Applying for a Job? You Need this Powerful CV Writing Strategy

By Sarah Norris b2b copywriter

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You may well have the right skills and background for your dream job but if you don’t document them and present them properly your chances of getting shortlisted will only get longer…

The world and his dog seem to have differing opinions about what makes a CV good or bad. One thing everyone in the know generally agrees on is that a generic CV probably won’t get you added to the interview list - unless the other competition is really awful!


What is a generic CV?

This is a CV that covers pretty much everything you've done to date in your career or with your training / qualifications. A generic CV won't highlight particular skills or match with the key criteria a recruiter is looking for. It’s a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

We’re all different; all companies and all jobs are different. Give yourself at least a fighting chance of making the shortlist and make your recruiter’s day by shaping your CV to fit.


Tailor your CV to the job advertisement

Take a good look at the job ad. Highlight the essential and desirable criteria and note down how you meet it. Just make rough notes to start with, you can refine them later. Think about achievements you’ve made during your career that best highlight the skills or knowledge required. Now you’ve made a rough list you can start editing and adding them to your CV or application.

Use a skills matrix

Discover how you match your target role with the skills matrix approach. Use it to compare your skills and experience with the criteria in the job ad. Draw a grid and list the key job requirements down the first column. In each column across, note how you meet that criteria – you could have columns for professional experience, education and specific examples.

The example below shows a grid for an accounting role with the job criteria in column 1.

From this table you’ll see how quickly you can build up a picture of how you meet the criteria. Blank boxes? Don’t panic. Not all boxes will need completing. And any that may be lacking in detail will be useful to help focus your thoughts on specific examples or to understand areas requiring development. Could you take on a project in your current role that will build your experience in an area you're weak on? Maybe further training would help?

Making the most of your CV

Now you know which of your skills are suited to the role, make them shine on your CV and show that recruiter what a great candidate you are.

Your personal statement is valuable real estate and takes prime position on your CV. Make the most of it by highlighting keywords and matching your unique qualities to the job ad.

Take a good look at your achievements (you have added your key achievements to your CV, haven’t you?). Put your most relevant results first and see if you can reword others to bring out the skills and attributes your chosen role requires.

A traditional-format CV isn’t always best

Make specific expertise stand out by combining parts of your career summary section and giving it a suitable title. If for example, you hold broad experience in sales and marketing and are going for a marketing manager role; group your marketing background under the heading 'marketing experience'. There’s nothing wrong with adding voluntary experience here too if it further demonstrates your key abilities in your chosen area.

Note your other work experience in a section titled ‘other professional experience’ to give a whole employment history.

Remember, the more you can shape the document to meet the recruiter's needs, the better. Using targeted headers and sections shows you’ve taken the time to tailor your CV to make life easier for the recruiter. Another tick in the yes box.


Captivating headlines

Give yourself a headline to sum up your unique value – place it where you’d usually put ‘Professional Profile. Your headline can be seen as a professional tagline and should be factual but with a compelling piece of information attached such as your level of experience or a key achievement. Avoid fluff like ‘hard-working’, ‘enthusiastic’, ‘results-driven’, for example:

Telecoms Manager with 15 years' delivery of complex £multi-million infrastructure projects

Construction Manager | 20 years' building consultancy experience in commercial pre-acquisition

Sales Executive | Proven record of increasing revenues and maximising key accounts

Think about your target role, the experience and skills required. You don't need to stick to your current job title, particularly if it's an unfamiliar one - change it to something that encapsulates your professional background. The headlines above all quickly show who the candidate is and the unique value they offer. If you can add a keyword related to the job advert, then even better!


Use formatting to your advantage

You've probably heard how recruiters only spend six seconds on average scanning a CV. Apply some simple formatting tricks to emphasise how you meet the key criteria and use that scanning time to your advantage.

Keywords can be highlighted in bold– apply sparingly or you’ll lose the impact, and use bullet points to list achievements, making them easier to read.

A well-structured CV that flows will stand you in good stead. Make different sections easy to see – title each section e.g. ‘work experience’, education’, and use simple borders to break up the text.

Don’t forget plenty of white space; cramming all your information onto one page in long paragraphs not only looks unprofessional but will be less visually appealing and harder to read. Instead, ensure each section is well spaced with good margins (1.5 to 2 cm is fine).

Add a splash of colour. Who says CVs have to be black and white? Professional colours tend to be dark blues, greens, reds or shades of grey. Use colour in your name or section headers and borders.


What tailoring your CV doesn’t mean

Remember, tailoring your experience doesn’t mean lying. If a job advert asks for 12-years’ experience in cat-grooming and you don’t have this then don’t be tempted to put it on your CV. Instead, think about the experience and achievements you do have that may be relevant. In this case your volunteering role at the local cat and dog home would be a good point to highlight; you didn’t exactly buff the cat’s claws but you do know how to handle cats and keep them calm in potentially stressful situations. Make the most of transferable skills and knowledge!


Taking the time to shape your CV pays dividends, and the more you do it, the better at it you’ll become. It can even help when you get that call to interview as your mind will already be focused on the key skills the employer is looking for.


Need more help with your CV? Get in touch: [email protected]


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