At Worthwhile we read a lot of CVs. We think we’re pretty good at looking beyond the formatting of a CV to see the potential in each of our candidates. Even so, we appreciate a well put together CV as much as the next hiring manager.
We all know the cliched advice about CVs; check your spelling, put everything in reverse chronological order, and tailor your CV to the specific opportunity you are applying for.
But beyond that very basic advice what makes a stand out CV? Especially now that everyone knows the same advice.
There’s no getting around the fact that it’s the quality of experience you include that matters. There’s only a limited amount of ‘jazzing up’ you can actually do (without lying, obviously). Great CVs communicate that experience particularly effectively.
Candidates with great CVs keep to a pretty traditional format. They all go: contact details, personal profile, education, work/voluntary experience. Each section lists experience in reverse chronological order. Where they do flex that model, it’s to foreground their very best experience. That can be as simple as finding a way to put your best work or voluntary experience front-and-centre, formatting that helps a reader pick out the most relevant experience or finding a neat way to reiterate a particular skill or quality about yourself.
Great CVs make use of the fact that space = attention. You don’t have to treat all experiences as equal on your CV. For instance, you don’t want the main focus of your CV to be your secondary school education purely because listing all your GCSEs takes up a bunch of space. Instead, consider how much space to dedicate to different parts of your CV, and whether to dedicate any space at all. Thinking through what an employer will want to read about will help you to allocate space effectively. And don’t just fill space because it’s there, one page CVs are great - especially when well curated for the specific role.
People who read CVs are humans too, and we only have so much focus. In reality this means we read the top and the left hand side of your CV, plus any headings and bullet points most closely. Well written CVs are conscious of what’s included in this space. Most keep cursory information like contact details at the very top of the CV pretty brief and easy to skip through. They then make the most important bits in the rest of the CV unmissable.
A good personal profile frames your whole CV. It gives a narrative to what comes next and helps me to understand why I should keep reading. Good profiles align with the accompanying application or cover letter. We notice when your personal profile is either vague or tailored to quite a different kind of opportunity. Good profiles are succinct (see above point).