Five to seven seconds is the average time a recruiter or hiring manager spends looking at your CV. That’s an extremely short amount of time to be able to leave a great first impression, but that is exactly what your CV is supposed to do. A CV is one of the most important parts of your job search.
Both recruiters and hiring managers look at hundreds, if not thousands, of CVs over their careers. It’s no surprise that they have a trained eye when it comes to evaluating your CV and deciding whether or not to reach out to you and invite you in for an interview (taking you one step closer towards being successful in your job search).
Without further adieu, let’s skip right into how to go about preparing a CV that will help you make every second count and will progress you to the next step: getting invited for an interview.
How to create the perfect resume layout...
How should you adapt your CV or resume for different jobs?
- What should you include on your CV?
- Do you need a career objective or professional summary?
- Tailoring your resume to job ads and industry
- Proofreading your CV
CV format - What is the best format for you?
When deciding upon the format for your CV, it’s important to keep in mind your target audience. That’s either a recruiter or a hiring manager, so someone who sees hundreds of CVs on a weekly basis. It is their job to create a shortlist of the top candidates for a role and to do that as efficiently as possible.
If they come across a CV that looks unprofessional, they are likely to put it aside immediately. So, what should you consider when writing your CV?
1. What is the optimum length?
Follow the KISS formula: Keep It Short & Simple.
The length of your CV will vary depending on your experience. If you are applying for your first job, you will most likely be closer to the 1-2 page length. If you are applying for a role that requires 10 plus years experience, your CV will most likely be 2 pages.
However, keep in mind: if you have a lot of experience, it doesn’t mean you need to include every task you have ever completed. You should be able to clearly and concisely demonstrate how your skills and experience make you the right person for the specific role you are applying to.
2. What should your CV layout be?
You can check whether you have done a good job when it comes to your CV layout if you can confidently answer “yes” to the below questions:
- Is all relevant information easy to find?
- Have you used fonts, colors and font size consistently?
- Is the information well-organised?
To get to this point of CV nirvana, consider the following 5 points…
- List your experience in chronological order - Start with your most recent work experience as that is often what employers are most interested in. Don’t make it harder for them to find the information somewhere else on your CV (remember, is it all easy to find at one glance?).
- Use bullet points - Bullet points help hiring managers use those precious 5-7 seconds looking at your achievements rather than wasting time trying to find them.
- Make use of white space - Enough white space makes it easier for the recruiter to find the information they need quickly.
- Use KISS - Keep your font sizes simple, 12-14pt for section titles and 11-12pt for the body text. Some of the best fonts to use when writing your CV are: Arial, Calibri and Times New Roman.
- Make room for important information - As you know, your CV should be concise and short. However, you don’t need to use up all the space equally! Make sure you give the most important information, such as recent qualifications and experience, more room.
3. Save it as a PDF or follow the employer’s submission instructions
Once you have formatted your CV, it’s best to save it as a PDF document (often you can just use the “save as PDF” function on your computer). If you don’t have that function, you can use online 'Word-to-PDF' converters.
Saving it as a PDF is safer than saving in a Word document as the latter can get formatted depending on the system on which they are opened, and having put all the effort into preparing and formatting your CV, you definitely don’t want the hiring manager to view it misformatted, potentially leaving an unprofessional impression.
If, however, the employer has other submission requirements, make sure you follow them. This can also be a way of standing out as there will be candidates who will overlook these details.
What to include on your CV will depend on where you live
Now that you know how to structure and format your CV, the next step is to understand what to include (and more importantly what not to include) when preparing your CV, such as: Do you include age or address? Do you need to add a photo?
The answers to these questions can vary depending on where you live and what country you are applying for a job in. If you are not sure what to include when preparing an international CV, start with a substantial amount of research before writing anything. A great first step is VisualCV which lists the criteria required for regions (North America, Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Asia, and South America) and a few of the countries within those regions.
1. The key information you must include...
While CVs can vary significantly based on which country you’re applying for a job in, we’ve put together a list of what they all have in common:
Contact details - As obvious as this might sound to you, it’s often something people tend to forget and/or put somewhere on the CV where it’s hard to find. Your contact information should be easy to find and include your full name, email address and phone number as a minimum.
Work experience - Provide details of your work experience and focus on your key achievements instead of “only” listing responsibilities.
Education - List your education and educational achievements and highlight those that are most relevant to the job (e.g. highlight your English major if applying for a writing position).
Skills - Here you can convey all additional skills you might have, such as communication skills, IT skills or foreign language skills (this can often be an advantage when applying for positions in Europe).
Note: When it comes to IT skills, you don’t need to include basic software skills such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. These days those skills are usually expected and can even make you look like an amateur if you put them on your CV.
2. Career objectives & professional summaries
Whether or not to write a career objective or a professional summary will heavily depend on the country where you will be based for the job you are applying to.
The difference between a career objective and a professional summary depends on your experience. If you have more than 2 years of experience, you will want to write a professional summary. If you have less, you should write a career objective.
When writing your summary, ensure you are using clear and easy to read language. Imagine you are the HR manager reading through hundreds of resumes. Would you spend much time on a resume if you need to read the very first sentence again and again in order to understand it? You probably wouldn't. So, keep your career summary brief and concise:
- 1-2 sentences highlighting your biggest achievements
- Answer the question “What can you bring to the company?”
There are many examples of career summaries you can read through to get you started.
As mentioned, a career objective is often written when applying for your first job. However, it can also be used when you are making a career change across industries.
When preparing your objective, you can follow this structure on career objective writing from Novoresume:
3. Why it’s important to tailor your CV to the position
It’s important that you specifically tailor your CV to every position you are applying for as a generic CV might leave a bad first impression. So, how can you tailor your CV?
Read the job advert and job description
Sometimes the “apply now” button is right there and your CV is already uploaded to the platform and you just want to click on the button rather than tailoring your CV again. However, it’s very important you tailor your CV to the job advert (and job description where available as this is usually more detailed than a job ad) and the requirements specified in it. Often the hiring manager will skim your CV for the skills they have outlined in the job ad, so ensure you have tailored that section accordingly.
Research the company
Look for the mission statement, the vision and/or information on the company’s values on their website and align your CV to them if possible (e.g. teamwork, collaboration, leadership).
4. Proofreading your CV
Great work! You’ve structured your CV, included everything necessary and left out what’s not appropriate or important. Now, it’s time to submit your CV...
Wait, not quite yet...
Just like any content piece, you really should review it before submitting - once it’s gone there’s no tweaking or correcting! Check for spelling mistakes and any accidental typos. Does it all make sense or is there information that’s hard to understand? Once you have done that, send it to a friend or colleague (or a professional colleague) and have them proofread it too. Once you are happy with the latest version of your CV, you are now ready to submit!
Best of luck!