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Creating a state of the art CV to stand out in the crowd

The easiest way to improve the results of your job search results is to work on your CV. With a better resume comes better chances of scoring interviews, resulting in interview experience or even a job outright. If your CV is horrible to read or outdated it can tank your hiring potential tremendously, especially if you are qualified. This article is a concise guide to polish up your CV with legitimate tips and advice.

Do I have the legitimacy to talk about resume-making? Absolutely, as my pristine CV was the sole reason why I got the internship position at my current job in the first place. My superior, who hired me, told me that my CV and my cover letter "simply looked so impressive" that he just had to interview me – they weren't even recruiting at the moment, but wanted to consider such a convincing-looking candidate.

It worked – I got my foot in the door and I shared my ideas and work mindset with him, ultimately scoring me my paid internship and first job in my field. If you do not believe me then look at the guide below – my advice rings true more than any of my claims ever could.

Interactive table of contents

What do recruiters look for in a CV?

A common misconception is that recruiters will carefully read your CV when considering you. Most recruiters state that they spend just 30-60 seconds on a single CV on average – that is why your resume needs to stand out immediately. In fact, some studies indicate that recruiters form a preliminary opinion of you based on your resume in less than 10 seconds. If you can't impress them within the first 10 seconds, your chances of impressing them within the next 20–50 will be even slimmer.

Recruiters just don't have time to read a text wall on the history of your worker personality or an extensive and intricate description of your personality. They try to find your strengths and qualifications as quickly as possible. If they can't find that they move on to the next candidate.

This is why you need to focus on accessibility and simplicity. Make sure that your CV is in the right format, has readable text and is not too long. My rule of thumb is to always keep my CV only one page long and if I need to tell more about my background I make a brief cover letter with a maximum of three readable but concise paragraphs.

The 5 common traits of remarkable resumes

  • A maximum length of 1 page: Useful, concise and clearly highlighted information so that the recruiter easily notices your qualifications, skills, and strengths.

  • Technical details are in check: A readable font, a common file type (like a PDF), correct colors, and a high quality file – no one wants to have a migraine reading pixelated cryptic text.

  • The visuals impress: While no recruiter expects a work of art, a plain Word PDF with the default Times New Roman doesn't really stand out unless your track record is absolutely phenomenal. Go for captivating but modest colors and a clear visual to keep your CV modern.

  • All the essentials: A recruiter should be able to contract you solely using your CV. Your email, telephone number, LinkedIn profile and other crucial details like your most recent job title and alma mater makes it easy for the recruiter to reach you and forward your information. If your information is fragmented, this process becomes tedious.

  • Keeping it relevant: If you're a Senior Analyst, your first summer job isn't important to mention even if played a formulating part on developing your work ethic – keeping the details short, concise, and extremely relevant makes you a memorable and competitive candidate.

What tools to use to start building your CV

Microsoft Word has traditionally been the go-to software for creating a professional resume. Currently, with job applications moving towards a more visual direction, I would advise against using Word, unless you know what you're doing. Word is good for purely text based CVs, but there are easier and more effortless ways to create a shining and more impressive application.

Canva has received a lot of positive attention, and rightfully so. I use Canva Pro at work as I partake in creating social media content and writing business articles. For anything social media, Canva is just phenomenal – it is nifty and convenient for Instagram Stories, Posts, and turns out that it handles resumes well, too! The stock templates for visual resumes are all very impressive and with just a small amount of tweaking, you'll get a very modern CV with very little effort.

My personal choice for maximum customization is PowerPoint. Controversial, I know, as PowerPoint is an application for slideshows, it can transform into a very efficient CV tool with almost unlimited control over customization. Learning how to make a resume with it from scratch would be a great post in itself, but for a quick primer go to [Design] > [Slide Size] > [Custom Slide Size] and select "Portrait" as orientation and from the drop-down menu "Slides sized for:" go for "A4 Paper (210x297 mm).

Now you've got yourself an A4-shaped slide. Then, all you need to do is to just pick an example CV online that you want to use as a base. Use it as inspiration and start making your own CV from shapes and text boxes! It takes more time and some learning but having full control makes an unfair difference.

Learn to put emphasis on the right things

Giving advice on what traits to highlight in your resume would be largely useless as we have different skills. When I applied for my legal internship, I didn't have any experience from law – I only had experience from retail-level customer service and miscellaneous office from summer jobs and so on. That's why I decided to highlight my IT skills, office proficiency, customer service attitude, and academic background instead of stating that my experience isn't relevant. Even though I lacked relevant experience, they understood me as it was an entry-level position and found my motivations very convincing and useful for the company.

This logic applies vice-versa, too. If you have had a ruthless career and achieved great success at work, you don't need to highlight your academic background from 20 years ago – mentioning your alma mater is always relevant to lay out the foundations, but learning to focus on the most relevant is what will establish you as the confident and skilled candidate.

Thinking outside the traditional frames of a CV helps tremendously too – if you have experience running your own business or a creative project on the side, highlighting that is a great idea – it is a testament to your autonomy and general ambition. Same goes for highlighting having a successful social media account if you're applying for a position in marketing – you get the gist of it.

Invest in the visual appearance of a CV

There is nothing wrong with having a really bare-bones CV – for some, the visual appearance of their CV doesn't even matter. If you have a tremendously successful track record of fantastic results in high-profile companies, there most likely isn't much need to create a strikingly good-looking CV, as your qualifications speak for you.

But for everyone else, and even for the high-flyer, it is worthwhile to make a visually appealing CV to strengthen the impression that you're a modern and knowledgeable candidate. Let's make a comparison with two example resumes:

The first CV snapshot above is a sample created with Microsoft Word with a very rudimentary and logical progression. It is readable,has all of the necessary information, but is quite dull. There's nothing wrong with having a CV like this, but if you need to stand out, it won't do the trick.

The second CV snapshot is picked from one of the stock Canva templates and has a nice color scheme with two strong colors. Although the example is hard to see since the image is small, (click to expand!) the presentation is much more vibrant and clearly shows that effort was put into it. The "Professional Skills" and "Personal Skills" sections are also nice additions that rarely exist in traditional CVs.

Fine-tune your CV for the recruiter

Add everything the recruiter needs to your CV! Your LinkedIn profile URL, your telephone number, your email and sometimes even your address. If a recruiter is on the fence about someone they just might give them a call or send them an email, and you want to be the one that's easily reachable.

Also make sure that the details relevant to your industry are easily visible. If you're searching for a front end developer job, you want the recruiter to instantly know that you can do HTML – you need to have it somewhere where it is extremely obvious and easy to see that you match the qualifications – this applies to all industry-specific standards.

A nice trick that I use to help recruiters is that I add clickable links to the contact information section in my resume. If they click on my email address, they get an automatic email draft with my address as the destination, and if they click on my LinkedIn icon, it opens my LinkedIn profile on their browser.

Common pitfalls of bad resumes

Here's a list of obvious CV mistakes in no particular order – even a small slip-up can tell a lot about your attention to details.

  1. Poor grammar and typos: Really self-explanatory. If you can't even write your CV properly, can the employer trust you to be careful with work? This is especially bad if the typo happens to be in your contact information and the recruiter cannot reach you.

  2. File errors: Make sure that your CV opens properly as a .pdf and that it is a pdf file to begin with! If the recruiter cannot open your CV your application is doomed.

  3. Too many pages: One concisely filled and well-designed page is good for a good overview: No one has time to read your three page essay on efficient principles at work.

  4. Horrible visuals: Make sure that your font is pleasing to the eye and above all very readable – this is an absolutely resounding NO to using Comic Sans.

  5. Wall of text sickness: Even though one page is enough space, that doesn't mean that it needs to be filled with a monster wall of text that no recruiter has time to read. Learn to be concise yet captivating.

  6. No clichés: Please don't state that you're a detail-oriented, results-driven, self-motivated, and hardworking go-getter. These terms are used too often and will not get you noticed. Go for brief descriptions of your skills, such as "I'm a creative but systematic lawyer with a business-oriented approach and legal expertise to back it up."

  7. Avoid common phrases: "Responsible for" and "successfully" both fall into this category. Instead of "responsible for creating an efficient tool", you should prefer "developed an efficient tool" to both save space and make your activity more compelling.

Final overview

All in all, you should make your short but concise CV stand out both visually and through its content. Show it to a family member and ask about their first impressions or even better, show it to a friend working in a completely different industry. They have no fear of you being direct competition, so they will gladly help. This "peer-review" method is a fantastic way of refining resumes as both parties give and receive criticism. I've done it myself with close friends and benefited massively for doing so, receiving many great observations I would have never realized myself.

So get out there, and start planning your new CV! The process is intimidating, so consider splitting it to different days or even weeks if you're not in a rush! First start drafting the plan for what you want to highlight: Is it your education and GPA, or is it your tremendous work experience or maybe practical skills? Next, move on to picking your tool of choice for creating the CV, exploring templates or online examples and then create it in practice. The road is tough and full of adversity, but the payout will be even greater.

If you liked this article of the Career Skills: Master the job hunt series, you might find the other posts in the series useful as well!


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