Returning to Work: How to Write a Stand-Out CV

By Capability Jane

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How to Write a Stand-Out CV

The UK job market is more competitive than ever, so it’s never been more important to have a CV that beats the competition - especially if you are returning to work following a career break.

Your CV is your marketing document and your opportunity to present a business case as to why your target employer should hire YOU above the competition. To help you to achieve this, we’ve broken down our most important advice on writing a stand-out CV.

Use Keywords to Sneak Past the ATS

The majority of recruiters now use an Applicant Tracking System (also called an ATS) as a first screen when searching for relevant CVs. This can have an enormous impact on whether or not you actually make it through to a human screening process.

For example, if a recruiter is seeking a Marketing Manager based in Hull with expertise in PR, digital media and branding, and a bias towards oil and gas, then these are the searchable keywords the recruiter will use to find relevant candidates.

This means that if your CV does not include the right keywords, it's unlikely to be seen by a human being and will automatically be rejected outright.

Well researched keywords peppered throughout your CV will help you to bypass the ATS and stand a chance of making it to the next screening stage. In the age of the digital recruiter, keywords are crucial. 

Be Objective – State your Case

Writing your CV can be one of the most daunting experiences, even for the most seasoned jobseeker. Before you start drafting, put pen to paper and identify your key strengths. If you’ve been on a sabbatical or have taken a career break, it’s important to identify the strengths you have gained during your time away from the office that might be relevant to your target role.

It’s all too-easy to be self-critical, with a focus on what you can’t do rather than on what you can, and this is particularly common with women returning to work post-maternity leave, who often suffer from a lack of confidence. Think hard and talk it through with a third party, often an objective opinion can really help you to identify your expertise and what you can actually bring to the table. 

The profile section at the top of your CV should hit the reader hard. They may not even get further than this section before making their ‘read or reject’ decision. So you need to highlight all the very best bits of you, including where you add value. State your unique selling point – what truly sets you apart from your competition?

Demonstrate your Results

Your professional experience section should be written in two parts. The first is an overview of the role – an introductory paragraph to tell a story about what you were hired to do, the environment and the arc of your progression. This allows the reader to understand the scope, scale and context of your experience.

Once you have nailed the introductory paragraph, you should follow-up with a handful of bullet points. These are for telling the best stories about how you added value in the job, including your achievements and successes. What did you achieve and how did you do it? Don’t worry if you can’t always quantify the results, but where possible you should describe the impact. Most importantly, every bullet point should tell the reader something specifically about what YOU have delivered, not just the responsibilities that anyone in the position could have done.

Professionally Handle your Gaps

If you’re worried about a career gap in your CV, avoid brushing over it by pretending it didn’t happen. Show that it was an intentional decision by briefly explaining what you did during that period, ‘Planned career break to raise a family, 2013 – 2014’. This doesn’t undervalue what you have done during this career gap, but allows you to focus only on strategically aligning your CV to the target role.

You could also allude to it in your professional summary, 'Following a planned sabbatical, I am now seeking to return to an executive marketing post'. Keep it simple and to the point.

Finally, if you have had a number of part-time or contracting roles, these can make your CV look quite jumpy. A simple way to resolve this is to merge them under one heading. For example if you have had five contracting jobs over two years, combine these into one role (perhaps under the title ‘Consultant’ or ‘IT Contractor’), then add each assignment or role as an individual bullet point.


Produced by Capability Jane Recruitment in association with City CV. Capability Jane helps innovative and flexible organisations source talented executives on a flexible, part-time or job share basis and access a more diverse pool of candidates. Contact us on 0845 604 1916 for more information about how we can help your business flourish.

City CV are a CV Writing and Interview Coaching firm, established in 2008 that offers a rare combination of exceptional writing talent and a deep understanding of the recruitment process. We focus on professional careers and have a particular understanding of challenges that women face in the workplace. For more details, visit or call 0207 100 6656.


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