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How to Ensure Your CV Stands Out

By skye.aitken, on 14 May 2020

Read time: 5 minutes

Written by Emily Oliphant, Recruitment Selection Adviser at UCL Careers.

Before I dive in, I would like to take the opportunity to say that, amidst the strangest and most unpredictable times we have possibly ever known, UCL Careers is still running on full steam!  Although the challenges we are currently facing could hopefully be temporary and we look forward to the regular rhythm of the graduate recruitment market resuming in the not so distant future, there has been a drop in roles available (read our recent update on vacancies and job opportunities in light of Covid-19 for more information), which in turn could see the application process becoming even more competitive than before. To make sure you’re maximising your chances I thought I’d introduce you to my background and knowledge within the recruitment sector and share my key tips for helping your CV stand out!

Having started out in professional services recruitment over three years ago and joining UCL Careers in September 2019, I can confidently say that I’ve seen a fair few CVs in my time!

If there’s one thing that all graduates are aware of, it’s how competitive the graduate job market really is.  There were times that even I was surprised at how many applications I would receive in the first 24 hours of the job being posted online!  Therefore, there was only one key element that I had to apply when I was shortlisting candidates – SPEED.

Every recruiter works differently, but in my experience I can say with conviction that when I was faced with shortlisting 5 candidates out of a possible 200, I spent no longer than 15 seconds looking at a CV before I decided to either keep on reading or whether the candidate was rejected.  15 seconds.

‘How can that be!?’ I hear you ask, ‘I spent days putting that together!’.  The only way you’ll appreciate why recruiters are so brutal with their shortlisting techniques is by putting yourself in their shoes.

The standard number of jobs a Recruitment Consultant works on at once ranges, depending on the industries and departments they are servicing and types of roles they are recruiting for.  Personally, I ordinarily had around 20 roles to fill at any one time.  That means you have 20 HR/Recruitment Managers chasing you for a shortlist until you send one over.  Imagine you have 100 applications for each role to sift through…. That’s 2000 CVs to read right there.  And remember, this is only one element of a recruiter’s role!  As the CV mountain is climbing to Everest heights in your inbox, you have to manage reading all of them in between calling and meeting all of the HR Managers with updates and holding both phone and face-to-face interviews with all of the selected candidates.  Therefore, on an especially busy day, dedicating 15 seconds per CV could actually end up being decidedly generous.

So, in order to make yourself stand out you have to try to think like a recruiter.  To help you get started, think about the MAD SEA* of CVs recruiters are dealing with and try to apply these six key points when writing your own….

(*A slightly desperate attempt at a memorable anagram …!)

  • One of the easiest ways to catch a recruiter’s eye is to mirror the job description the recruiters have supplied you with.
  • For example, if it’s a Graduate Programme you’re applying for make sure your Education section is the first section on your CV, that way you’re ticking off their first box immediately.
  • If they are asking for specific skills in the qualifications section, make sure you are mentioning as many of them as you can throughout your experience. Mirror their language too – some larger companies are now using software that will be set up to recognise language matches between CVs and job descriptions so don’t be afraid to use exactly the same words they have.
  • Make your CV accessible by keeping your layout simple and professional.
  • There are numerous templates available but I would advise sticking to black and white and to avoid the use of columns and boxes. A confusing layout can make it harder for a recruiter to find what they are looking for quickly!
  • Don’t be afraid that by doing this that your CV won’t stand out. The content should speak for itself if you’ve mirrored their person specification on the job description.
  • You only want to be highlighting relevant details to the recruiter, not telling them your full life story – keep to a maximum of 2 pages.
  • Use bullet points and avoid heavy, long paragraphs. These will ultimately not be digested in 15 seconds and valuable information could be missed!
  • Tangible statistics are always good on a CV as it displays measurable success.
  • For example, instead of stating ‘I effectively increased the social media following’, it would be much for effective if you could be precise and write something like, ‘I increased the social media following by 25% in the first month’.
  • NEVER state you have a skill without providing an example.
  • A list of bullet pointed skills such as ‘teamwork’, ‘communication’, ‘organisation’ is essentially useless as anyone could have it on their CV.
  • Transferable skills are massively important to highlight though, so I recommend starting each bullet point with a key skill and then providing an example which displays you have put the skill into action. Example below –
  • Relationship building: built strong working relationships with three team members to present two group projects as part of my Business Management module
  • This goes from highlighting correct dates for education and work experiences (months AND years, please!) to making sure you have attention to detail.
  • I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen ‘Excellent attention to detail’ stated on a CV to find the bullet points aren’t aligned, different sized fonts have been used and a handful of spelling errors. These kinds of errors immediately damage your credibility – so check, check and check again!

Hopefully, this short blog has given you a snapshot into how you can lift your CV to new heights and break that 15 second barrier!

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