CVs go through wardrobe changes with a frequency akin to a teen fashionista. How do you know how to structure and design your CV to appeal to the 2020 audience? You don’t only need to consider the content of your CV, but you need to consider the design, layout and format too.
The first impression of your CV
Like it or not, the first impression of your CV rests solely on design. Before a recruiting manager reads a single word, they will notice if your CV looks appealing.
This really matters, because you have just 7.4 seconds to make an impression. In that initial glance, they are looking for:
- Simplicity: Keep the length to 2 pages of A4, with no complicated fonts, graphics or blocks of text.
- Scannability: Ensure plenty of white space, left margin dominance and bullet points as well as careful use of key words.
- Impact: Take care to make your CV stand out from the crowd without being pretentious or distracting.
It’s quite a tall order. You may also be tempted down the road of digital CVs, especially given that they will top the advertisements if you turn to Google for some help writing an updated CV. It’s confusing, so let’s break it down.
A CV’s number 1 priority
Beyond any design considerations, relevancy should always be your number one priority. This is important to understand because what is relevant to one job application, or employer, will not be the same for another.
An excellent example of this is the digital CV. For some employers e.g. in digital and creative industries, a digital infographic CV may be well received. In a more traditional industry such as insurance or finance, it may not.
As such, as a primary consideration, even ahead of simplicity, scannability and impact, you need to consider the relevancy of every aspect of your CV. However, as long as your CV is relevant, you then want to consider these areas.
A recruiting manager doesn’t want to wade through a font playground, or figure out that you thought you’d use right margin justifying, just because.
Instead, keep things simple. Use mainstream, clean fonts, like Arial, Calibri or Verdana. Ensure sections are clearly defined using headings. Use bullet points. No matter the role, keep things to two sides of A4, without reducing the font size below size 11 or 12. Excellent spelling and grammar is part of creating simplicity in a CV.
As you complete each section of your CV, think about how it can be simplified. For example, it’s vital that you highlight examples of your experience relevant to the role. These can simply stand out when written as micro-case studies under an attribute you’re addressing.
There are two reasons why it is important that your CV can be easily scanned. Firstly, an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) may be used. Secondly, a recruiting manager does not have enough time or inclination to wade through dense sections of text.
There should be plenty of whitespace used on your CV, making it easier to scan. Bullet points and headings will once again help you here. Put important concepts to the left, as this naturally attracts the reader’s eye.
Within sections use a chronological approach, with weighting to more recent experiences.
The good news is that if you follow the advice under Simplicity and Scannability, you will naturally create a CV with impressive impact. Key headings and points will stand out and make the impact you want using tangible relevant information, rather than eye-catching fonts.
Substance over style
Consider the style of your CV as the bait to capture attention. The substance of your CV – the content – is what keeps that attention. You need to make sure that what’s written in your aptly-styled CV matches the requirements of the role detailed in the advert, and the nature of the employer. Remember relevancy first, against a backdrop of simplicity, scannability and impact.
Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV – he is a former recruitment consultant and contributes careers advice to websites like Business Insider, The Guardian and FastCompany.