How to write a successful CV (including free template)

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I don’t know why there is this misconception that a CV will get you a job. Because it won’t. All your CV can do is giving you a ticket to an interview. Then, maybe, if things go well during your interviews… you will get a job.

Sure there are situations where you can just show up with a CV in hand and get hired directly, but in most cases, you will have to go through different stages of interviews before getting hired.

It’s essential to keep this in mind when building your CV. You’ll do a better job focussing on what will get you an interview, rather than trying to compile every single piece of evidence on why you should get the job.

Writing a great CV in five steps

I have seen my share of CVs and there are clear pitfalls that explain why so many candidates are failing when applying for jobs. Way too often résumés are too long, too generic, or weirdly laid out.

Always remember that your CV:

  • … is not a book. Being concise is key, you don’t have to detail every task you completed in your work life. Your CV is not an essay to tell the story of your life. There’s Medium for that 😉
  • … is not a job description. Highlight the work or projects you delivered and your achievements. Recruiters don’t need a definition of what your role is on paper, they want to know how you performed in your role.
  • … is not a piece of art. Unless you’re in a Design field, the more classic, the better. There is no need to put tons of color, use fancy layouts, or go down the (ugly) road of WordArt. It will do more harm than good.

[Step 1] Better. Faster. Shorter.

Start with a non-negotiable rule: your CV needs to allow a quick read. Think of it as a flyer. Sell yourself by highlighting the main things recruiters need to know about you.

  • Use maximum 5 or 6 bullet points per role;
  • Be concise, avoid writing in first or third person;
  • Make everything fit onto one or two pages;
  • Put your current experience first and work your way back.

🙅‍♀️ Don’t include your references' contact details. Your former managers don’t need their emails and phone numbers being disclosed to every company you’re sending your CV to. It’s unnecessary and you’re wasting some precious space. Recruiters will ask when they need your references.

[Step 2] Blow your own horn

The next step is to make sure you’re bragging about your achievements. Remember that your CV is not a job description. Recruiters want to know what it’s like when you use your skills and how you performed in the past.

  • Illustrate your experience and skills with achievements;
  • Add metrics and specifics to quantify your performance;
  • Make sure to mention any promotions you might have received;
  • Insert action verbs and avoid saying “responsible for” too often;
  • Promote a relevant list of skills and use keywords;
  • If you have technical expertise, be specific with your skills.

💡 Here’s a good example…

[Step 3] Shine bright like a career overview

Recruiters spend on average 7.4 seconds per résumé. That is very realistic. We also tend to focus more on what’s at the top of your CV to check your most recent experiences. This is precisely where your career overview should be.

  • It’s a quick preview of your résumé, like a movie trailer;
  • Only a few sentences, one paragraph is enough;
  • Snapshot of your background and skills;
  • You can include some personal attributes that best describe you;
  • You can also add your career goal.

🙆‍♀️ This is the step that can really make you stand out. Your career overview is the storefront of your CV, the first thing recruiters will see. If it’s short and well-written, we will get curious enough to spend more time reading the rest of your résumé (assuming your experience is matching with the role):

[Step 4] All that glitters is not gold

The content of your CV isn’t all you have to pay attention to. This step is about working on its form. It is crucial to your success: recruiters will look at your CV before they read it.

  • Use a modern font: Avenir, Candara, Corbel, Cordia New, Helvetica…;
  • 9–12 points font size for the body text is best;
  • Use bold, caps, and italics consistently to structure your text;
  • Use shades of grey instead of only pure black text for a lighter look;
  • Don’t use fancy layouts with headers, footers, or tables;
  • Create margins to make it easy to read and avoid edge to edge text;
  • Balance your text with white spaces.

Overall, don’t over-use anything. Go for modern, neat, and classic formatting. It will help guide the reader’s eyes.

💁‍♀️ Recruiters might need to download, store and share your CV. It will be (very) handy if your file is named properly. Some days it kinda feels like candidates are playing Guess Who? in my download folder…

[Step 5] Look it over. And over again.

By now, you will certainly have invested hours working on your CV. Don’t rush the proofreading steps! Sadly, a single typo could cause a major hurdle and annihilate all your efforts…

  • Double-check the dates in your experience and education sections;
  • Double-check your email address and phone number;
  • Remove any unnecessary info: age, marital status, religion, or nationality;
  • Use a proofreading tool like Grammarly (their free version is amazing 🤓);
  • Grab a human with enough patience to read through your CV.

💆‍♀️ For your own peace of mind, look over your CV one more time before sending your applications. Also, follow the job’s requirements when submitting your résumé (.docx, .pdf…). If no instructions, always send a PDF.

Et voilà! I created a free and public CV template that you can access by clicking here. I also tried to put into practice all these tips by creating a new version of my own CV — hopefully giving you a good example to follow.

I hope it will help you be more successful in your applications. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment 😇

French Recruiter, living in beautiful New Zealand. I write stories about recruitment, unconscious bias, inclusion and diversity.

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