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The Secrets to Writing a Great CV: the Dos and Dont’s of Exceptional CV Writing

The average recruiter spends between 5 and 7 seconds looking at a CV. Yes, you read that correctly. 5 to 7 seconds. If during that time they like what they see, they might spend another 30 – 90 seconds reading it in more detail. What does this mean? It means you have literally only seconds to make a good first impression. Fail to do so and your CV is going straight onto the reject pile.

When thinking about how to write your CV, the key thing is to know your audience. Who are you sending your CV to? Recruitment agencies will generally put your CV in their own template before sending it to an employer. They will remove all boxes and borders, change all the text to black and use their own font. So spending hours creating a colourful CV with lots of borders and boxes is not only a waste of your time but theirs.

Most companies in industries such as financial services, consulting, manufacturing, oil and gas, logistics etc. prefer a standard, clean, easy-to-read CV.  Individuals in these industries will most likely want to know more about what you’ve done rather than how creative you are.

However, companies with a fun brand or in the media industry, will probably be more open to something a bit more creative. One gentleman landed an internship at GQ without even being asked for an interview by sending in this great out-of-the-box CV. If you’re going for a creative, marketing or branding role within any industry, you might have a bit more flexibility with design.

It’s simply about being aware of who you are sending it to. Do your research on the individual. How do they come across? Are they more about facts and figures or design and creativity?

My advice is generally this: if you have a good CV that matches the company and the job exactly – play it safe to begin with. If you’re still not getting any response – think outside of the box and maybe do something more creative. After all, if you’re not getting any response – what have you got to lose?

If you want to make a career change – you might need to be a bit more imaginative in your approach. For example, video CVs are great because they allow your personality to come through. Which, if you are changing careers, will probably be your most important asset.

So what can you do to boost your CV’s chances of making it onto the interview pile? Here is a guide to the Dos and Don’ts of CV writing to help maximise your job search success:

The Donts

1) Include boxes and borders – they can make your CV look too busy and difficult to read. Keep your CV simple, clear and clean with enough white space to allow the content to stand out.

2) Type in colour – if your CV looks like a jelly baby just threw up all over it, it’s going straight in the bin. Stick to black and if you want to sprinkle a little colour into your CV, go with navy blue. If you are in the creative industry you might have a bit more flexibility with this, but don’t go overboard.

3) Use multiple fonts – different fonts can make the CV look disjointed and can break the reading flow. Stick with one font and go with a classic style such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri

4) Write long lists of responsibilities and duties – the idea is to make your CV stand out from the crowd. Writing a long list of your responsibilities will do anything but. Instead of your duties, focus on your accomplishments. And whatever you do, do not copy and paste your job description into your CV. This used to drive me nuts as a recruiter. It implies sheer laziness and a laissez-faire attitude to your career, and will get your CV thrown on the reject pile. The same with copy-pasting responsibilities from one job to another. Don’t do it. You have been warned!

5) Have a CV longer than 2 pages – Recruiters simply do not have the time to trawl through CVs 3 or 4 pages long. Keep your CV to one or two pages max. “How do I write my whole career history in only 2 pages?!” I hear you cry. Simple – you don’t. Keep the information that is relevant to the job you’re applying to and delete the rest. For example, unless you’re a fresh grad, you don’t need to mentioned which school you went to or what GSCEs/A levels you got. Your degree or equivalent will suffice. You also don’t need to give all the details of every job you’ve had since school. Focus on the jobs you’ve had in the last 10 – 12 years, only giving the company name, job title and dates for the jobs before that. Leave the hobbies and interests for the interview.

6) Type in small font – I know trying to squeeze your career history onto two pages might seem like a challenge, but typing in a font so small the reader needs a magnifying glass to read it is not the way to go. Make their life easier and stick to font sizes 10 – 12.

7) Leave gaps in your CV – if you took some time out of work, you will need to mention it on your CV. You don’t need to go into detail but something like “Career break to raise family – Jan 2012 – Jan 2016” or “Job-searching and furthering education after redundancy – Jan 2009 – Aug 2010” is better than leaving a gap. A gap will leave the reader thinking you’re trying to hide something, leaving them to question how honest you are. Not exactly the kind of first impression you want to make right?

8) Include all of your personal information – the employer doesn’t need to know your full address, date/town of birth or what your dog’s name is. Keep it simple. Put your name at the top, and underneath your mobile number and email address on one line to save as much space as possible. You can state your nationality, visa status and languages spoken at the end if relevant.

9) Use paragraphs – Long paragraphs of text are tiring to read and can simply bore recruiters. Keep the information short and concise using bullet points.

10) Forget to use spell check

If your CV is full of spelling and grammar mistakes, messy or badly structured the reader could assume the quality of your work will be similar. If you can’t present your CV properly, then how will you present and manage your work? Note that many recruiters have admitted that just one mistake could get your CV thrown in the bin, so make sure your CV looks great and is free of mistakes.

11) Lie – I cannot stress this enough. Lying on your CV is a NO NO. If you get caught out, you could lose your job and your reputation. It’s just not worth it.

The Dos

1) Focus on Your Achievements

The days of the responsibilities CV are over. Now, it’s all about the achievements. Employers want to see what results you will produce for them. In the crudest terms – how much money you will make them and how much time and money you will save them. You want to have between 3 and 5 key achievements for each role, QUANTIFYING them as much as possible. Employers are looking for hard evidence of your results. So the more numbers, monetary figures and percentages you can include the better.

If you find it hard to either identify or write about your achievements, a career coach or professional CV writer can help.

2) Tailor your CV to the role AND the company

The art of marketing is matching the product to the need of the customer. It’s exactly the same when it comes to marketing yourself on your CV. You want to think about the requirements (needs) of the role and the company and then what skills, experience and achievements you have that match them. Focus on what I call the ‘sexy stuff’ –  the stuff that employers would get really excited about. Increasing efficiency or sales by 30% – super sexy. Updating customer information onto the database – not so much. Any responsibilities, skills or achievements not relevant to the role, leave it off your CV to save space.

3) Write a professional summary at the top

This is a great opportunity to sell your personal brand. Use it. Simply use it as a brief intro to who you are, your experience, what you are really good at (areas of expertise, achievements) and what job you are looking for next. Keep it short and sweet – maximum 4 or 5 lines in length.

4) Use powerful action verbs – words such as ‘led’, ‘drove’, ‘steered’, ‘restructured’, ‘reorganised’, ‘built’, ‘created’ and ‘implemented’ provoke powerful imagery in the reader’s mind. For example, “Managed IT project” doesn’t sound half has sexy as “Drove the implementation of new IT system” now does it?

5) Write your name, number and email on each page

(Just in case the pages get separated)

Remember – your CV is just a snapshot of your career and experience. You don’t need to go into huge detail – save that for the interview.

If you would like any assistance with writing your CV or building an effective strategy to help you find the job you want, please contact me at or

What did you think of this article? Anything you would like to add? Please feel free to comment below!

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About the Author

Zeta Yarwood is recognised as a leading Career Coach and NLP Life Coach in Dubai, helping individuals across the world to achieve success in all areas of their lives. With a degree in Psychology and over 10 years’ experience in coaching, management and recruitment – working for multinational companies and award-winning recruitment firms – Zeta is an expert in unlocking human potential. Passionate about helping people discover their strengths, talents and motivation, Zeta lives to inspire others to dream big and create the life and career they really want.

For further information and inspiration, please visit or follow on Twitter @zetayarwoodLinkedin or Facebook

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