Six seconds to make an impression! Top CV tips from the experts.

The thought of writing or updating a CV fills some of us with dread and yet, for many of us, it’s probably one of the most important documents you’ll ever write in your life. Fact!

According to a recent study by The Ladders, eye-tracking technology was used to see how quickly it took Hiring Managers to make an informed decision of whether a CV was worth further investigation or not. Quite astonishingly it didn’t take 10 minutes, five or even two – but just a miniscule six seconds!

Now this little nugget of information isn’t intended to scare the pants off anyone, but it certainly highlights a point. But all is not lost – there are quite a few simple things you can do to improve your chances of getting your CV noticed.

A CV is often one of those things that we tend to leave right until the last minute – we weren’t particularly looking to move from our current role but then we just happen to see the perfect job – an opportunity we just can’t afford to miss. In a vain attempt to meet the application deadline, we cobble our CV together – usually copying and pasting or editing from an older one written some years past.

But is this the right approach? Is it really going to get you the results you want? If you think about it in the simplest terms, your CV can actually have an impact on how your life pans out – if you apply for that perfect job and it’s overlooked, then undoubtedly your life is possibly going to take a slightly different route. You know how the saying goes: “well it wasn’t meant to be”. And, I guess we’ll never know.

I want to give you a bit of feedback – not only from the team her at The Creative Movement but also our clients – the people that really matter and who you want to pick you above all the other applicants. So here goes…

Size matters
The first thing to consider, is the length of your CV: A Graduate may be concerned their CV is going to be too short, whereas someone with 10-years plus under their belt – may think the opposite “how am I going to squeeze all those years of experience in without taking up five pages?” As a rule of thumb, you should aim to keep it to two pages – bear in mind that anyone reviewing CVs, doesn’t usually have much time on their hands. What is important though is the information you provide is relevant to the job you are applying for. I’ll explain this in more detail a little further on – you’ll see me mention the word relevant on more than one occasion!

Design and layout
We review many CVs specifically designed to demonstrate creative ability and individuality – which of course is great to see. However, design can be very subjective so it’s worth bearing in mind that although it’s evident you may have well spent a lot of time and effort, it might not always be to the personal taste of the person reviewing your CV or the Hiring Manager.

Some may not being keen on a font or an image used and this immediately puts up a barrier before they’ve even got to your portfolio (if of course the job you are applying for requires the submission of a portfolio)!

Keep the layout as clean and simple as possible. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t put your own spin on it but try to avoid using background images, text laid out on a vertical axis and fussy fonts. Less is definitely more in this instance.

A CV is a report of your professional experience, skills and objectives and what’s more important is that the person reviewing your CV can get to the information they want to see, as clearly and quickly as possible (remember the six second rule)!

Make contact
Make sure your contact details are easy to find – ideally near the top and, (I know this sounds obvious) but it’s amazing how many people forget to include their current address or even contact number.

You can also add things like your Social Media links but if you do this, be 100% confident that anything you’ve put on Social Media (including imagery) is suitable for a prospective future employer to see. They will check you out. If you have a LinkedIn account, does your career history, skills, experience and education details marry up to that on your CV? If not, it may well come in to question further down the line.

Mug shot
You may well have the kind of smile that would put any respectable toothpaste ad in the dark but if you are considering adding a photo of yourself, ask whether it’s really adding any value? Hiring Managers will just waste those valuable seconds looking at your pearly whites, rather than the important stuff. Also, if you are on LinkedIn, ensure you have a good, high quality professional-looking photograph – I’ve seen quite a few ‘at mates wedding in a fancy hat’ and ‘enjoying cocktail on beach with very little on’ type photos! I even saw one guy with a pair of underpants on his head and a large brandy in his hand. He me be lots of fun for a night out (or embarrassing depending on which way you look at it) but is he really giving the right image to anyone looking to employ him?

Pitch perfect
Quite a few CVs that have graced our desks don’t include an introduction and launch straight in to either education details or career history. There’s nothing wrong with that but a Summary or Career Objectives section at the top of your CV (below your contact details), is a good way to grab attention. This is where you need to put your sales hat on – Think of it as your personal pitch. Kept it short (50-100 words maximum). It should reinforce your professional attributes and professional objectives in relation to the job you are applying for. That last statement is perhaps the most important bit as your Summary or Career Objectives section will undoubtedly be adapted to each job you apply for.

This section shouldn’t be a summary of your career history. This is something we see a lot of. It doesn’t really add any value as it’s just repeating information contained in your career history, which takes me to the next section…

Career history
This section should sit below your Summary and run in date order with your current or last job at the top. According to the study by The Ladders, one of key things Hiring Managers look at within the six second review is where you last worked and the dates to and from. There’s no need to include the month unless you were in employment for less than a year.

Your career information should include such elements as the following:

  • Brief explanation of what the company does (if it’s not obvious)
  • Brief explanation of your role
  • Key responsibilities
  • Skills & experience
  • Goals & achievements

Try not to use big blocks of text – you can break it up by using a few bullet points to help pull out those key words.

Link company names to their website. If you don’t add a link, add the company location (name of city or town is sufficient). This will save a lot of time for the Hiring Manager – if they want to check out a company you’ve worked for.

Edit down earlier job roles or anything that isn’t really relevant to the job you are applying for if you’re starting to run out of space.

Smart tailoring
I’m going to use the ‘r’ word again – relevant! I guess just to highlight the importance of keeping the information in your CV totally in tune with the job you are applying for. A CV shouldn’t be a “one size fits all” document.

As you go through your career, it’s easy to fall in to the trap of digging out your old CV and just adding the latest job to your career information without reviewing what you’d written previously.

Think of it like this…

… When you see a job ad that grabs your interest, how many times do you read the information supplied? Once, twice, five times? I’ve certainly been guilty in the past of skipping though the job details and in my eagerness not to miss the deadline, email my standard CV, watching it disappear in to the ether – never to be seen again! Print it off and read it at least two or three times, then go through it again and highlight all the key words that you think are the most important aspects required for the role. If you’re confident you have the right skills and experience, then make sure you include the key words in your CV.

For example, if a company are looking for a Creative who’s required to present directly to clients, ensure you include any client, communication and presentations skills – as long as you have this experience and can back it up at interview.

If you really want your CV to stand out for the rest, make sure it’s clear, concise and structured in a way that’s specifically targeted to the job you are applying for, rather than just a historical account of your career.

Mind the gap!
It’s quite common to find career gaps in CVs. Usually because someone feels it’s not relevant or important but it will almost always come in to question at interview.

If the reason was to take time out to travel, study or raise your family for example, you may wish to include this in your CV as this will avoid any awkward questions at Interview. Explain the reason for taking time out of your career but keep it brief and concise, and ensure you emphasize you were ready to take your next career step after your time out.

If you were forced in to redundancy and it took a little time to find your next role, explain the reason for the redundancy e.g. department closed, company liquidation etc. Use this as an opportunity to briefly explain what you did in that time such as personal development/study, team activities, volunteering.

I wouldn’t however advise including an explanation if it were due to long-term illness or dismissal from your last place of employment as you may be perceived as a high-risk employee. However, you will need to prepare yourself for any questions relating to this, if you are invited in for an interview.

Explain the reasons to the interviewer with dignity, honesty and most of all briefly. Finish by reinforcing that particular part of your life is in the past and you are ready to embrace new opportunities. Try not to elaborate or dwell on the subject.

There’s no harm including any awards you’ve received but unless they’re industry-recognised, they don’t really add that much value so be selective.

Add some personality
Adding a section about your interests and hobbies at the bottom of your CV tells the potential employer a bit more about you, what you enjoy, what motivates you and what makes you tick. Most job specifications stipulate personal skills such as teamwork, communication and motivational skills and of course these skills are used in many activities we enjoy doing outside of work. Read our previous blog “How hidden talents can benefit the workplace”.

Well I think that’s certainly enough to think about. You may already be doing some or most of the above anyway but hopefully there will be a few tips and tools to help you on your way to securing your next perfect role.

Good luck! – We’d love to hear about your success stories.


Author Director "Logic will get you from A to B, but imagination will get you anywhere."