Aside from the details you might share on the company’s careers site or a quick chat you might have with the recruiter before submitting your application, in most cases your CV will offer the broadest first glimpse of you as a candidate in any job application. One of the ways you can stand out from the start is by presenting the very best possible version of it.
I’ve put together quite a few CVs, both throughout my own professional journey and in helping others pursue their next big opportunity. Over time, I’ve grown to recognize a few patterns when it comes to what generally works, and what usually doesn’t. Here are 4 easy-to-follow tips that help keep me focused on the big picture when putting together a readable CV. These can be applied no matter what format you’re using, so incorporate them into your design to maximize your chances of success and get that interview penciled in.
1. Include a straightforward headline
I don’t mean a vague, gimmicky line like “Seeking new and exciting opportunities.” Of course you’re seeking new and exciting opportunities – otherwise, why would you have applied? But don’t waste valuable space on your résumé with say-nothing phrases that don’t tell the person reading it anything about you. Specificity is key.
If you’re seeking employment within the same sector or you’re applying to jobs that require the same skillsets, it’s a safe bet to use your current or last job title as your headline (e.g., Director of Communications). This is also a good idea if you’re applying to jobs requiring specialized education or training (e.g., Registered Nurse).
But what if none of your previous job titles constitutes a well-rounded representation of your professional profile, or you’re trying to move into a different sector or a new role? In that case, tailor your headline to the position you’re after, but incorporate your transferable experience. For example, if you used to work in retail but now you’re looking to move into an administrative job, highlight the skills you already have that make you a strong candidate for the job you want now. Do you see any of your skills or experience listed in the job requirements? Fantastic, incorporate them into your headline.
Finally, your headline doesn’t have to be a job title, but it should definitely relate to the job you want. Don’t worry about being too clever – it’s okay to get right to the point about where you’re coming from and where you’d like to go. As for where to place it, it should go right up at the top of your résumé, below or next to your name.
2. Plenty of white space
Quite literally, white space refers to all the areas on your CV that aren’t taken up by text or other content (e.g., margins, space between sections or paragraphs). Having as much white space as possible is important because it allows the reader’s eye to focus in on the CV’s content instead of scanning through a bunch of text looking for the details he or she needs.
Even though your initial instinct may be to provide the recruiter with every last bit of information that could possibly be relevant, don’t. The reason people say less is more is because it actually is. The aim of your CV is to score a call back and get you shortlisted for an interview. You’ll have plenty of time to talk about your experience and transferable skills in detail throughout the rest of the recruitment process, so don’t give it all away now.
The best way to create plenty of white space is to have generously-sized margins all around the page (don’t go below 1.5 centimeters or 0.5 inches) and to break up your CV into easily distinguishable sections with clear headings. And of course, don’t forget the golden recipe for good written work: edit, proofread, repeat.
3. Include words from the job ad throughout your résumé
Even if you’re applying for a job in the same sector or requiring similar skills to your previous position, the company you’re applying to now may refer to these skills by different names or you may find that there are certain key phrases in the job ad that you can easily incorporate into your application. This is a relatively easy “trick” to better relate your background and skillset to the specific requirements or desired experience listed in the ad.
You may find it tedious or time-consuming to have to touch up your résumé each time you submit an application, but if you’re truly serious about your job search, this is an important step. Don’t just copy and paste random bits and pieces of the job description into your text – focus on skills and experiences that the employer’s looking for which also line up with your background.
Most importantly, be honest. Don’t import anything from the job ad or description into your résumé unless you can actually back it up with real knowledge and experience. If you don’t have the exact skills your potential employer is looking for, highlight the transferable skills you could bring to the position should you be successful in your application.
4. Show some personality
Finally, don’t be afraid to show a bit of who you are in your CV. Including information about hobbies or interests that are relevant to the job and incorporate some creativity into the design itself. A splash of color or a stylish typeface can strike a visual impact and make the reader’s eye pause long enough to take in some of the really important stuff.
Still, don’t go overboard here. If your favorite colors are blue and neon green, be particular with your choices. An elegant blue somewhere on the page will probably look quite nice, but neon green will almost always be a bad idea for any CV. And if you choose a quirky font for your name or headings, make sure that it’s easy to read (by that, I mean absolutely zero difficulty in deciphering the text) and apply it sparingly. Then for the rest of the page, stick to a clean, straightforward-looking typeface to balance everything out.
And there you have it! I hope you find these tips helpful as you tackle the next version of your résumé. For ideas about format, check out Betenwrite’s CV & Résumé Designs page, where you can find free and easy-to-edit templates. If you’d like my help in writing and designing a CV just for you, please contact me to discuss collaboration options.
I started Betenwrite because I’m passionate about all things content, particularly the kind that inspires people to do better for themselves. I firmly believe that each of us is the editor of our own story – if you don’t like the way yours is going, rewrite it. If taking charge of your story involves finally chasing that dream career, as it did for me, then check out my résumé template library, where you can download free and easy-to-edit designs. Before you go, please help spread the word about Betenwrite online by using the social sharing buttons below.
Rui Betencourt, Editor