A CV is what you put into it.
Sure, a dashed off version might allow you to apply to a lot of jobs quickly. But employers see heaps of applications, so they know when real effort has gone in, and when their listing is just one of 15 you completed that day.
If you’re wondering how to make your CV stand out in a good way, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to show you some tricks beyond standard CV best practices, to give you the best possible chance of nailing that vital first impression.
How to write a good CV: the lowdown
1. Beat the recruitment robots
Often, before your CV reaches human hands it will be screened by applicant tracking systems (ATS). This technology is programmed to identify poor CVs, or applicants lacking core skills required for the job.
Luckily, getting passed these robots doesn’t require any futuristic weaponry. Try these simple techniques:
Use keywords: a key function of ATS is to scan for keywords associated with the hard and soft skills candidates need to have. Looking through a few listings for similar roles will give you a solid understanding of the terms you should include.
Choose the right file type: some ATS are picky about which file types they like to work with. Play it safe, and submit your CV either as a PDF, .doc or .docx.
Be careful with headers and footers: avoid putting important info, such as contact details, in your CV’s header or footer. Some ATS can’t read these sections fully, meaning this info could be lost, which will count against you.
Don’t overcomplicate the format: simple is often best with CVs. Layout your sections with clear headings, and steer clear of graphics and diagrams.
2. Focus on results
Sweet, your CV has run the robot gauntlet and is with a living, breathing human being, but what do hiring managers want to see?
While a list of your past responsibilities isn’t ‘wrong’, a better approach is to focus on what you have achieved in previous roles, education or experiences.
Let’s take a first teaching job as an example, and say you were using experience at a summer camp as evidence for your suitability. Try substituting sentences like ‘leading sports activities’, for ‘increasing participation in sports activities by X%.’
This direct angle is great because, without being boastful, you’ve demonstrated not only that you have relevant experience, but also a track record for success. And who doesn’t like success?
Specific details also make the reader’s life easier (and this should be a top priority for any CV). For example, instead of listing ‘software experience’, tell them what packages you’ve worked with, and whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or expert user.
3. Lose the filler
This may sound like one of the simpler CV tips, but there’s an art to trimming the fluff. Even if your CV is within the one to two pages recommended for New Zealand job applications, we’d bet there are still areas you can tighten up.
Here are some ideas:
Be selective: your CV should be tailored to the specific role you’re going for. While it’s great to use a base template, be sure to customise it in each application.
Don’t eat a thesaurus: remember that Friends episode where Joey discovers the thesaurus? Your CV will sound as ridiculous as he did if you over complicate your language. Clear, simple and specific is the dream.
Use bullet points: if you haven't already, convert some of those full sentences into bullet points. Doing this also means you can avoid repeating ‘I’ throughout your CV.
4. Use power words
If Mr. Incredible was a word, he’d be one of these. There are quite literally hundreds of power words out there, all of which strengthen the argument that you’re the best candidate for the job.
Here are some great examples:
Soft skills: communication, leadership, responsibility, problem-solving, team-player, positive attitude, strong work ethic.
Action verbs: accelerated, designed, developed, initiated, managed, organised, increased, improved, attained, completed.
On top of these general words and phrases, add some industry specific terms and company values.
For example, if you were applying for an electrician role, including terms like ‘equipment calibration’, ‘systems testing’ and ‘blueprint reading’ would be high up on your list.
With values, if the company claims to be an ‘industry disruptor’, you might want to go for adjectives like ‘innovative’, ‘inventive’ or ‘creative’ in your personal statement.
5. Link out to your online profile
CVs should be all about making the recipient’s life easier. One of the ways you can do this is by including a URL link to your Trade Me Job Profile.This platform allows hiring managers and recruiters to get a clearer picture of you, both as a person and a potential employee.
Similarly, if you’re applying for a creative position like a graphic designer, add a separate link to your online portfolio so the reader can access this without having to get in touch.
6. Make it error free
We’ll never stop going on about the importance of checking your CV for typos, formatting mistakes or poor grammar.
You can understand an employer’s problem with an applicant who describes themselves as having great attention to ‘d3tail’ – it’s the first impression equivalent of wearing pink on a Thursday, not fetch.
So – after you’re done writing a great CV – check, check and check again.