Applications / Job market

How to Write a CV that Passes the 30 Seconds Test

Have you been writing lengthy and descriptive CVs as part of your job applications? Studies have shown that most recruiters make a decision whether to interview someone in less than 30 seconds after picking up their CV. Instead of rambling about every single past achievement and work experience, try to immediately catch employers’ attention. Here’s how you can quickly hook them with your CV in less than 30 seconds:

Make your CV easy to read

When it comes to writing a CV to score a job interview, stick with professional and easy-to-read fonts.Employers and recruiters spend hours skimming through applications. By selecting a font and size that’s simple and easy to read for your CV, you’re already making a good first impression. Some of the best fonts for CVs include: Arial, Cambria, Calibri, Didot, Garamond, Georgia, Times New Roman & Helvetica

For readability, the best font sizes for your CV are those between 10.5 and 12 points. And for margins and spacing, 2.5cm is considered easiest to read, with line spacing between 1 to 1.5. These details may seem minor, but they help your CV quickly pass the eye test. Lastly, if you wrote your CV using a Word processor, convert your file to PDF to ensure the formatting stays the same and that your CV appears exactly the way you intend it to appear when it’s opened by the hiring manager.

Customise your CV to the job you’re applying for

Before you submit your CV, read through the job description for the position carefully. The point of scrutinising the job description is to identify keywords, skills, and responsibilities that the employer is looking for. After identifying them, incorporate these crucial words and phrases into your CV.

For instance, if you’re applying for an editorial position with a job description that includes the word ‘copyediting’, use that word over a synonym such as ‘proofreading’ (although you can probably still use both). While using the exact term from the job ad may seem like a minor change, doing so helps ensure your application stands out, especially with many companies using applicant tracking systems to filter out CVs that lack relevant keywords. 

Besides hard skills, customising your CV to a position entails knowing about the company’s core values. Impressive accomplishments alone might be enough, but embodying a company’s values increases your chances of standing out. For example, if you realise that the company values teamwork, mentioning that you’re a ‘team player with excellent interpersonal skills’ demonstrates that you’re both qualified and  a perfect culture fit. 

Focus on your academic achievements

As a student, unless you have significant work experience, your education section should typically be placed above your work experience to highlight your academic prowess. A good way to impress employers and recruiters if you’re a student is to highlight your academic achievements using hard numbers. For example, you can showcase good A-Level or GCSE exam results, placements at national or international competitions, and number of awards won for specific subjects or activities. 

Highlight your top school-related achievements first by writing a concise personal statement. Recruiters and employers understand that we all start somewhere, so don’t worry that you’re a fresh graduate. Emphasize your biggest relevant achievements in your personal statement, and save lesser ones for your education section to help fill it out. 

Beef up your experience section

Adding relevant work experience to your CV makes you more appealing to employers, because it signals to them that they’re not hiring someone totally new to the industry whom they’d have to train from scratch. When applying for a job, consider if you have gained any relevant or transferable skills from your past work and school experiences. 

Run through your volunteer work, competitions, work placements, internships, or freelance work, and then select the ones that are most applicable to the position you’re applying for. These can all be mixed into your CV to quickly catch the attention of the reader. For instance, if you’re applying for a teaching position, highlighting your tutoring experience makes more sense than talking about your photography club experience. 

Employers will be impressed faster by your CV if they notice that you’re showcasing your value with relevant experiences. Also, as long as you can explain how those relevant experiences helped you develop job-related skills, it doesn’t matter how long ago that experience was.

Fill out your skills section as much as possible

 Your skills section is easy to scan and recruiters will look at it, so make sure you include as many relevant hard and soft skills as possible there. This ties back into our second point earlier of customising your CV to the job you’re applying for. Read the job description carefully again and take note of the skills the employer is looking for. And try to read between the lines to identify other skills that can be inferred.For example, a company that requires the candidate to ‘work closely with various departments and teams’ is looking for someone with good collaboration and interpersonal skills. 

As with experiences and achievements, focus on presenting skills that are relevant to the position. An employer will pass over your CV if they see unrelated skills listed at the top. Remember, relevance is the best way to ensure your CV passes the 30-second test, so keep everything as relevant as you can. 

Author: Samuel Johns, CPRW

Samuel Johns is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and career counsellor on the CV Genius team. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in French Language and Literature from the University of Bristol in 2013. Samuel’s job-hunt advice has been published on numerous websites, including Resume GeniusYahoothe Enterprisers Project, and Best Company.

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