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Top Tips for Writing a Winning CV

In a competitive market, applying for jobs can be a daunting prospect.

However, whilst writing a CV can seem challenging, there are plenty of ways you can improve your CV, both in terms of content and structure, to help greatly increase your chances of securing an interview.

Below we’ve outlined some of our top tips for writing a winning CV.

Getting the Structure Right

A study conducted by The Ladders in 2012 analysed recruiters’ eye movements when reviewing the CVs of potential candidates to "record and analyze where and how long someone focuses when digesting a piece of information or completing a task." It was found that recruiters spend on average 6 seconds reviewing a CV before they decide if they’d like to interview the candidate for the role. The images below, taken from this study, show two CVs: the one on the left is unstructured and unorganised, whereas the one on the right has a clear, hierarchical structure that guides the reader through each section logically.

The heat maps on each CV indicate how long a recruiter spent looking at each section for. As is demonstrated, the more structured CV on the right was reviewed in much more detail than that on the left, indicating the importance of laying out your CV in an organised fashion.

It is clear then, that a clear, visual hierarchy is what’s going to set you apart from other candidates. Try and include the following information on your CV:

  • Your personal information. You may have some fantastic achievements but, without the essential information, your CV will be lacking. Remember to include all personal details, like your name, address, mobile number and email address. Adding your LinkedIn profile or website is good for employers to gain more information.
  • A profile statement which is 1-2 paragraphs in length, keeping it to factual statements about aspects of your career. This gives you a good way of providing an overview to help to start to build of picture of you as a candidate and show your prospective employer why you are the right person for the role.
  • A key skills section, highlighting your particular areas of strengths. It is good to include this section as a great way of tailoring your CV to required skills listed on a job description.
  • Clearly state the companies you have worked for, positions held and dates. We would recommend putting this information in bold.  
  • Bullet point your responsibilities and duties under each role. When it comes to CVs, long text is very difficult to read, and most of the time it won’t be read at all.
  • Highlight any key achievements in particular role.  
  • Mention major projects and value of these projects if relevant.  
  • If you held line management responsibilities in any role, mention the size of team you were managing. Sometimes it’s good to also mention who you reported into and who reported into you; this helps a reader understand the level you sit in within an organisation.

There are different opinions on what is the right length of a CV. We have seen one-page CVs and also on a couple of occasions a 20+ page CV, although the common view is two pages. We would recommend a CV anywhere between 2 to 4 pages in length, with two versions available: a shorter, and more commonly used version of two pages, and one that is a little more detailed at a max length of 4 pages.

Standing out from the Crowd

Now you know how to structure your CV and what elements to include, what else can you do to ensure you’re standing out from the crowd when applying for jobs?

  • Avoid cliché statements. Hiring Managers and recruiters often react badly to overused statements in CVs. Among particular pet hates are statements like, “I work well individually as well as being a team-player,” or, “I can multitask.” Phrases like these seem like you’re just trying to cover all bases which ends up being a little meaningless. Try not to alienate your employers. Instead, provide actual examples of where you have shown a skill, whether that’s working as a team player or an individual achievement. Choose one relevant to the job not both.
  • Tailor your CV. When applying for jobs, it can be appealing to use the same CV template and send the same CV every time. But the best CV will be tailored to the specific job description and company. The job description is essentially a description of the employer’s perfect candidate. Use this to mould your CV to each job and show how you’re the perfect fit for the role. Apply this to your cover letter as well.
  • Check your spelling. You might think that a little typo here and there is no big deal but it’s a huge pet hate of employers and recruiters alike. Not only does it signify a lack of basic communication skills, but it also shows carelessness and lack of attention to detail. And neither of those will get you that interview. Use suitable language and make sure you check spelling and grammar two, if not, three times.
  • Use specific keywords. Recruiters and hiring managers use automated tools and job boards to help them filter the volume of CVs they receive. So, including keywords on your CV is an effective way to stand out.
  • Do your research. Knowing the industry you’re looking to work in and the company you are applying to will set your CV apart. Your employers will be impressed at your efforts and consider your CV more seriously.
  • Research the company. This will allow you to gain a thorough understanding of their brand values and any key competitors. You can then shape your CV so that your skills and experience match. This will make a big impact and also help you if you get through to interview stage.

Following these steps will ensure that once your CV reaches the right person, it also makes the right impression.

Are you a candidate working in the Energy or Utilities sector? If so, we're hosting a virtual webinar on writing a winning CV for clients in these markets on Wednesday 14th October at 1pm. Hosted by industry experts, you’ll learn exactly what employers and recruiters looking for when they review CVs, and how you can tailor your CV to secure your dream job.