Five essentials for a winning CV

Ditch the waffle and don’t be afraid of a little white space...

Five essentials for a winning CV

Picture by Lynne Sladky AP/Press Association Images

Think you’re wowing your next potential boss with talk of how you’re a self-motivated, creative leader who enjoys the odd weekend hike and copious CV detail about every college project you ever completed?

Think again.

The jobs market is a dog-eat-dog place to be in 2017, with the likes of LinkedIn and a raft of careers websites making it ever-easier for employers to quickly sift through hundreds if not thousands of potential candidates.

A stray spelling mistake, weak opening gambit, poor layout or mass of grey and needless information will mean you’re out of the running in quicksharp time.

While there’s little room for error, there’s also an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. Somewhat counterintuitively this can mean showing a little restraint, reining in the self-aggrandising hyperbole and getting the basics spot on.

A young Bill Gates steps tentatively into the workplace. Photo: LivingComputers

1. A strong opener is key

A short summary of who you are and why you’re the ideal candidate should lead the charge – if it doesn’t captivate instantly, it might be the only thing the recruiter reads.

One approach for a compelling start could be to have a very brief “testimonials” section near the top of the document. This would consist of a couple of quotes from previous employees or colleagues that are essentially selling you – rather than you doing so in your own words.

You’ll find most people would be only too happy to contribute their (glowing, if you didn’t burn your bridges) assessments and it certainly marks a CV out as different, highlighting how you work well with others.

2. Keep it perfectly punchy

Unless you’re going for an extremely technical position in an academic field that requires an extensive pitch, your CV should never be more than two sides of an A4 page. Increasingly, firms here are taking cues from those across the Atlantic and favouring a simple one-page approach.

That shouldn’t mean cramming in every little thing – some white space, defined headings and sense of a logical flow are far more important. Yours will possibly be the 78th CV this very tired pair of human eyes is going to pore over so don’t make them strain... or doze off.

That means leading with your relevant work experience with room only for expansion on the previous positions that best illustrate your suitability for the job. Achievements and interests can convey a well-rounded personality, but don’t get too self-indulgent.

3. Pick the right template

Perhaps, to echo an earlier tip, demonstration is the best way of explaining. With that in mind, Novoresume put together a mock resume for Tesla founder Elon Musk in 2016 to showcase their résumé building service, yes, but also what they think is the right way of going about it.

With the likes of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity keeping him busy these days, Musk is unlikely to be looking for employment any time soon, but the lesson was clear: if an innovative billionaire can fit his career on one page, so can you...

If technology is stacking the odds against you in other ways, you might as well use it your advantage where possible.

That means it’s time to ditch wrestling solo with column widths and infuriating page breaks on Microsoft Word. Instead, avail of the free online CV builders to handle the heavy format lifting and give you plenty of custom options and flexibility.

Novoresume is good if you’re a newcomer to the jobs market, but does start charging if you’re looking to convey 5+ years of experience.

Hloom.com offers 100s of templates, from classic, traditional looks perfect for that accountancy or legal firm position, to more contemporary approaches that ditch the “serif” font and add dynamism and colour.

Microsoft Office also has a host of very clean and professional options to download.

If you want to build the thing from scratch, you could also do worse than the free CVmaker app. Extremely flexible and allowing you to download the finished product as a doc, pdf or html file without having to register an account.

4. Just make sure it's tailor-made

Knowing your audience is, once again, key. If you had a gander at the Musk CV, liked what you saw and decided to lift the look wholesale, that’s probably not the best bet.

For a start, we’d ditch the increasingly (and bizarrely) popular skills bars at the side. Assigning yourself marks on various attributes can seem needlessly boastful and will only lead to the question of how exactly you came up with accurate ratings if you ever get an interview.

Also, while LinkedIn profiles have made it more commonplace, photos on standard CVs remain a tad superfluous.

If you’re a graphic designer, the CV as a document itself is an opportunity to “get creative” and put on a proper display. Semi-jokey pie charts, sketches of yourself with thought bubbles popping out of your head and dazzling colours probably aren’t going to win you any admirers if you’re going for an IT admin gig, however.

5. Never mind the buzzwords

Call up your cv.doc right now, ctrl+f “motivated”, highlight it and for god’s sake hit delete. There’s a litany of no-brainer positives that jobseekers continue to litter their CVs with and, even if all of them are true, they’re easier said than displayed.

Talking about things you’ve actually done in previous roles that imply these qualities is a far better bet.

As for the specific clichés you should avoid?

A couple of years ago, LinkedIn analysed the CVs of its Irish members and found that “motivated” was the most overused word. It fended off “enthusiastic”, “passionate”, “driven”, “track record”, “creative”, “extensive experience”, “responsible”, “communication skills” and “ambitious” in the ignoble top 10.