5 Secrets Behind Each Great CV

It’s exciting to look for a new job, but it’s usually less fun to update your CV. Or maybe even to rewrite it? There is so much noise out there about how good CV should look like, what to include, what to omit, how many pages it should have, etc. And all you want is just few clear guidlines how to do it right.

In my view all these issues are important, but they all come after your CV meets 5 basic guidelines. Get them right and you’ll be able to write a winning CV for every job.

What do you find most challenging when writing your resume?

From my perspective, as somebody who reads at least 100-150 CVs every week, there are 5 rules to follow to get a CV right every time.


  1. Remember the purpose

Let’s start by realizing what task these few sheets of paper perform. When you send your CV to a company, it goes to an individual. It might be a recruiter, who deals only with the search for suitable candidates, or it may be an HR employee, who takes care of many other issues, or it may be a receptionist or a secretary whose main task is selecting  documents and forwarding only those that are actually useful to the company.

Each of these people will look at your CV differently, so if you have the opportunity to check who your CV will go to before sending it, – great! It will help to edit it appropriately, as well as prepare  an adequate cover letter.

However, often it is impossible to check beforehand who will first receive your CV. In such cases, don’t worry, this knowledge is not essential. Regardless of who first looks at your resume, it needs to be so well written that he/she will not only look at it, but also read it.

A CV’s aim is three-fold :

 – to intrigue: to catch the attention of the recipient and make him willing to read on. It is mostly done by clearly stating the most important, relevant information: skills, achievements, and previous experience. All of these might act as keywords and trip the  ‘potential candidate” switch in the reader’s mind.

 – positive presentation: the CV is your ticket to a face-to-face meeting. In 2-3 pages of “dry” text we need to present ourselves in such a way that someone who reads it feels an urgent need to know us “live”. It is therefore not the place to write about meaningless activities. This is the place for bragging, being immodest and presenting our advantages.

– to provide key information: the biggest headache for recruiters is that nearly 40% of applications do not contain the information they are looking for. Instead, the CV is just a brief summary of the candidate’s career history. To learn more about the writer, the recruiter then has to call him/her and spend some time on the phone. If the recruiter is interested and has only a few applications, he will probably call. But if the curiosity is not there, and there are several better-written documents lying on the desk?? Well… he won’t bother.

  1. Remember the reader

What is the main purpose of the person reading your CV? No, it is not to get excited and be impressed by your achievements. It is to find a person with right skills to fill the vacancy they have (in their own company or in the client’s one). When they go through your CV (especially when sent as a reply to a job advertisement) they want to quickly get the answer to the question: is he/she worth my time to explore further? Should I pick up the phone and call him/her to find out more, or would it be a waste of time and be better to move on to the next one? Will my boss be happy when I show him this profile, or will he throw me out of the door?

This is a reason why in so many articles on job search techniques there is the advice: ‘adjust your CV to each and every job offer”. It is simple as that: when you know what they are looking for (and when there is a job advertisement/job specification, you do know), give them that.

  1. Concrete examples

The part of the CV which I personally see as a real time waster is where people list their skills or competences. The amount of generic terms used in these sections is overwhelming.

 When drafting your CV, you feel proud and accomplished seeing all the professional terms you’ve used to describe yourself.

„Able to prioritize and delegate tasks”.

“Excellent communication skills”

“Team player”

“Strong stakeholder management experience gained within a complex organization”

But there is something you should be aware of. Imagine you are a recruiter and you have just read 68 CVs today. ALL of them have got “Able to prioritize and delegate tasks” mentioned on the front page. The result is that you 1. don’t notice the phrase anymore because it’s been repeated so often 2. don’t extract any particular candidate from the pile because – yes, you’ve guessed! – they all sound the same, 3. you start to get annoyed when you again see that phrase on the next CV…

What to do:

Describing your skills is of no added value to your presentation. Unless you pair them with a concrete example to back them up, or even better – you present the concrete example alone, leaving it to recruiter to figure out what skill is hidden behind. So instead of writing:

“Ability to compile & analyze”

Write: “Demonstrated exceptional research, evaluation and analysis to achieve a 1st for final year university project; highlighted own ability to construct coherent responses”

  1. Explain the gaps

The gaps in-between employment. They happen to everyone. In the 10 years I have been dealing with the job market, I haven’t yet seen a wholly seamless CV.. By seamless I mean it had no gaps, just smooth transitions from one workplace to another. But knowing that it is a common thing does not stop you being worried about how to explain them to the new company you are being interviewed by..

When it comes to gaps in employment, we have to distinguish between minor, almost technical ones, like those of 2-4 months when we are searching for a new job, and those of significant length (a year, or a few years even) when our life took a different course and we simply weren’t working.

What to do: With the small gaps just leave them as they are. Don’t play around with dates to hide them. It is a normal thing that people happen to have short gaps between jobs. No need to explain them in a CV, though be prepared for the interviewer to ask about them.

With the longer gaps (i.e. 6 months and more) – mark them as another step in your career and give a brief explanation, avoiding too many details: “gap year/travelling around Asia”, “maternity leave”, “career break due to family move overseas”, etc.

  1. Check out the local rules

Every market in Europe has its own rules when it comes to job application formatting. The easiest example is a photo. In the UK, for example, it is not common practice to put a photo on your CV, whereas in Germany it is expected that there will be a professional photo attached. In Poland, where I come from, it is not a prerequisite, but still good practice to have a picture on the resume.

The same applies to personal data handling consent. In some countries you have to state explicitly your consent, but in others, nobody bothers.

These may seem like details, but don’t be complacent, as not getting these details right might result in your resume ending up in the trash bin instead of “interesting applicants” pile.

Always check what the local regulations or standards are (they might be more like a custom, rather than a written law) before sending out your CV. Even if you are applying in your own country, do a little Googling to make sure you are not missing anything.

I find the 5 rules listed above are key when considering how to write a good CV. Try them out when you prepare your next resume. Do you notice any difference? Or have you already been using them in your job search? Let me know how you find them!

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