Careers advice

7 ways to make your CV stand out (for the right reasons)

Done right, your CV can be a powerful tool for helping you stand out from other candidates. Here, we’ll show you how.

What you’ll learn:

  • How employers use robots to screen your CV, and how to get past them.
  • What employers want to see on your CV.
  • The stuff you can afford to cut from your CV.
  • How to use power words in your CV.
  • The importance of an online profile.
  • How to properly proofread your CV.

A CV is what you put into it.

Sure, a dashed off version might allow you to apply to a lot of jobs quickly. But employers see heaps of applications, so they know when real effort has gone in, and when their listing is just one of 15 you completed that day.

If you’re wondering how to make your CV stand out in New Zealand for the right reasons, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to show you some tricks beyond standard CV best practices, to give you the best possible chance of nailing that vital first impression.

What’s more, we’ve got free downloadable CV templates that you can save, tailor and use for your next job application

A memorable CV will put you in pole position in the application race.

How to write a good CV: the lowdown

1. Beat the recruitment robots

Often, before your CV reaches human hands it will be screened by applicant tracking systems (ATS). These robots are programmed to identify poor CVs, or applicants lacking core skills required for the job. 

Luckily, getting past these robots doesn’t require any futuristic weaponry. Try these simple techniques:

  • Use keywords: a key function of ATS is to scan for keywords associated with the hard and soft skills candidates need to have. Looking through a few listings for similar roles will give you a solid understanding of the terms you should include. 
  • Choose the right file type: some ATS are picky about which file types they like to work with. Play it safe, and submit your CV either as a PDF, .doc or .docx.
  • Be careful with headers and footers: avoid putting important info, such as contact details, in your CV’s header or footer. Some ATS can’t read these sections fully, meaning this info could be lost, which will count against you.
  • Don’t overcomplicate the format: simple is often best with CVs. Layout your sections with clear headings, and steer clear of graphics and diagrams.

2. Focus on results

Sweet, your CV has run the robot gauntlet and is with a living, breathing human being, but what do hiring managers want to see? 

One of the easiest ways to instantly grab a hiring manager’s attention is to include a summary of your core skills and attributes that make you perfect for the role. It’s very common for NZ CVs to have a “Skills” section at the top with a bullet point list of things like your professional certifications, skills development courses you’ve completed and specific areas of expertise.

In addition, when it comes to describing your past jobs, a list of your past responsibilities isn’t ‘wrong’, but a better approach is to focus on what you have achieved in previous roles, education or experiences. 

Let’s take a first teaching job as an example, and say you were using experience at a summer camp as evidence for your suitability. Try substituting sentences like ‘leading sports activities’, for ‘increasing participation in sports activities by X%.’ 

This direct angle is great because, without being boastful, you’ve demonstrated not only that you have relevant experience, but also a track record for success. And who doesn’t like success?

Specific details also make the reader’s life easier (and this should be a top priority for any CV). For example, instead of listing ‘software experience’, tell them what packages you’ve worked with, and whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or expert user.

Employers love to see specific examples of your past successes.

3. Lose the filler

Here are some ideas:

  • Be selective: your CV should be tailored to the specific role you’re going for. While it’s great to use a base template, be sure to customise it in each application.
  • Don’t eat a thesaurus: remember that Friends episode where Joey discovers the thesaurus? Your CV will sound as ridiculous as he did if you over-complicate your language. Clear, simple and specific is the dream.
  • Use bullet points: if you haven’t already, convert some of those full sentences into bullet points. Doing this also means you can avoid repeating ‘I’ throughout your CV.

4. Use power words

If Mr. Incredible was a word, he’d be one of these. There are quite literally hundreds of power words out there, all of which strengthen the argument that you’re the best candidate for the job.

Here are some great examples:

  • Soft skills: communication, leadership, responsibility, problem-solving, team-player, positive attitude, strong work ethic.
  • Action verbs: accelerated, designed, developed, initiated, managed, organised, increased, improved, attained, completed.

On top of these general words and phrases, add some industry specific terms and company values.

For example, if you were applying for an electrician role, including terms like ‘equipment calibration’, ‘systems testing’ and ‘blueprint reading’ would be high up on your list.

With values, if the company claims to be an industry disruptor, you might want to go for adjectives like ‘innovative’, ‘inventive’ or ‘creative’ in your personal statement.

Use power words to lift your CV’s energy levels.

5. Link out to your online profile

CVs should be all about making the recipient’s life easier. One of the ways you can do this is by including a URL link to your Trade Me Job Profile. These platforms allow hiring managers and recruiters to get a clearer picture of you, both as a person and as a potential employee.

Similarly, if you’re applying for a creative position like a graphic designer, add a separate link to your online portfolio so the reader can access this without having to get in touch.

6. Avoid imagery and fancy fonts

You might be thinking of throwing the kitchen sink at this CV to make it stand out in any way possible. Don’t, there’s definitely such a thing as being memorable for the wrong reasons.

Fancy fonts and formatting only distract from the main message you’re trying to get across, which is that you’re the best person for the job based on your skills, passion and experience. Stick to a boring font like Calibri, and a normal font size (around 12 points is best).

Some people think it’s necessary to include an image of themselves on their CV, or that it might help them to stand out. We’d generally advise against including a photo of yourself on your CV. The reason being that, unfortunately, some hiring managers (not the good ones) make their decisions based on how someone looks, rather than the expertise they bring to the job. So, to avoid the risk of losing out for this reason, we say play it safe and leave out the photo.

7. Make it error free

We’ll never stop going on about the importance of checking your CV for typos, formatting mistakes or poor grammar. 

You can understand an employer’s problem with an applicant who describes themselves as having great attention to ‘d3tail’ – it’s the first impression equivalent of wearing pink on a Thursday, not fetch. 

So – after you’re done writing a great CV – check, check and check again. 

There are a few specific recommendations we’d make when it comes to proofreading your CV:

  • Take a break: make a cup of tea, step outside, play with your dog. Whatever it is, take five minutes between finishing writing your CV and trying to proofread it. Why? Because, chances are, if you read it straight away, you’ll read what you tried to write, rather than the typo you made when you actually wrote it. Coming back with fresher eyes can help you pick up silly mistakes, as well as find better ways of getting your point across.
  • Read it aloud: yep, you might sound a bit weird, but this is by far the most effective way of weeding out mistakes. Reading aloud forces you to concentrate on what’s in front of you, rather than half reading and half thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner tonight.
  • Get a second set of eyes: having someone else read your CV is a great way to find points that might make sense to you, but not to someone else, as well as any typos or grammatical errors that have slipped through the cracks.
Master the skill of CV writing
Find helpful tips and advice on Trade Me Jobs.
Read more