How to make your CV stand out from the crowd

Approach & Methodology

The CV is a means to an end. It should be viewed as a paper gateway to the most important part of any recruitment process – the interview.

To understand the best approach to writing a CV, you should think more broadly about the process of applying for jobs.

  • The candidate/potential future employee is selling their labour services.
  • The employer/potential future employer is buying labour services.
  • The CV is, therefore, a sales document, a sales pitch selling the product – your labour services.
  • The CV needs to clearly set out your labour services and should offer the right features and benefits to fit the particular role you are applying for.

For the last ten years and currently, in most cases, it is a buyer’s market for labour. What this means is employers tend to enjoy a good level of applications when recruiting for new staff in most categories of professions.

The implications of this situation for the candidate is their CV needs to be focussed, targeted and accessible to the decision-maker in terms of being placed on the ‘yes’ list to attend an interview.

Understand the reality of the recruitment process. A recruiter who receives anything more than 20 applicants for one particular role (and in the current market it can be 40, 60, 100) will often engage in a swift process of separating the applicants into two lists. List one – instant reject. List two – A creation of a long list which means the CVs will be scrutinised further.

The second list – the long one – is then scrutinised further to create the final shortlist for an interview which can be as limited as three candidates for one particular role to anything up to ten.

To ensure your application/CV makes it to the final shortlist of candidates for interview, it is important to understand how the recruiter will assess the CVs to separate out candidates into rejections, long list and then shortlisted candidates.

The recruiter will assess your CV against the key competencies and work experience types required in the role applied for.

They will, in simple terms have a list of approximately three to ten key competencies and three to ten sets of work experience types required, and then scan each CV ticking off the list. There will be a baseline score which will be dependent on each particular role and will move dependant on the quality of the CVs submitted. Essentially the recruiter will in rough terms assess what the average scores are and put forward for the next phase those CVs which surpass the average.

Given the process set out above, to ensure your CV is chosen for the long list and then shortlist, the approach you must take is to mirror the key competencies and experience types required in the specific job you have applied for. Furthermore, you must complete the process of mirroring the criteria by displaying them all on the first page of your CV, and if you are able to, the first third of the first page.

The rationale is straightforward. You must make it easy on the recruiter to identify the match.

By taking this approach you are also sending the message to the recruiter that you understand what competencies and experience types are required by virtue of your presentation of your CV, which will raise your profile as a candidate insomuch as you will be stand out as a more sophisticated applicant.

Writing your CV

The Generic CV

The key is to tailor your CV to mirror the key competencies and experience types required for each job you apply for, but the first part of the process is to write a generic CV.

Our recommended template for the generic CV is as follows:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Summary – Leave the summary section blank as this will be changed on an application by application basis
  • Key Competencies
  • Work Experience in a chronological order starting from the most recent experience working backwards, with month/date format for each start and end date
  • Formal Education/Formal Training which has an accreditation
  • Interests [optional]
  • Keep the CV to two/three pages, ideally two.

The Tailored CV

The process of tailoring your CV is dependent on having the job title and description and more preferably the full job details for the particular job you are applying for.

Break down the job you are applying for into its key competencies and the key work experience required. In addition, if there are any specific educational and/or qualifications required highlight these.

The process of mirroring the competencies and work history required should begin with the summary section of the CV which is the first section below your name and address.

This section should:

  • summarise your competencies as mapped against those required in the role you are applying for
  • set out evidence of having the correct work experience required for the role
  • explain why you want to work for the organisation in question

The goal of the summary section is to very early on, explain to the reader why are you are a good match for the role and offer evidence of this fact.

When setting out your work history, where possible, ensure the key competencies and work experience required in the role you are applying for is set out under each historic job/employer section.

As a consequence of this approach, if you judge you have a significant shortfall in terms of having the direct competencies and work experience required for the role, there is a strategy you can choose to employ at the end of your CV to attempt to mitigate any shortfalls.

You can choose to insert a section which sets out the transferable competencies and work experience you have which can be mapped against the required competencies and work experience.

A section such as this can be entitled ‘Transferable Skills & Experience’.

An approach such as this has risks for any applicant. By virtue of including a section such as this, you are drawing attention to the existence of shortfalls in your application.

A personal judgement needs to be made on a case by case by basis.

  • If the shortfall is minor our advice would be to never include a section such as this.
  • If the shortfall[s] is major, then there is a case to be made that you are unlikely to be selected on the basis of your CV without dealing with the shortfalls.

In this module, you will find a few different examples of CV’s for you to look through and get a good understanding of:

  • A good generic CV
  • A bad generic CV
  • A tailored CV with the Job Description is it tailored for

We have also included a generic sample CV template in this module which can use to help structure and write your new CV.