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8 tips for how to improve your CV

This month I want to share some tips on improving your CV. I’m particularly aiming this article at the mid-career professional. By this stage you will have usually had tonnes of experience and you may find that it is difficult to display this in a concise manner.

Remember your CV is your own document, so you do have some ‘poetic license’ with it. However, the rules in the UK on CVs are quite rigid. I link to some sites that display CVs at the end of this blog.

Tips for how to improve your CV

1. Try to keep your CV to two sides

This is still the standard length that recruiters expect to see. There are exceptions e.g. the academic and the medical CV, where there is no page-limit. There are also some exceptions that can be made for those that have very defined skills, for example I recently reviewed an IT software tester’s CV, which was five pages long and he had so many different skills with a wide variety of companies, it felt right to keep to 3 sides. However, this should be the exception, rather than the rule.

Of course, for management consultancy and some corporate finance roles, it’s recommended just to stick to one side. But again, this is an exception, rather than the rule.

2. Set out a reverse chronological CV

Another type of CV is a skills-based one. In most cases, however, I wouldn’t recommend using this as the standard CV is the reverse chronological one and if you use the skills-based one, it looks like you are hiding something. If you are returning to a career that you left a few years ago, so that your recent history is not relevant, then you can make that clear in a profile at the top of the CV, as well as in any accompanying cover letter or email.

3. Remember recruiters will spend more time looking at the first page of your CV

Therefore, if you are setting out your CV in a reverse chronological order, they will see your most recent experience first. Often your most recent experience will be the one you want recruiters to notice. Your next role will usually be built upon this experience. Therefore, it’s good to make sure that you explain what you have done as well as you are able to.

If you use bullet points (I recommend that you do), you can use roughly six to concisely describe your role and responsibilities.

  • Use power words (e.g. delivered, created, reorganised etc.)
  • Keep your bullet points as short as possible, but vary their length
  • Avoid long and complicated phrasing
  • Avoid technical language and jargon

For older experiences, it’s advisable to use less bullet points, or certainly not more than you are using for your most recent role.

As recruiters will spend longer on the first page, pay special attention to it. If you want them to notice a role that’s further back in your past, especially if your career is non-linear, then mention that in a career profile at the top of the CV, or in your cover letter. You can also push a role higher up in your CV by using the heading ‘Relevant Work Experience’. Then if you have done some work that’s not so useful for the role you’re applying to, then you can put ‘Other Work Experience’. This way the most relevant experience is closer to the top of your CV.

4. Be aware of ATS (Application Tracking Systems)

These are AI tools which score and sort out CVs, detecting and aligning job requirements and descriptions. These are being used more increasingly, due to higher numbers of applications. ​So, looking at the information given about the job and aligning this at the shortlisting stage is becoming more and more important.

5. Tailor your CV to each application

It’s worth having a master CV, then from this tailoring your CV for each individual role you are applying for. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is recruiting for the role. Really think about what the recruiters will want for this particular role.

It’s also helpful to reflect some of the language that you find, either in the advert or in the job description. Person specifications are extremely helpful to candidates! They are usually an exact tickbox list of what the recruiter is looking for. Make it easier for recruitment team so that they tally what’s on the person specification with your skills, competencies and experience.

6. Whether or not to have a career profile

As someone that works in careers and who has worked in recruitment, sometimes it feels like having a career profile or not, goes in and out of fashion over the years. However, I feel that the decision can be looked at in two ways:

  1. Are you changing careers? For example, you may have had lots of team leader experience, but not you are vying for a specific management or leadership position and you want to indicate the leadership courses you have taken. A good place to do this, is in the career profile. If you are changing tack completely, then a short, few sentences to explain what your intentions are, as well as what you would like the recruiters to pay attention to, will be helpful.
  2. If, due to the manner in which the application has been organised, there’s no requirement for a cover letter. Sometimes this is the case, if the application is via an online form, in which you are asked to fill in a typical application form and also attach your CV. Therefore, the CV can do the work of the cover letter, as well.

If you are finding there’s a lack of space to fit in your experience and you are submitting a cover letter. Then I would argue that it would be best to leave this out, if you are applying to role which is a natural next step from your current role.

7. Think ‘so what?’ to every entry that you put into your CV

If you are going for impact, then you’ve got to try to put yourself into the position of those who will be critiquing your CV. Therefore, once you’ve written it, go through and read it slowly asking yourself ‘so what?’ to each line. It may be helpful to read each sentence out loud. This way you can also check it for grammar and spelling mistakes. You also might want to give it to someone that you trust, asking them to read through and to make sure there are no typos.

8. Have a look at some example CVs

You can get fresh ideas on how to set out your CV by checking some online examples. There’s two websites I recommend for doing this. These are:

I hope you have found the tips useful. I offer a CV service for anyone that would like some additional help. Please do get in touch via the ‘contact’ page, top right of my website.

Best of luck on your job hunt!

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