Unlock the Secrets to Crafting a Winning CV



Mar 14, 2024

Crafting the perfect CV is an art that requires a strategic approach to highlight your strengths and achievements in a professional and compelling manner. Your CV is often the first point of contact with potential employers, and making a strong first impression is crucial, as most recruiters will only spend a few seconds scanning it before deciding whether to keep reading.

Layout and Formatting

A clean, professional layout is the foundation of a good CV. It should be easy to read and visually appealing. Search the internet for modern templates you can use.

  • Template Selection: Choose modern templates from reputable sources. Ensure they are ATS-friendly (Applicant Tracking System), avoiding complex designs that might confuse automated systems.

  • Font and Spacing: Use a sans-serif font like Arial, Calibri, or Helvetica. Keep the font size between 10-12 for the main text and 14-16 for the headings. Ensure sufficient white space to avoid clutter.

  • Section Hierarchy: Use clear headings like "Professional Experience," "Education," "Skills," and "Achievements." Utilize bullet points to enhance readability and ensure consistency in formatting throughout.

Consistency in Action Words

Initiating each bullet point with a dynamic verb effectively conveys your contributions and sets a proactive tone for your CV.

  • Dynamic Verbs: Start each bullet point with a strong verb. For example, use "Led," "Developed," "Implemented," "Designed," or "Orchestrated." This shows initiative and impact.

  • Strong Verbs: Avoid devaluing your contribution with words like "Helped," "Assisted," or "Participated." They make it sound like you had a passive, non-important role. Instead, use words like "Led," "Managed," "Developed," "Implemented," "Orchestrated," "Enhanced," and "Optimised" to showcase your active and significant contributions. For example, transform "Assested with" to "Managed," and "Helped with" to "Led."

Using Achievement-Oriented Language

Shift from a task-based description to one that focuses on accomplishments and outcomes. This approach illustrates your impact and value-added.

  • Impact Statements: Describe your tasks in terms of the results they produced. Use phrases like "Increased sales by 20%," "Enhanced customer satisfaction," or "Streamlined processes."

  • Quantifiable Results: Whenever possible, include numbers to quantify your achievements. This makes your contributions tangible and impressive. For example, rather than "Responsible for sales," say, "Increased sales by 30% within six months through strategic client engagement and product promotion." Instead of "Participated in team meetings," prefer "Contributed to team strategy sessions, resulting in a 20% increase in project efficiency."

Quantifying Contributions

Incorporating numbers into your CV provides tangible evidence of your effectiveness and achievements.

  • Specific Metrics: Instead of saying "Managed a team," say "Led a team of 5, achieving a 95% project completion rate on time."

  • Financial Impact: Highlight cost savings or budget management. For example, "Administered a budget of $200,000, reducing expenses by 15%." Convert "Worked on budget management" to "Administered a budget exceeding $100,000, cutting costs by 10% without compromising on quality."

Summarise your Achievements

Create a brief, impactful statement at the top of your CV that summarizes your experience, skills, and career objectives. This helps hiring managers quickly understand who you are and what you bring to the table. Tailor this section for specific role types to clearly demonstrate how your background aligns with the job requirements.

  • Tailored Summary: Focus on your most relevant experiences and skills, providing quantified results. For example, "Results-driven marketing professional with 7 years of experience in digital marketing. Proven ability to increase brand engagement by 40% and lead generation by 50% through the implementation of innovative strategies." Another example could be, "Dynamic project manager with 5 years of experience in the technology sector. Proven track record in reducing project costs by 20% and improving delivery times by 30% through strategic planning and execution. Seeking to leverage expertise to contribute to the project management team at XYZ Corp."

Include Relevant Skills

Including a skills section in your CV can significantly enhance its effectiveness by helping recruiters quickly identify your core competencies. While not all CVs require a skills section, it can be particularly advantageous in highlighting key areas relevant to the job. It's important to understand the difference between hard and soft skills and how to present them effectively.

  • Hard Skills: These are specific, teachable abilities that can be measured and are typically acquired through education, training, or experience. They are directly relevant to the job and can be easily verified. For example, "Proficient in Python, Java, and C++," "Certified Project Management Professional (PMP)," and "Fluent in Spanish and Mandarin."

  • Soft Skills: These are interpersonal attributes that are harder to quantify but crucial for workplace success. They relate to how you interact with others and manage your work. For example, "Excellent communication and presentation skills," "Strong team collaboration and leadership," and "Advanced problem-solving and critical thinking."

Interests and Activities

If space allows, including a brief section on relevant personal interests or volunteer activities can provide a fuller picture of who you are and may offer talking points for an interview.

  • Relevant Activities: Include interests or volunteer work that demonstrates skills or values pertinent to the job. For example, "Volunteer social media coordinator for a local animal shelter, increasing adoption rates by 40%."

Optimise for ATS

Tailoring your CV for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) is crucial in today's job market, as many companies use these systems to manage the overwhelming number of applications they receive. An ATS-friendly CV can greatly increase your chances of getting your application seen by human eyes. These systems scan CVs for keywords and phrases that match the job description, so including relevant terms related to the position and industry is essential. By optimising your CV for ATS, you ensure that your application passes through the initial screening process, thereby improving your chances of being considered for the role.

  • Keyword Optimization: Incorporate keywords from the job description naturally into your CV.

  • Simple Formatting: Use standard headings and avoid tables or graphics that might not be read correctly by ATS.

  • Consistency: Use the same terminology as the job posting, such as "Project Management" instead of "PM."

What to Avoid

When crafting your CV, it’s as much about what you leave out as what you include. Here are some key things to avoid to ensure your CV focuses on your competencies and accomplishments:

  • A Photo: Including a photo can open you up to potential discrimination, as hiring decisions should be based on skills and achievements, not appearance. Exceptions exist for roles where appearance is directly relevant.

  • Hyperbole and Generic Adjectives: Words like "hardworking," "team player," and "ambitious" are overused and lack specificity. Instead, focus on concrete accomplishments and quantify your achievements.

  • Redundant Contact Labels: Listing your email and phone number on your CV is essential, but prefacing these with "Email" and "Phone Number" is unnecessary. The formats are recognisable enough without labels.

  • Outdated Education Details: If you have more than five years of professional experience, detailed listings of your academic accomplishments are not needed. Older educational achievements can usually be summarised or omitted.

  • Full Postal Address: A full postal address is not required and can be a privacy concern. Listing your general location, such as "London, UK", is sufficient until a job offer necessitates providing your full address.

  • Political Affiliations or Sports Team Preferences: Sharing your political views or favourite sports teams can inadvertently create biases or judgements. Keep the focus on your professional qualifications and achievements.

  • Personal Details Unrelated to the Job: Age, sexual orientation, and religion are personal details that do not affect one's ability to perform a job. Including these can expose you to discrimination and detract from the focus on your skills and competencies.

By avoiding these elements, your CV will present a professional, focused, and achievement-oriented image that appeals to recruiters and hiring managers. This will ensure that you are judged solely on your merits and suitability for the role.

How (Not) to Fail at Consulting

Jack Przemieniecki, managing partner at Cogneo, authored "How (Not) to Fail at Consulting" and "The Consulting Handbook" with the aim of guiding aspiring consultants through the complexities of the industry. These resources are designed to provide practical advice, strategies, and insights drawn from interviews with consulting leaders, helping newcomers avoid common pitfalls and succeed in the competitive world of consulting. Through these books, Jack seeks to equip readers with the tools and knowledge necessary to navigate their consulting careers effectively, from securing clients to delivering impactful advice.

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About Cogneo

About Cogneo

Cogneo is a leading independent digital transformation consultancy focused on accelerating innovation and engineering advanced technology, data, and artificial intelligence solutions that empower customers and teams.

We leverage CX, AI, ML, and data analytics to craft bespoke strategies, robust platforms, custom tools, and CRM/ERP integrations. Our collaborative, human-centred innovation approach rapidly identifies opportunities to drive meaningful results and deliver tangible value. Contact us to transform your business and create something truly remarkable. 

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