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10 tips on how to write a great CV

Here are some points to ensure your CV gets past the robotic gatekeepers and gets the right kind of attention from the right people. Whether you are writing your first CV or editing your tenth, here are some points to set you up for success.

1. Dress up your CV like a first-class chef

Think of your CV as a professional presentation of your skills, personal traits and qualifications. You are like a chef, dishing up a representation of yourself to your patrons (the employer or the recruiter). The presentation tools you are using are good writing skills, correct CV formatting and a clear presentation of your qualifications and experience. Good presentation goes a long way in convincing your patrons that you are what s/he wants to order! It’s not just a representation of yourself, but the best representation of yourself. Correct presentation, spelling and grammar is essential garnish! Conversely, careless errors can detract from your accomplishments and can cause your potential employer to set your CV aside.  



2. Your CV should be professional – but ATS compliant

The professional presentation of your CV doesn’t include adding colourful fonts, photos or embellishments that you think will catch a readers’ eye. Your CV will stand out to employers and recruiters if you state clearly how you meet the requirements and if you structure your CV correctly.

When applying for your dream job you want your CV to get past the ATS (Applicant Tracking System) software and arrive on the desk(top) of the employer. ATS software scans CVs for keywords so that the least qualified candidates are removed from the recruiter or employer’s list of potential candidates. If you are directed to a website that submits CVs to the company, there is a good chance that they are using ATS software. Beat the bots by submitting a text-only CV!


However, if you are applying to the creative industry (for example, the art and drama industries) and you have the direct email address of the employer then it may be to your advantage to showcase your skills and creativity through your CV. In this case, I would recommend that you have an ATS compliant CV and a ‘creative’ CV so that you are prepared for both situations.

3. Optimise your CV with the correct keywords for your dream job

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is real and applicable to CV writing. When you are applying for your dream job or wanting to be found by a headhunter, using keywords is very important. ATS software and headhunters are likely to pass over your CV if they can’t match you with the core skills required by the employer. You have to tell them – in their language. This may require some research on your part, to find the core skills, qualities and qualifications that are sought after by your dream employer. You can search Google, LinkedIn or other job seeking and career portals to find descriptions of your dream job or CVs of successful candidates. Highlight the keywords and use them (honestly) in your CV for best results!


4. Look for inspiring examples of CVs

In addition to looking for examples of CVs for keyword optimisation, it is also a great idea to get inspiration by looking at other people’s CVs. There are many examples of excellent CVs and profiles online. A quick Google search for “best CVs in the [industry you are in]” or “top [your industry] CVs” offers a smorgasbord of CV websites and images to spark your writing skills. LinkedIn and other jobseeker boards offer many examples of successful jobseekers and their CVs.

Read: How to lay the foundations of a great CV


5. Keep it relevant

Make sure that the details of your CV are relevant to the working world. Your potential employer doesn’t want to know what you ate for breakfast 20 years ago or that you have a complete Starwars figurine collection (unless you’re in the film industry perhaps). It is in your interest to remove irrelevant details as it ensures a streamlined CV that shows an awareness of, and compliance with, the company’s needs and objectives.


6. Clear contact details

Clearly visible contact details make it easy for the employer or the recruiter to get hold of you. Make sure that all your contact details are up-to-date! Your contact details should be at the top of your CV but not in the header or footer of your CV as ATS software cannot read headers and footers correctly. When you are competing against numerous other candidates, you don’t want anything to distract an employer or recruiter from completing the hiring process with you! You want to make “The Hiring of You” as seamless as possible. Accuracy also reduces delays and waiting time and possibly some anxiety on your part! Don’t let another candidate take your place because you weren’t easily contactable.


7. Ensure that your CV is complete

Ensure that you have included all the details of your qualifications and work history. Recruiters and employers look for specific criteria, so make sure you have recorded it correctly. For example, if you have completed a 3-year diploma, make sure you include the correct date range. Recruiters can overlook your application and incorrectly think you do not meet the minimum requirements. Recruiters are generally scanning through CVs at speed, looking for certain requirements before they contact you. You may have spent hours on your CV and know it backwards, but the recruiter or employer is going to spend seconds looking at it. Make sure your details are there and clearly visible.


8. Choose an appropriate tone to match the culture of the industry

Are you applying for a sales role or an IT position? You can adjust the tone of your writing to demonstrate that you fit into the industry or company culture. You can highlight your selling abilities by using a persuasive tone when applying for a sales role. A formal role requires a formal tone and shorter sentences or bullet points may be more suitable. Tone allows your personality to shine through while retaining a professional writing style.


9. Blow your own horn

Don't be afraid to blow your own horn, but be careful not to overdo it. Be sure to state your experiences and qualities without exaggeration or arrogance. Wherever possible, link your personal characteristics to demonstrable work/life examples. For example, "Hard-working individual" doesn't pack as much punch as "Hardworking individual, as can be seen by the 5 A symbols I achieved at [name of your educational institution]”.

Girl blowing horn


10. Comply with formal writing practices

Comply with the rules and conventions of formal writing in your CV. Sound professional. Don't use first-person pronouns. Ensure your spelling and grammar is correct. Good writing makes you look like a professional and allows you to be taken seriously. A well-written CV is the first step to securing your dream job.

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