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Getting top marks for your CV

(Estimated reading time: 6 minutes)

Applying for any new job is a process. You search for the right opportunity, fix up your CV, apply for the job, and attend an interview, and then it’s all down to you to perform well on the day.

However, in a competitive employment market, standing out from the crowd in the first place is essential to get the opportunity to wow the interviewers.

Getting it right doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but there are some simple steps to follow that can give you the best chance of success:

  • Get the basics right
  • Highlight your experience (even if you don’t think you have much!)
  • Tailor your approach
  • Proof read

Getting the basics right

It’s true to say that first impressions can matter. That’s as true for your application and CV as it is in any social setting.

With that in mind, how you present your CV can make a huge difference in how it’s received by a hiring manager or recruiter who is reading it.

Remember that hundreds of applications can be submitted for every job, so CVs that are difficult to read or have basic errors can be ruled out very early as people look to get down to a manageable number of candidates.

  • Structure & Formatting: There are numerous free resources online where you can download CV templates. In fact, your word processor probably has a template available to use as a starting point. The key thing to keep in mind when writing your CV is that you want it to be as easily readable as possible.

    Ensure you title each section using your styling for H1, H2 etc. Clearly label each section –Personal profile / Education / Experience etc.

    Where you are showing lists, or separate points under a heading, use the bullet point options provided by your word processor, rather than dashes or other alternatives. This will mean your sentences will all line up accurately.

    Break up any lengthy sections of text with a return to the next line. This makes it easier for the reader to follow your flow.

  • Font: You might be tempted to use an interesting font choice or to reduce the sizing to fit more information onto a page; this is a bad idea.

    Fonts like Helvetica and Arial are widely used because they are easily read on screens of different resolutions, so stick with the familiar choices as they are popular for a reason.

  • Language: Your language should be clear and professional. There is no need to over complicate how you write.

    Make your points concisely in short sentences, and always speak in the first person!

  • Length: While traditionalists will say two pages is the maximum length, there is no hard and fast rule. It is however strongly advised for someone in their early career.

    Many professionals with 20 years’ experience can manage the two page length so limit yourself to do the same.


Highlighting your experience or skills

So you may not have all the work experience in the world...but you do still have a lot to offer a prospective employer, it just might require you to think a little laterally.

If you have a history of excellent results or academic awards in your Education, then you should definitely highlight these, and give information around grades, and important projects that contributed. However, your exam results are not the only thing that matters.

You can’t create work experience that does not exist, but if you have had part time jobs, weekend or holiday work, this is generally very valid experience to highlight.

Otherwise, you might want to consider putting together a skills based CV. Read the job specification you are applying for and identify the skills or abilities needed for the job and think about areas of your life that you exhibit these.

Next you will need to describe how you have shown these skills in your life. Your skills and abilities are developed from a range of experiences alongside school and jobs.

  • Volunteering / charity work: Often times you will gain experiences working in teams, or potentially handling money when fundraising. Often, volunteering will require organisational skills and excellent communication.

  • Scouts or other clubs: Organisations like the scouts can help you develop leadership skills, among developing many other practical abilities.

  • Sports: Both team and individual sports can be excellent areas to draw from when considering what might help in a job application.
    Team sports are excellent for developing communication and teamwork, while individual sports and the training for them can be great at showcasing working to goals, and your determination to reach them.

  • Training: There are many courses that you might take outside of school can be a great addition to your application. First aid, lifesaving, whatever it may be, it’s another chance to show your skills, and can highlight your capacity for learning.


Tailor your approach

Most applications for jobs are very similar. Even those with massively varied backgrounds will inevitably present with similar, easy to read, well presented CVs that begin to look very similar for those reviewing them by the hundreds.

To help you stand out from the crowd you need to make sure you have tailored your approach to each application.

  • Keywords: Many recruiters will have a set of keywords they look to identify in a CV on initial review. This is to ensure that the basic criteria to carry out a role are met. With that in mind, make sure to read the job description, and highlight the key terminology being used in the requirements.
    When you are outlining your experience, where you meet the requirements you can mirror the language being used to avoid any confusion.

  • Tailor your examples: Given the limited space on your CV, you will want to emphasise the elements that are most relevant to the job.
    For example, if you are applying to a role in an administration field in an office, and have previously worked in a corner shop part time, you should focus on your experience with stock management, orders, cashing up etc. Highlight the admin elements to the role, rather than the cleaning or stocking shelves.

  • Your profile / cover letter: This is your opportunity to highlight why this job in particular, for this company, is what you are really interested in.
    It’s a chance to quickly bring to attention some of the elements of your application that can help your profile rise above others in the application pool. 


Proof read

Lastly, make sure you proof read every line of your application. Even if you have not changed a section since you last updated it, re-read it and check again for errors or random characters that might accidentally make it in.

It can be useful to have someone else you trust to review it for you. Ideally if this can be someone with some experience, who can give a different lens to your application, but at a minimum just make sure to have it reviewed for spelling mistakes and grammar errors.



To sum up, there is no guarantee for success, but following these simple steps will certainly give you a better chance to stand out in the right way.

  • Get the basics right: Keep the reader in mind, making sure to have a clear and concise layout, formatted well and with a readable font.

  • Highlight your experience: Think laterally about where you have developed skills and abilities, whether that’s sports, clubs or volunteer work.

  • Tailor your approach: Use keywords and emphasis that will resonate with the person reviewing your application for the specific job in mind.

  • Proof read: Make sure to get another person to you review your CV. They are more removed from your writing and will identify problems you might overlook.

Now that your CV is ready, and you’re ready to start applying, it’s time to start thinking about improving your interview skills!

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