Crafting the Perfect CV

Hiring managers spend 10-15 seconds looking at your resume before they decide if they will contact you. This is exactly what they look at.

In all my years working in recruitment I can easily say that thousands of CVs have landed on my desk or arrived in my inbox. But how many of them stood out enough for me to call the eager applicant in for an interview?

To be honest, only a tiny percentage.

Submitting your CV is only the first step in an often multi-staged screening process, so you need one that impresses the reader enough to make them want to learn more about you.

Here’s how to get the call back.

Get the layout right

Formatting a CV is extremely subjective and depending on who you ask, you will get a different perspective or opinion.

If you type “CV format” into Google you will get nearly 80 million results, each with a different approach to the fine art of creating an innovative summary of your career to date.

Generally speaking, a CV should be short – ideally less than three pages – and demonstrate that you can actually do the job (not just get the job).

Don’t make the hiring manager have to guess. Make sure they can see “I am looking for X, I can do it because I have done it before”.

The first thing the majority of job seekers include in their CV is their name and contact details. This is often closely followed by a list of any formal qualifications or a chronology of their employment history depending on which they prefer to list first.

Given that the person tasked with culling down a pile of CVs makes their decision within 10 – 15 seconds as to whether or not they will contact you, you may want to re-consider what goes at the top.

Look at your watch. Now see how far into your CV you get (reading at a normal pace) before 15 seconds is up.

What ultimately sets you apart from all the other applicants will not be your name, where you live, your mobile number, e-mail address, Skype address, Linked-In profile, and the fact that in 2002 you obtained your Bachelor of Business degree from UTS.

Nail the opener

You need to come up with a list of personal positioning statements, key attributes and a career objective. They will ensure you capture the reader’s attention and within 15 seconds provoke them to continue reading through the rest of your CV.

Of course they need to know who you are, how to contact you and whether you are qualified for their vacancy but it’s perfectly fine for this information to appear later in the document.

So think about what your core skills, competencies and personal attributes are, link these with what you are ultimately looking for in your career, and demonstrate what you have done in the past that could be viewed to be in line with what may lie ahead.


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Formulating a career objective is not easy and can certainly be fairly time consuming. It needs to be powerful, punchy and engaging.

Your key attributes need to accentuate your personality traits, strengths and key competencies. Some of them can be fairly general, but others you may want to tweak depending on the role you are applying for. Also remember to show examples of how you have done this.

You should try come up with a list of 8-10 key attributes of your own. Remember that these are what a hiring manager will be reading when deciding whether or not to call you in for an interview.

Condense the body

Then it’s time to move on to the body of the CV. This is where you start with any relevant qualifications starting with the most recent and working backwards.

This is then followed by your employment history; once again starting with your current or most recent position and working backwards.

Remember to include a small description of each organisation since a hiring manager may not be familiar with what a particular organisation does or how senior the position was. You may also consider indicating to what level it reported and how many people were in the division.

You also need to include to whom you reported in each position, not necessarily including their name, but their position title. That way, a potential employer can quickly determine where you sat in you previous company.


“Look at your watch. Now see how far into your CV you get (reading at a normal pace) before 15 seconds is up.”


Most people then include a list of their responsibilities. Sure this is important, however, you also need to include a list of your key achievements – a list of accomplishments resulting from where you have clearly gone above and beyond what was expected of you in your role.

Personally I believe in listing the top six achievements first followed by a list of responsibilities that are generally not known about that position. Each bullet pointed achievement or responsibility should ideally be no longer than one to two lines but they should show the outcome and the input.

Always think how this would look from the perspective of someone assessing your application.

Include a personal pitch

Now it’s time to think of your personal achievements.

These have to be real accomplishments and not just hobbies. For example “travelled to Bali in 2009” or “appeared as a contestant on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” should not appear in the list.

Whereas having articles published in an industry journal, winning a community service award, completing the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, or arranging a major event for a high profile charity should certainly make the cut.

This list of 10 – 12 personal achievements should appear in reverse chronological order (most recent to earliest).

List details last

Then it’s time to list your contact details. If the content of your CV is interesting, engaging and clearly set out, and you’re the type of person being sought after for the role, the hiring manager will find your name and how to get in touch with you. It’s also quite powerful to be the last thing they see on your CV.

Make sure also you have your name and mobile number as a footer on every page in case part of it gets separated at the printer (or lost).

Personally, I don’t believe in listing referees. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone doing their own preliminary investigations and forming their own opinions before they meet with me. So my suggestion is to simply state: References: Shall be provided upon request.

Leave the passport photo out

Now for the age-old question of whether or not to include a photo? Before you answer this one for yourself, let me tell you how many recruitment agencies out there (no names will be mentioned) that have walls or white boards covered entirely with photographs from CVs for people’s amusement.

Unless you are asked for a photo never include one. You will be hired based on your skills, competencies and cultural fit.


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When it comes to formatting and layout, clean and crisp is the look you should be aiming for. Black font on white paper is all you need. Don’t include strange fonts, patterns or watermarks.

No excessive underlining, no unnecessary changes in font size, and definitely no frilly borders. You want to aim for maximum impact through well thought-out content and minimal distraction through poor layout.

Proof it

Finally, please proof read your CV very carefully to check for any spelling mistakes.

After all you wouldn’t want to send a CV out which lists one of your key attributes as “strong experience in pubic relations with a keen eye eye for detail” would you?

I’ve actually seen that before!

Paul Slezak is a cofounder of RecruitLoop and author of “21 things to do to get a new job NOW!”

Image: Jonathan Kos-Read, via Flickr