CV Bootcamp: 3 ways to sharpen your professional profile

Here I share some tips that will help your CV rise to the top of the pile rather than hitting the shredder

How is your CV looking? If you’ve not been applying for jobs recently, chances are it will at best be in need of an update. I’ve spent many years working in careers, helping students improve their CVs and as a manager, shortlisting for vacant posts.  It’s fair to say I’ve seen an interesting and eclectic mix of documents in that time. Some so good you could weep with joy; others so dreadful that there was enough material to full a whole book on ‘How not to write a CV.’

1. Looks matter: Formatting your CV

Here’s a great observation from one of Cambridge University’s Careers Consultant Raj Sidhu’s excellent CV Video Tutorials on YouTube. Raj suggests that a CV is not about trying to cram everything into a suitcase. He encourages you to think of your CV as curating an exhibition, where your achievements, like pictures, have space to stand out.

Spacing and alignment

  • Personal Details: start with your name at the top. Ideally use 18 point font and bold. Other personal details go underneath in font size 11 or 12- no smaller.
  • Font: use a sans serif font. It makes it easier for the recruiter to read your document. Calibri is ideal. Don’t mix your fonts.
  • Alignment: create columns to ensure your headings and dates align and your experiences stand out.
  • Bold: use bold for headings, dates and possibly your skills. Don’t use italics.
  • No templates: don’t use a CV template or fancy graphics. Your CV won’t stand out and if your CV is put through an ATS (Applicant Tracking Process) it’s harder to detect key information from a formatted document. It also distracts recruiters as it will take them longer to extract the info they need.
  • Bullet points: use bullet points to capture key skills and experiences-more on this below.
  • Grammar and spelling: start with Spellcheck and then check again.
  • Length: generally your CV could be 2 pages (not more). Some sectors specifically ask for a one page document so follow the recruiter’s guidance.

2. Order, order: How to present your information

  • Personal details: after your name, include a professional e-mail address, a link to your LinkedIn profile (yours is up to date, isn’t?) and a mobile number.
  • Personal statement: on balance, I’m not a fan. I think it’s better to mirror what the recruiter is looking for in the ‘Key skills and experience’ section (see below), rather than risk diverting their attention.
  • Skills: if you have work experience your CV should be skills- based, rather than reverse-chronological. Most of what the recruiter will be interested in will feature in this section, which should take up most of the first page of your CV.
  • Employment History: in this section, include a brief summary of the role you performed and the organisation you worked for. Keep each section succinct; no need to duplicate what you’ve captured in ‘Key skills and experience’ in the first section.
  • Education: no need to include every single qualification; a list of GCSEs/equivalent and ‘A’ levels with grades and degree -or the stage of study you’re at and above will suffice.
  • Relevant training: list any courses that are directly relevant to the role you’re applying for.
  • Additional skills: here you can include skills that may be of interest to the recruiter but aren’t a requirement of the job role. For example, you may have advanced Excel skills, programming languages or some understanding of AI applications.
  • Interests: use this section to capture 1 or 2 key personal interests. This is the one place where you could use ‘I’ and the present tense to personalise your document. Make these specific (not just ‘reading’…what kind of books. Not just ‘keeping fit’ – what specifically do you do to keep fit?).
  • References available on request: conclude your document with this statement.
  • Tense: with the exception of the Interests section, express your skills, experiences and other information in the 3rd person using the past tense. Your CV is a summary of all you’ve done to date- rather than an expression of what you hope to do next.

3. Tailoring: It’s all about them, not about you

  • Make it easy for recruiters to find what they need: recruiters may spend just 30 seconds – sometimes less – looking at your CV.
  • Relevant Skills and Experience: one way to present your information is to take each skill or experience from the Person Spec in turn and qualify that with evidence in your ‘Key skills and experience’ section.  For example: Strong organisational, time management and planning skills. Start your bullet point with these words. You may choose to embolden these words. Then qualify with an example. e.g.  ‘Delivered a successful conference on ‘The Art of the Impossible,’ attended by 500+ delegates. Attendee feedback: 97% satisfaction with the event organisation and administration.’ Follow the order in which the skills and experiences are listed.
  • Size matters: if you’re struggling to fit your document onto to two pages, for each statement ask yourself ‘why does the recruiter need to know this?‘ If it’s not obvious, take it out. Do not commit the cardinal sin of exceeding two pages.

A final tip

It’s amazing how much easier (and fun) it is to critique others’ CVs. Why not swap documents with a friend and see what suggestions you would each make to improve the other person’s document. Caveat: everyone has opinions on how to write a good CV. Feel free to share your tips. When has your CV opened doors- or even blown the doors off?!

Anne Wilson is Head of careers at the University of Warwick and this article has been adapted from a post  originally published on

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