It is currently job hunting season for many people, and you may be facing the daunting task of submitting applications after applications. With the increased uncertainty in the job market and the sheer competition for a job, it is important to be the best candidate possible. The very first hurdle you will have to face for most companies is the CV screening stage. This is such a crucial stage as thousands of applicants get rejected during screening so it is imperative that your CV is excellent. However, many of you may be struggling with how to make your CV stand out, especially when most recruiters only look at your CV for less than a minute. So, in this article, we explore the best ways to make your CV amazing.
Overall Format of the CV
Font Types & Colour
Use Times New Roman or Arial. Only use a black font colour.
The ideal text size is size 11, and headings should be one size bigger. The minimum font size should be size 10. Any lower and it is too small.
Sections of the CV (to be placed in the order below):
- Name (at the top of the CV, centralised with personal details like phone number and email)
- Education (university, college/high school, school)
- Work/Professional Experience
- Extracurricular/Voluntary/Additional Experience
- Add a section for a personal statement.
- Include a sentence at the bottom mentioning references are available on request.
All experiences and education should have dates alongside them. These dates should show the start date to the end date (or write present if you still work/study in that experience). This should be in the form: Month/Year. For the month, you only need to write the first three letters. For example: Sep 2017 – Dec 2017.
Number of pages
The CV should be only ONE PAGE. Do not exceed this. Remember, recruiters are looking at your CV for tens of seconds so they will be turned off from seeing a multiple page CV. Moreover, for many students and early career professionals, you have not garnered the breadth of experiences to warrant a multiple page CV. If you are struggling with space you need to:
- Cut down. This could be eliminating experiences from the CV (really old experiences should not be on a CV) or shortening how much you have written.
- Play around with the margins. Making the margins more narrow will free up more space.
Make sure your CV is consistent throughout the whole CV. If you used a certain size for one heading, make sure you use the same size for all headings. If you made something bold in one place, make sure all equivalent places are also bold. Maintain such consistency for all aspects of the CV.
Here is what your CV should look like so far:
Psst: If you would like to receive a FREE template that looks similar to the above image, follow me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/khalidmuse/ ) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/KhalidM_10 ) and send me a message! (and spread this article so that it can reach others who may need help 😊)
Now that we have covered the overall format of the CV, let us delve into the individual sections
Sections of the CV
This section is pretty simple. It is where you insert what you study, what you have studied in the past, and the grades you have achieved.
- Write your education and schooling in reverse chronological order, so your most recent studies are at the top and the oldest is at the bottom.
- Any grades you have achieved, put it in bold. If you are a current student and you have not finished your studies, insert your predicted grades.
- You can add a description of awards, extracurricular activities, and interesting projects in this section too.
- For your GCSEs, you do not need to include every subject you have done. Summarise your GCSE results with just the number of GCSEs you have done and what was the range of grades you have achieved. For example, 10 A* – B. It is also good practice to state what you achieved in Mathematics and English Language GCSEs as many companies have requirements for these subjects.
Here is a typical example:
Experience (both Work Experiences and Extracurricular Activities)
The same principles apply to both the work experience section and the extracurricular section of the CV. Although there are many different styles to a CV, I like to keep the format and the structure of these two sections the same.
Just like the education section, insert your experiences in reverse chronological order. However, base the timing on the end dates of the experiences. For example, there is an experience that started in June 2019 and ended in January 2020, but there was another experience that started in September 2019 and ended in December 2019. Therefore, the former experience would go higher up in the CV than the latter experience.
Structuring your experiences and sentences for those experiences correctly is very important. Here are some general tips and rules of thumb:
- Try to keep sentences to one line, as this makes the CV easy and concise to read.
- Write in bullet point format.
- No more than 3 bullet points per experience.
- Once you have written all you can for your experiences, analyse each sentence and assess if that sentence adds value. If it does not add value, remove it. If you see two sentences that describe similar actions/tasks, remove one of them. If you have loads of experiences, but some experiences were from many years ago, also remove such experiences.
All sentences should consist of the following three aspects:
VERB –> ACTION –> IMPACT
Every sentence in your experiences should begin with an action verb. Never start a sentence with “I …”. Action verbs are super useful as it sums up what you did in a powerful way, can look impressive and it leads perfectly into the impact you had during the experience.
This Harvard website provides a list of many verbs you could potentially use so check it out: https://hls.harvard.edu/dept/opia/job-search-toolkit/action-verbs/
Once you have chosen your verb, you should describe the action you did in that experience. Now you need to be careful. Do not describe what the team did or what the organisation did, but you need to discuss exactly what YOU did. By doing so, it will clearly show the recruiter how you contributed to the organisation.
Always SHOW not TELL. Never write what skills you have acquired or what skill you have learnt. Always convey the skills you possess and the skills you displayed in your experiences through the actions you completed.
In every sentence, you need to mention the impact you had via the action you just described. Perhaps the action you did improved customer satisfaction, increased the number of sales, boosted the number of readers, etc. The impact is typically a measure of success. This is perhaps the most important part of the sentence. Recruiters specifically look for the impact you had in an experience as this is what makes you stand out. So don’t be shy, boast, and sell yourself. The CV is the one place where you cannot undersell yourself, and this is your time to shine!
Numbers and Statistics
Alongside the above structure, there is one more important technique you should use in your sentences, and that is to utilise numbers and statistics. Quantifying your experiences is powerful and comes with advantages:
- Makes it easier for the recruiter to visualise what the experience was and what you did.
- A great way to summarise the impact you had and adds greater emphasis.
You can add numbers and statistics in several ways. It could be to depict the size of the team you worked in, the amount of revenue you have generated, or the percentage increase in members you have captured.
When it comes to describing your experiences, it is important to display the skills required for the job. This is what recruiters particularly look for and if you do not convey the skills you possess via your experiences in your CV, you will not progress. Each industry will have common skill sets needed for any firm in that sector. Another positive is that you do not need to have direct experience in a field to show that you are capable of working in that area. Displaying the needed skill sets from any of your experiences is more than enough.
You can very easily find out the skills you need to display in your CV by searching the career field you are applying to and the skills needed for that. For example, entering into Google “Skills needed for a good banker”. Understand the main skills you find and focus on showing these skills in your experiences via your VERBS, ACTIONS, and IMPACTS.
Let us go through a good and bad example of a sentence.
Bad: “I improved my marketing skills when I launched a website on APS.”
Why is this bad?
- It starts with an I and not an action verb.
- It TELLS us what skills they have acquired. They need to SHOW this through their actions (the launching of the website is more than enough).
- Launching a website is impressive. They need to focus on this aspect.
- We have no idea what APS is. You should either make descriptions simple so that anyone can understand or explain what it is (but often there is no space to do the latter).
- Lack of quantification.
Let us improve this sentence: “Created and launched a website that has 350 monthly visitors on average and it increased membership sales by 85%”
Why is this better?
- Began with a strong action verb. It is not every day that someone creates something.
- By showing the creating and launching of the website, you have shed more light on the process and made it the focus of the sentence.
- 350 monthly visitors allow us to visualise the scale of the website. It also connotes that you have gained 350 visitors in one month which is impressive.
- Increasing membership sales describes the impact you and this website had. By adding the 85%, it shows the scale of this impact and again, makes the experience impressive.
- Removing the APS keeps the sentence simple and easy to understand.
You should now have an idea of how to construct sentences for your experiences, some dos and don’ts, and tips to make you stand out. Follow these rules and tips for all your experiences.
Skills and Interests
This section is where you can add details of things that may not go in the other sections. The typical structure is the following:
Adding languages and IT skills are good because it will show the recruiters what languages you can speak in a business setting and if you can use computer programmes during work.
However, you are free to be creative and add other things. You could add awards you have gained, the volunteering activities you have conducted, and many more.
You should now be well-equipped to transform your CV or know exactly how to create your first ever CV. There is numerous advice out there on the internet or given to you by someone you know, but on many occasions, it might be misguided. The template you can have access to and the tips in this article are not the only way to make an excellent CV, but it will definitely give you a good start and it is a result of successfully passing many screening stages for some of the world’s best companies.
Khalid is not only a Masters in Chemical Engineering Graduate with a keen interest in Consulting and a passion for Technology & Innovation. But he is someone that is passionate about helping others progress and through this ambition founded the IGNITE Network.
The IGNITE Network is an organisation dedicated to improving the representation of young people from minority ethnic and lower socioeconomic backgrounds in various career sectors. They aim to bridge this gap through three principles of Enlightening, Equipping, and Empowering individuals to succeed.
Connect with the network on their platforms of LinkedIn or Instagram