How to make your CV stand out from the crowd

cv girl

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Maybe you're in your final year and coming round to the realisation that university is almost over. Maybe you’re simply looking for a summer job. Either way, you're going to be working on your CV. 

There are plenty of websites (including our own) that discuss CV writing, what to include and how to structure it. A lot of this will depend on what you aim to do in life - you'll want a different type of CV for a different type of job.

But that's not the main focus of this blog post. What we're going to look at here is giving you some insight into a recruiter’s mind.

Many jobseekers think their CV needs to be a blow-by-blow account of their whole life story. But take a step back. If you're going to make the move from applicant to successful applicant, it helps to imagine the recruitment process and the young assistant manager, who was a graduate herself five years ago, and who was given the task to filter through the pile of hundreds of applicants' CVs. 

That's right: a pile of hundreds of CVs. It’s true, your CV wasn’t presented on a silver tray to the executive who put all calls on hold, read it with much interest and even laughed at that quirky little joke you put into your cover letter. 
The likelihood is that the assistant (or whomever is sifting through the CVs) is in a hurry. They need to be as discriminate as possible in order to make the deadline for this task. 

She's not going to review each person’s life history to see how it would fit with the job. Instead, she’ll scan every CV quickly to divide them onto piles of ‘interview’ and ‘trash’. There, suddenly you have an image that perhaps isn’t quite what you had in mind when you clicked on ‘send’ of that email for that opening with ABC company

If you want to land on the ‘interview’ pile, then it is highly likely you’ll have quite a few versions of your CV on your USB stick, as it should be tailored to the job for which you applied. Make sure you read the job description carefully and cover the points in this description so that, when the reader glances at your CV, her brain will clock that you covered all essential requirements (and the desirable too). Make her work a no-brainer. 

cv male

This, by the way, also highlights why lying on a CV about details such as fluency in Arabic doesn’t help. If it’s not relevant to the job it won’t be noted and if it is, well, then it may get you through the door but it won’t be a pleasant experience if you then crash and burn during the interview when one of the panel begins a conversation in Arabic about your talents. 

So what about the argument that details on hobbies, travel and other extra-curricular activities show what a well-rounded person you are? Hmm, well, remember, you’re not on a dating website. All those details are only meaningful if you explain how that experience pertains to the job. 

When I worked for Shell Graduate Recruitment, we looked for evidence of leadership, experience, creative/problem-solving thinking and teamwork. So, ‘play football’ is not that interesting, but ‘captain of the football team’ is, because it shows leadership. ‘Enjoy travel’ means very little unless it’s ‘travelled to places beyond Ibiza’, which could be an indicator of good organisation skills, problem-solving skills (depending on what you encountered) or team skills (if you travelled in a group). Similarly, student rep may be unpaid, but it’s good ‘experience’. You need to know what all the different things you did mean to a future employer.

This ties in neatly with the stage of your university life – if you read this blog post and you’re in your second or first year, it may be a good idea to think about the future more strategically. Check your CV and note down which bits on it cover ‘leadership’, ‘experience’, ‘creative/problem solving’ and ‘teamwork’ and identify the gaps. Now is the time to cover those gaps. 

If you’re in your final year and you are going to enter the real world after the exam period, be a creative thinker. That summer as a volunteer or that ‘house-share from hell’ could be good examples to be used in interviews or on application forms. 

Think like the managing assistant – would you hire you?

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Nathalie is a senior lecturer at Middlesex University. She guest blogs for TSR on topics that are important to university students. If you'd like to help Nathalie with her latest research, you can fill in her survey on culture, citizenship and fitting in (external link).

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