Recruiters spend an average of just nine seconds looking at your CV – so your CV needs to signpost the most important aspects of your skills and experience. “Write your CV so that the reviewer can easily scan the information you provide against the role specification they’re matching it to,” says Jon Gregory, a job search, application and interview specialist. “Your opening profile or summary at the start of your CV should do three things very directly: say what you are in terms of profession and job; say what you’re looking for; and show why you match what they want.”
Keep your applications short
It’s also important to keep your job applications short and concise. “Two pages is the maximum, as long as it is succinct and informative. Much will depend on how you choose to draw out and present your experience and skills,” says Marina Lennon, careers adviser for the Open University.
But don’t feel pressure to squash your CV onto one page if it looks messy. “A visually-appealing two-page CV will be easier on the eye than a mega-condensed one-page version. Your CV has a matter of seconds to impress, so there just isn’t time for eye strain,” says Lis McGuire, CV writer and founder of Giraffe CVs.
Dasha Amrom, founder of Career Coaching Ventures, agrees that a clear layout is essential. “I recommend a clean and simple design. It is also worth clearly outlining any key responsibilities.”
Declutter your application
Including everything you’ve ever worked on may result in a messy, cluttered CV. “Pick and choose the elements of your career that will grab the attention of your target employer and base your CV around those. You can simply detail the last few years of work experience, if that’s most relevant, or you can select and highlight older roles if they are a better representation of your skills. Don’t feel bound to list everything in reverse chronological order. If part of your experience is worth singing about, bring it to the top in a relevant experience section,” says McGuire. “In terms of what to leave out, I’d say leave out any red herrings that distract the reader from the message you are trying to get across. Every element of your CV should be included on purpose.”
Victoria McLean, CV writer and founder of CityCV.co.uk, agrees that sometimes less is more. “A CV doesn’t need to be an exact replication of everything you have ever done. So be confident in deleting parts of your career. Try and be as objective as you can.”
Order your sections depending on the job you’re applying to
“Adapt the order of the sections to reflect the type of roles you’re applying for,” says Lydia Fairman, founder of HR and recruitment consultancy Fairman Consulting. So, for example, if qualifications seem more important, have that section before job history, if the role is skills-based, have a skills section at the top. “A CV that’s too wordy won’t generally get read or work in your benefit, so use clear wording, bullet points and logical sections to make it easy to read. Don’t overcomplicate it.”
Plug gaps in your CV
To stop recruiters commenting on CV gaps, it can be helpful to mention what you did during employment breaks. “Try and account for the period in a positive way. You presumably learnt something from the period, and it will have been contributory to how you approached the later, more successful, period of your working life, so use it that way,” says Gregory.
It’s also worth thinking about whether to include uncompleted qualifications. “Deciding whether or not to include an uncompleted degree in a CV is always a tough decision and one that needs to be considered carefully,” says Lisa LaRue, career coach at CareerWorx. “If you didn’t complete the course you can include it in your CV so long as you make it very clear that you didn’t complete, by adding ‘completed two years of the three-year course’ for example.”
Of course, if you include uncompleted qualifications, “you need to be able to speak confidently and positively about why – if you can’t then I would consider leaving it out altogether,” she adds.
Make sure you show your value in your cover letter
Cover letters work by giving colour and personality to your CV. “When writing a cover letter you need to think: what is it about them that inspired you to get in touch? What common ground do you have, in terms of experience, passions, and values?” says Natasha Stanley, head of content at Careershifters. “It’s also important to be specific. Respect the time of people reading your application – and give them a clear call to action: to let you know if there are any vacancies, to have a quick 15-minute chat, or to keep your CV on file for the future,” says Natasha Stanley, head of content at Careershifters.
When changing career, show enthusiasm
When writing a cover letter for a career change, make sure you emphasise your genuine passion and interest for the new career. “You can also talk about how your previous career has helped you develop a range of transferable skills. Overall, remain positive and enthusiastic throughout. It can also help to speak with someone rather than just sending off an email. So often we shy away from picking up the phone and opting instead for an easily ignored email,” says LaRue.
Stanley agrees that speaking on the phone or face to face is the best option for career changers. “In a career change situation, look for people not for jobs. You’ll inevitably be underqualified and at a disadvantage as a career changer, so your best technique is to make meaningful connections with people who work in the industry.”
Similarly, Andrew Fennell, director of StandOut CV, adds: “Picking up some voluntary work would be a good move as you could include the work on your CV and build relationships internally.”
Keep your cover letter to one page
There is no set format when it comes to writing a covering letter. “However we would suggest that you try to keep you covering letter to one page, aim for no more than three or four paragraphs, and keep sentences short and to the point,” says Sophie Graham, careers adviser for the National Careers Service.