Improving your CV in the chaos of job applications

Person filling out application with a pen

Improving your CV in the chaos of job applications

We were inundated with applications for our recently advertised post of administrator. The competition was really fierce. We have now appointed somebody  but having gone through all the applications, we were struck by some common problems and mistakes people were making, so we thought we would give a few tips and pointers about how you can make your CV stand out a bit more – and do all those skills, qualifications and experience justice.  This is only our view (well Joe Saxton’s really). 

Bring your application to life

Wading through lots of applications is no easy job (but not as hard as making the application in the first place). If we give each application a minute with 167 applications the whole process will take 3 hours. So make sure your application grabs our attention in the first 10 seconds. Some colour (why are so many CVs still black and white?), some photos (they make you human) and perhaps some personal touches (we loved it when people mentioned our love of cake!).

Dump that boring first paragraph and start with a quote from a referee

So many of the CVs started with: ‘I am a keen enthusiastic graduate with an eye for details but also highly strategic’ or words to that effect. The problem is we know you wrote that, so it carries no weight at all. It’s much better to start with a quote from a referee or a colleague; ‘Harriet is really keen, bright and great fun to worth with. She works hard and is a great learner’. Only one person used a quote from a referee.

We are interested in your experience in the kind of work we are recruiting for

Lots of CVs start with education or reams of personal waffle. We have 10 seconds to check out a CV and decide if we should read more. Knowing you were vice-captain of the hockey team or that you were part of the Wine Society is not putting your most relevant experience up front. The first part of the first page for a job should be your work experience (or if you are applying for a hgiher degree it should be your educational experience).

Keep the letter of application short and punchy 

I hate reading those long letters of application. I only ever skim-read the really long ones. I feel guilty seeing all that work you have put in, but when it’s late at night and I have a deadline to meet I want short powerful letters that tell me something that the CV doesn’t.

Prove that you know about us

As a company we are proud of what we do. We want to hire people who like what we do too. That doesn’t mean saying ‘I am your perfect candidate’ or ‘You look like my perfect company to work for’. It means saying ‘I love the work nfpSynergy has done on text donations and online giving’ or ‘I Googled you and can see all the amazing charity clients you have’.  Ego-massage is good but showing you have done your homework is even better.

I want photos (but Shivani doesn’t)

I think photos on a CV are good. I like to see the person who might be working for us. It brings a CV to life and makes a candidate a person. Getting the picture right is important though. Not one from a photo booth or on holiday. Not too severe, not too happy. I am happy to acknowledge that the wrong picture is worse than no picture; that’s why my colleague Shivani doesn’t like photos on CVs.

Has anybody heard of desktop publishing?

It’s amazing in an age of new media, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, personal websites and desktop publishing how boring most CVs are. The sad truth is most CVs have a style and format that hasn’t changed in 30 years. Demonstrating that you can turn a plain-Jane CV format into an exciting attractive design impresses us with your multiple skills.

Remember the task of your CV

It’s simple: the job of a CV to you is to get you interviewed. And the job of a CV to us is to find out if you are worth interviewing. So when you compile a CV for a job think through what is it about your CV that will make us want to interview you? How does the CV show you meet our job specification? How does the CV show that you will add to our team and help us grow? The CV won’t get you a job – but it should provide us with reasons to interview you.
Of course, following all these points won’t guarantee you an interview or a job. But with luck it should at least give you a better chance.

Submitted by Ferris Watkins (not verified) on 8 Jun 2012


I'm a fairly creative person but, listening to advice from recruitment agencies and uni career staff, have always had a very conventional cv. Your blog has given me the confidence to play with my cv and get it representing a little bit more of me and i've had fun spicing it up! Thank you.

p.s. Joe Saxton, if it doesn't help I'm blaming you! ;)

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