CVs before deciding whether to meet someone or not: make it easy for them to make the decision to meet you.
Remember the eye focuses on the top half of the page: use that for key information
Follow some CV layout conventions: they can help the reader navigate the page quickly. CVs usually include (in this order): - Personal contact information - Short introduction (see below) - Employment history and/or work experience gained to date - Education and qualifications - Personal interests and achievements
Avoid dense blocks of type and unusual font styles (stick to the classics); use bullet points where you can; remember that more white space = easier to read
Divide each role into ‘responsibilities’ and ‘achievements.’ - Give a brief overview of responsibilities; you don’t need to summarise past job descriptions - Focus on achievements – particularly those that are relevant to the job you’re applying to
Write an introduction.
Write a brief paragraph that explains who you are you are, what you bring, and what drives you (for more junior candidates, why you love the business)
Think of it as an elevator pitch: you have 5 seconds to communicate who you are, what you can do and why you’re the right fit for the role
Don’t be too boastful and don’t use jargon
Get a trusted friend or colleague to read it for you, and ask for honest feedback
It may take a bit longer than you think it will, and you may have to re-visit it: that’s normal; it’s difficult to sum yourself up in a short paragraph.
Tailor your CV to each role Employers can easily spot a generic CV: where possible, tailor it to each role by focusing on the particular requirements (skills, experience) of the job you’re applying to.
The clues are in the brief; read it carefully from start to finish
Match your skills to those required in the brief; list them clearly (straight after your introductory paragraph if possible)
If you’re in the earlier stages of your career, think creatively: can work experience (even holiday jobs) deliver some of the required skills?
Do I have to be ‘creative’?
No. It’s far better to have a well laid-out, easy to navigate CV that will let employers get to know the essential information about you, than to provide something beautiful or heavily designed, but hard to read.
Do I need to include a photograph? No (but there’s no rule – include one if you’d like to). It’s worth remembering that hiring managers will probably look at your LinkedIn profile anyway.
Should I use color? We don’t recommend it (more colors = harder to read). If you do, we suggest no more than 2, and muted colors (e.g. grey and blue).
Which extra-curricular interests or achievements are relevant? Hobbies: things you are really passionate about (and that might be relevant to the role); entrepreneurial projects (own business, setting up charity projects, running the Students’ Union, etc.); philanthropic or charity projects.
Do I need to include references? It’s up to you. The convention is to write “References available on request”, but we suggest that you list the names and titles (not contact details) of your references if you can. Again, short recommendations or references on LinkedIn can be very useful, particularly for those in the earlier stages of their career.
Don’t forget ….
Spell check, proofread, then proofread again As alarming as it sounds, some organisations reject candidates because of spelling mistakes/typos on their CVs. If spelling and/or grammar aren’t your strong suit, ask a trusted friend (or us) to check it for you.
Create a portfolio of your work, if relevant Create a portfolio (ideally online with a link from your CV and/or LinkedIn) of the work you’ve been involved with. If possible, show a wide range of work across different channels and media, showing your range of skills.
Create (and link to) a LinkedIn profile Almost all hiring managers and recruitment firms use LinkedIn, whether it’s to advertise vacancies, search for candidates or find out more about a candidate that’s been presented. It’s a key source of information for prospective employers, so it’s a good idea to make it work hard for you. (Please ask us if you’d like some tips on how to create a LinkedIn profile that stands out.)
Keep your CV updated Review your CV regularly and add new skills and experience as you go. Even if you’ve just done some volunteering to keep busy or worked on a new project, make sure you include it – employers are always impressed by candidates who go the extra mile to boost their own skills and experience.
Be yourself While a CV is a formal document, you should try and reflect a little bit of who you are – either in the way you write your introduction, or via the interests, hobbies and extra-curricular work and activities you share. Don't include passive interests like watching TV, or too many solitary hobbies that can be perceived as you lacking in people skills.