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CV format: let your CV help you stand out

Jelena Lukic

Published 11th December , 2020

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You only get one chance at first impressions. For job seekers looking to impress their future employers, this chance relies entirely on their resume. Of course, a high-quality CV can’t land you a job, but it absolutely can give you an opportunity to secure an interview. At the end of the day, that is its primary task. The two main elements you should focus on are CV format and its content. I Love My CV is here to help you understand both of these components and create an attention-grabbing resume.

CV layout

A good resume shouldn’t be a solid block of text. In contrast, it should be comprised of a number of components, which can vary depending on the industry. The variations can be daunting in different fields, but can also vary from one posting to another. Some companies or even jobs demand a more traditional resume or ask for additional segments, such as a reference list or a cover letter. Others, on the other hand, require candidates to keep up with the changes in an evolving field. In these cases, a more traditional approach could be very detrimental.

However, there are some general rules that apply to basically every job. For example, the components of your resume should be clearly separated and each of them should have its own headline. You can use a resume outline to figure out the best order of different components. The goal is for the CV to read as a logical whole, with all of its elements leading up to one another. The common thread connecting these components should be all the skills, education and experience that make you the perfect candidate for the position.

It is important to make your resume hold the attention of the recruiters. For this reason, you should make it easy to read. There are some steps you can take in the design of your CV itself to draw the eye and get more attention. This includes organizing information in an unconventional and interesting way, and including different visual cues and color in the document.

A man and a woman shaking hands over a desk.
A striking CV can be that final push you need to get an interview.

We recommend to think about the demands of the industry and the company itself to make sure you are not emphasizing the visual aspect too much or not enough. Generally, more artistic positions allow more freedom. However, if you are applying for a more science or business oriented position, you may include visuals such as charts and graphs to illustrate your previous professional successes.

How long should a cv be?

Recruiters and hiring managers don’t have much time to spare, since they have to look through a great number of resumes on a daily basis. This, in turn, means that they can’t devote too much time to reading a specific CV. Thus, you should edit your resume down to one page if possible.

If you have a lot of work experience under your belt, it can get difficult to condense your career into a single page. However, you have the advantage of being able to choose precisely which aspects of your career are the most representative, and show that you fit it the position you are applying for. In contrast, if you are just starting your professional career, you may not have enough data to fill an entire page. In that case, you should look into any volunteer and unpaid work you have done in the past. Think about what you have learned about people and yourself through these experiences and how you can apply that knowledge to the position in question.

Whatever may be the case, don’t hesitate to make small changes in your resume to showcase those aspects of your education, work experience and personality that can show the recruiters you are a great fit for the company.

Of course, when it comes to certain positions, a CV can and should be longer. This is true if you are applying for tenure at a university, a higher position within a company, or trying to find a job abroad, to name a few.

Some job postings ask for additional segments in an applicant’s resume, such as certifications you have acquired or a list of references. Certifications can be listed on the same page as the rest of your resume if the space allows it. On the other hand, we recommend to always list your references on a separate page.

What should a resume look like?

As we have previously stated, there is no universal formula for a perfect CV. You will have to make changes according to the industry, and sometimes the company itself. That is why we advise you to go through your CV each time you apply for a position. Consider the posting, job and responsibility descriptions within it, and see how your own experience fits into them. Rethink your wording, as well as the order in which you have listed your skills. Sometimes you have to shine the spotlight on your organizational abilities. Other times, on the other hand, your attention to detail or leadership skills should take the front and center. In some cases, even the segments of a resume need to be rearranged.

Illustration of a woman being offered money from multiple employers.
A good resume can do wonders for your career.

CV format: how to write each segment?

Brevity is what you should be aiming for. Your resume should convey as much information as possible in as few words as you can manage. In other words, if you are planning to show off your writing skills, you may want to reconsider. Recruiters are not looking for beautiful writing, but specific information. Hence, this information should be presented in a clear, concise and convenient way.

As most moredn resumes require bulleted lists, this can be a great starting point. You may be prompted to start each bullet with I, but this is unnecessary. Namely, this is your resume, and each point refers to you by default. After you‘ve ditched pronouns, do the same to all unnecessary words. Start each point with a strong action verb and incorporate some sort of quantifier wherever possible. We recomend using either past tense or infinitive.

It is also important to vary your action verbs. Otherwise, the list of your daily duties can seem repetitive and hinder your chances. Space is very valuable on a resume, as you want to keep the entire document as short as possible. Hence, you may want to merge two or even three similar points into one by starting it with the action verb and listing multiple duties after that.

CV format: the mandatory segments

A resume can be compared to an introduction. Thus, you should think about the things you would say to a hiring manager if you were to meet them for the first time in person without them knowing anything about you. This is what a resume should do. Some segments are mandatory no matter the position, since they convey. These segments include

  • Resume header
  • Education
  • Work experience
  • Skills

Resume header

A resume header is your chance to introduce yourself. It should, thus, contain your name, current job title, and contact information. As this is a representation of a person, some people choose to include a photo of themselves as well. However, we recommend weighing the pros and cons of including a photo. If you want to draw the recruiter’s attention to your resume, you can include a visual element to the header, whether it’s a small icon or a bold statement graphic.

A man at a job interview, smiling.
A resume header tells the recruiters who you are.

CV format: Education

The Education section should be directly underneath the header if you are fresh out of school and have little to no work experience. This is also true if you are relatively new to the job market and your previous experience had little relevancy to your desired career. For example, many students work while in college, but these jobs are most often in the servicing industry or retail. If their education makes them eligible for a position outside of those industries, they should also list their education first.

CV format: Work experience

This segment contains the tasks that comprise each of your previous jobs. Many people get an education in one field, but end up doing something completely different their entire lives. Thus, the Work segment should be listed above Education if your work experience is relevant to the job you are applying for. In other words, the more relevant component of your experience, whether you got it through education or work, should be listed first.

Skills

This segment should represent all the skills you posses that make you a great candidate for a specific position. It doesn’t matter if you have acquired them through school, a course or work experience, or if they’re a natural part of your character, this is the place where you should showcase what you will be able to do for the company in great detail.

To conclude, the mandatory segments of a resume show who you are, what you know and what you can do. Tailor these components and rearrange them so that your strongest suits come first.

CV format: The optional segments

It is possible to include some other segments into a resume. These can be diverse in nature and greatly depend on the industry and job itself. However, some of the more common ones include

  • Resume introduction
  • Reference lists
  • Certifications
  • Languages
  • Volunteer work
  • Hobbies or personal interests

A resume introduction can come in many different shapes, but they all have the same goal – to present you as a great candidate for the job in a short and convenient way, so a recruiter can know what to expect from you as well as your career objective at a casual glance. The introduction should contain your title, experience and most valuable skills.

Reference lists allow the recruiters to do a background check on you. To be clear, some job postings require a reference list, and these are the only cases when you should submit them right away. Your references shouldn‘t be on the same page as the rest of your resume, but have a separate page for themselves instead.

Certifications are mandatory in some jobs because they are a proof a candidate can do a job-specific task, but their inclusion in a resume greatly depends on the nature of the job. If your job requires a certification or licence, you should place them closer to the beginning of the document, either in the Education section, or their own dedicated segment.

Illustration of three people, two of which are sitting and reading, and the last person is holding a giant certificate proudly.
Add your certifications to your resume!

You should include languages you speak if you are confident they can help you stand out from the competition, or if they are mandatory. This section proves to the recruiter you have learning capacity and devotion. You should list your proficiency level next to each language.

A volunteer work section is not a mandatory part of a resume, but it can come in handy if you have no previous professional work experience.

Hobbies and personal interests are optional segments you can include to let the employer know a little bit more about you as a person. Including these sections into a resume can seem a little frivolous, as space is scarce. However, it can help you greatly when you go to the interview, as the recruiter will be able to break the ice and decrease your tension and nerves.

As you can see, there are many small details a candidate must remember. Each aspect of your resume should reflect your own attention to detail, precision and dedication. Yet, this can build up a lot of pressure and make you question yourself. Using a ready-made resume template with an established layout and color scheme can lift a great amount of responsibility off of your shoulders.

Formatting tips

We can not overstate the importance of making your CV look as dynamic as possible. This means being original when it comes to the layout, illustrations and the content itself. However, there are still some guidelines when it comes to the formatting itself. Follow these to make sure your resume still looks professional.

A CV on a desk, next to two pencils.
A good resume utilizes the space cleverly.

CV format: the best font for a resume

There are no official standards when it comes to resume fonts. Still, even though you have a lot of freedom, you should first and foremost make sure the font you choose is easy to read. In other words, watch out for crispness, clearness and avoid over-embellished fonts. Firstly, this will make sure the recruiter is actually able to read your resume. Secondly, a font that is too out there can make you seem unprofessional. Some of the most common professional looking fonts used for resumes include Arial, Calibri, Cambria, Garamont, Georgia, Helvetica, Tahoma and Times New Roman.

The font size should be 11 or 12, depending on the amount of text on the page. Feel free to use bold and increase the size of the letters when it comes to citing and titles of different sections.

Pay attention to your margins

The standard margin for a resume is one inch, or 2.5 centimeters on all sides. You can reduce them if you absolutely need to to be able to fit your resume onto a single page.

CV format: Spacing

A resume shouldn’t look overcrowded, since it makes it harder to read, and more likely to overlook. Thus, you should use 1.15 line spacing in the body of the text, and 2.0 after a subheading. Utilize negative space to allow the eye to naturally follow the document from one segment to the next. In other words – use bullet points and consider dividing the documents into columns.

Lastly: CV format itself

You have worked hard on figuring out both the content and the layout of your resume. Thus, you should make sure the formatting doesn’t change when you print it out or when a recruiter opens it on their computer. Word is notorious for changing up the page layout if the user has a different version of the program. Hence, you should save your CV as PDF, since this type of document doesn’t change.

A computer keybord with one button saying Send CV.
Make sure your CV looks exactly like you want it before you hit Send!

As we previously said, it is clear a good CV isn’t enough to get a job. However, it is a great asset that can help you seem professional and as a great fit. It can also steer the conversation when the interview comes along according to the order of the segments. Making changes to your resume allows you to better fit into the profile of an ideal candidate. For this reason it is important to read each job posting carefully. Keep adjusting the content and layout of your resume for a better chance to land the job.

We hope these tips have helped you figure out where you need to start. Feel free to check out the resources we have provided. We wish you the best of luck on the journey to your dream job!

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