11 tips for CV success

I know what you might be thinking – the CV is dead, right? Wrong!

While it’s true recruitment has become more creative in recent years, with organisations creating their own digital forms and requesting the likes of video applications, there is still a place for the humble CV.

Your CV is a brilliant opportunity to present your skills, career history and experience in a document that’s clear and to the point. Traditional CVs also help to remove bias when compared to video, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they are still an important part of the recruitment process.

But what does a great CV look like?

Many of us wrote our first CVs in secondary school when, ironically, there wasn’t actually very much to put on them apart from, ‘I enjoy reading, swimming and socialising.’ And maybe a paper round. Shudder.

Fast-forward to now and I dare say you’ll have a lot more skills and experience to share, but working out how to refine your expertise into one succinct document can be a bit of an art.

We spoke to the experts at Teesside University’s careers service to come up with some top tips for CV success.

1. Market yourself

Image shows a young woman holding a notebook and iPad.It’s said you’ve got less than 10 seconds to make an impression with your CV. No pressure there, then.

So, before you even start, think about all the things you want the employer to know about you which might make you stand out.

Whether it’s relevant employment experience, placements, voluntary work, good academic marks, awards and prizes, community activities, relevant qualifications and modules… What makes you different?

Marketing ourselves doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you don’t know where to start, why not ask your friend or colleague what they see as your strong points? Sometimes just having a chat can help you to remember skills or achievements you’d forgotten about.

2. Tailor your CV to the role or sector

Image shows a CV laid on a laptop.One common mistake people make is not tailoring their CV to the job. Think about it, busy employers might be sifting through hundreds of CVs. You want to make it easy for them to see how well you meet the criteria. Listing completely irrelevant information might just mean your CV ends up in the bin.   

Ask yourself, what is the employer looking for? Analyse the person specification and job description to make sure you understand what skills, qualities, qualifications and experience you need to demonstrate.

For example, in the ‘employment’ section, decide which jobs are most relevant and which ones you could summarise more briefly. Describe your experience in a way that demonstrates relevant skills.

3. Use a structure that works for you

Image shows a young woman making notes on her tablet.Don’t feel restricted to the usual format. Standard headings such as ‘education’, ‘employment’ and ‘additional information’ may be fine, but you can use others if they’re more appropriate.

Consider alternative headings like, ‘relevant experience’, ‘projects’, ‘clinical placements’, ‘IT skills’ or ‘voluntary experience.’ Find out what the CV conventions are in the industry you are applying to.

4. Keep to two pages

Two pieces of blank paperThe golden rule: keep your CV to two sides of A4. It’s your job to select the important information – not the employers’, so keep it focused. Decide what the person reading your CV needs to know and summarise less important information. Lose unnecessary words and swap sentences for bulleted lists where you can.

If you’re really struggling to get the word count down, ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you pick out the highlights. Sometimes it’s good to get a second pair of eyes.

5. Include facts and figures

Fun magnetic numbers and lettersEmployers like specifics – they help to show the impact you’ve made. If you supervise staff – how many? If you manage a budget – how much? If you deputise for a manager – how often and how long for? You increased website clicks? That’s great, but by what % did your visits go up?

This type of information makes your CV convincing and helps the employer understand what you actually did.

6. Focus on your achievements

celebratory confettiThese can really make you stand out. Employers are interested in what you have achieved as well as what you did. When you are writing about work, volunteering and other activities, think about what evidence you could provide that shows you did well.

It could be getting promoted, meeting targets, making changes, feedback from customers, raising funds or organising an event within a set timeframe and budget. It’s not about boasting; it’s about recognising when you’ve done a good job.

7. Aim for clarity

Lens over a mountain landscapeSmall, cramped text in large blocks is off-putting and difficult to read. Don’t make employers work too hard to discover your talents!

Use a clear font such as Arial or Calibri in a minimum of 11 point and leave plenty of white space. Bullet points can break up big paragraphs.

Employers often scan CVs for information rather than reading every word from start to finish; so clear headings make it easier for them to find the information they are looking for.

8. Consider appearance

Person holding a magnifying glass upIs the look of your CV creating the right impression? Does it appear professional?

And how can you make it appropriate to the industry? For example, if you are applying for a creative job does it show off your design skills?

9. Check your language

Scrabble letters spell out "Choose your words"Language has a huge impact on how people think and feel, so use assertive and positive language in your CV. Weave in words like, ‘achieve’, ‘develop,’ ‘results’ – you get the idea.

Passive language can make statements appear weaker. Don’t be afraid to be direct and say it how it is. 

And (this is crucial), make sure your CV is well organised and has accurate spelling and grammar. You’d be amazed how many typos slip through the net. Use free online checkers like Grammarly or ask someone to proof it for you before you submit it to employers.

10. Make a good impression with your covering letter

Covering letters go hand in hand with CVs. Your covering letter is another chance to show prospective employers why you’re the right person for the job.

As well as stating what job you are applying for, you should highlight your strengths, tell them what you can bring to the role and convey your enthusiasm for the job.

11. Keep your CV updated

A young woman sitting at a table using a laptopOnce you’ve perfected your CV and secured a new role, the temptation is to put it to one side, content with the job you’ve done. But keeping your CV up-to-date is well worth your time.

Reflecting on your skills and experience regularly is important – and it’ll help make sure you’re ready to go next time your dream job comes up. 

Good luck with the job search! 

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Author: Amy B

Amy studied English and now works in the Communications and Development team at Teesside University. She's also a home interiors blogger with a passion for nature, art and colour. Away from work, Amy loves great vegetarian food, indie rock and a good box set.