When is a CV not a CV?
Whilst curriculum vitae literally means “the course of my life”, the last thing you want to do is put your entire life story before a prospective employer. Your CV should be more of a highlights reel, showcasing the best examples of only the relevant information. In fact, unless you are making speculative applications (including through recruitment agencies and general websites), any type of standard CV is now obsolete as a form of job application.
These days job openings attract hundreds of applicants, and to cope with this businesses either use software to perform the initial screening or filter through junior members of HR staff. If your application is actually viewed by recruiting managers themselves you then have a 6.2-second glance in which to sell yourself.
A 2016 survey by CareerArc found that 40% of employers use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to perform the initial screening of candidates and “admit that some qualified candidates are likely being automatically filtered out of the vetting process by mistake”. This means your CV or application must have the wow-factor for a recruiting manager and "do it" for a computer too.
You should think of your standing CV as a master log of your professional life. Dig out the one you submitted for your last job application and add to it as you acquire new skills and expertise. But when you come to apply for a job, if they ask for a CV you need to treat it like an application form, and tailor it to specifically apply for that job.
Here are my top tips to get on the shortlist of both a human and automated recruiter.
First off, your presentation, spelling, and grammar need to be flawless. Most jobs require good communication skills and if you can't demonstrate that in your application, you're knocked out before you've thrown your first punch.
An ATS will usually search only on exact keywords so any spelling or word variations will put your straight on the reject pile there too. Get someone with good language skills and a good eye to read it over for you. If you don't know anyone, consider professional proofreading services - £20 spent on a CV that will get you over £20 for each half day you work is great value for money. Even if you're an English graduate like me we all make muscle-memory typos and unthinking mistakes, and when we've written it ourselves we can't see the wood for the trees when reading it over. Either give yourself time to forget before a final, fresh, read-through, or ask a friend or professional.
Save your CV as a Word document - this is more easily readable electronically than a PDF and many other formats, but also enables you to create an eye-catching but simplistic CV structure for a human reader.
Avoid using your font to inject personality into your CV or application. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways. Stick to choosing between a standard font with a serif (the little lines on the tips of the letters) such as Times New Roman which have been proven easier to read on paper, or a sans serif font such as Arial which is clearer on a screen and to an ATS. In a similar vein, choose solid round bullet points which are easy on both the human eye and OCR (ocular character recognition) software.
Also, avoid using formatting for a touch of flair as an ATS can ignore text in templates, columns, text boxes, and headers and footers. Be wary of tables as an ATS can read the information out of the correct sequence.
Yes, it looks boring, but just use straightforward, traditional terms in uppercase and bold for your headings. It's not fancy, but it's sufficiently eye-catching, and clear for humans and machines.
What to put in a CV
The front page of your CV (if you need to have more than one page) is your hard sell. Ensure it contains a short profile of your key proven strengths which are pertinent to the job and hot skills in your market, and a skills section containing bulleted 5-word max statements covering core requirements for the role. And don't forget your email and phone number so they know how to get hold of you quickly to invite you to that interview.
If the job you're applying for doesn't have a job description, imagine you've got the job and think about the tasks and situations you will be doing. List the skills and experience you'd need for them, and then work through your own list.
Typing your name in a large font is wasting precious space. Including the word “CV” at all is pointless. Recruiters don't care what you're called, and they know it's a CV. All they want to know is if you can do the job.
How long should a CV be?
There's a lot of debate over the length of a CV. For ATS purposes, length is completely irrelevant as a "bot" doesn't judge length and it makes no discernible difference to the time it takes to scan your text for all the correct keywords.
For a human a single page is great. But it's not worth sacrificing clarity of layout or reducing your wealth of demonstrable relevant experience to achieve a one- or two-page CV.
However long your CV needs to be, do ensure that your front page is an irresistable sales pitch.
Go through the job description and make sure your career history shows your experience in every criterion where this hasn't been covered on your first page. It's imperative that you demonstrate you have all the technical and functional skills required or you'll be straight on the reject pile. If you don't have experience from a job, do you have it from something you did at school or college, voluntary work, or hobbies that you can use?
Anyone can provide a list of tasks to replicate a job description. Instead, remember to demonstrate your skills and success by describing how you do/did things and the results. If you haven't got room to do this for all the criteria, select two to three key items. But remember you'll be asked to talk about your skills and experience across all criteria at interview, so make sure you've prepared answers for every point.
Leave out or abbreviate anything that isn't relevant. Keep an eye out for transferable skills though. A bus driver may be asked to show they are able to deal with difficult passengers or a crisis on board. If a brain surgeon wanted a career change, his ability to maintain a steady hand in a literal life or death situation would be a good way to demonstrate his ability to keep calm and carry on if he's never worked as a bus driver before.
Education and qualifications
Only list the most significant courses and/or those that are relevant to the post applied for.
The brain surgeon's impressive list of medical qualifications is totally irrelevant to bus driving. But he will need to say he has a clean driving licence.
Avoid including soft skills or workplace behaviour such as “conscientious”, “hard-working”, “team worker”, even if these are part of the person specification. There are no means of demonstrating you possess them on a CV; instead they'll be assessed at interview, or more likely (and accurately) on the job during your probation period.
Sections headed by the word "personal" can be completely overlooked by an ATS.
There's rarely an argument for including a section on hobbies in CVs. It's old-fashioned, and rather than rounding you out your personal interests may be a total turn-off for an employer if they don't share them.
Do include a Voluntary section if you have room or if your volunteering skills and experience augment your application for the particular role.
Do ensure your name, email address and phone number are on your CV, along with a statement of your right to work in the UK. Physical addresses are rarely used for contact purposes but can help or hinder your application depending on your locality so judge whether it's best to include your address or not.
Don't head this section "personal details", and don't include any - such as your age, race, disability, gender, marital status etc. These factors are irrelevant to your ability to do the job and you are legally protected from being discriminated against on such grounds. If you require specific arrangements or allowances to be made for you, contact the employer as specified in the details, or at an appropriate time.
Employers may ask for personal information for monitoring purposes. You don't have to fill this in. It's used to provide statistics on the diversity of applicants the organisation is attracting to inform it of possible changes to encourage applicants from all backgrounds. Public bodies and large organisations often need to provide evidence of their inclusiveness. If you choose to provide this information it's anonymised and separated from your application so isn't taken into consideration.
CV writing help
If you're still unsure where to start with writing a CV or application form, Dipitus CV Writing Services can design a CV from scratch for you from just £50, so that it is aligned with current CV formats and profiling trends. I also offer a free initial review in the form of a checklist for your peace of mind as to whether you're on the right track yourself. Send your CV today to to get started.