Great CVs pass the 20 second test

Information overload and constant visual distraction make it increasingly tough to hold a reader’s attention. By applying seven simple rules, you can create a CV that’ll be noticed, remembered and get you shortlisted.

We form long-lasting impressions and judgements in the blink of eye, said Malcolm Gladwell (Author of the book, Outliers. We all do it – even the person you’ve sent your CV to does it. This means you’ve 5 seconds, 10 seconds if you’re lucky – possibly even 20 if it’s interesting – to communicate why no one but you are right for this role.

If you’re writing your CV, you probably assume it receives substantially more of the recruiter’s time. Maybe 2 minutes, perhaps even 5 minutes, to read and digest? But you’d be wrong.

Because here’s the truth: busy people will not give your CV anything but a passing glance unless you understand how to stop them in their tracks and make them interested.

You’ve got one shot to grab their attention. One chance to get past their finely-honed, executive filter that eliminates anything that looks like too much hard work to read. So if you want to register in their psyche as worth considering, you had better use your brief window of opportunity well.

Making sure you reach the shortlist

So how do you do it? How do you create a CV that’s clear, true to you, honest and compelling? Something that in that moment, in that blink of an eye, appeals to them and makes them pause and say, ‘This one deserves more careful scrutiny’. There are 7 simple things you can do:

  • Be as ruthless as Steve Jobs on the design. Get rid of everything you don’t need. Remove everything that impedes the flow. Make it crisp and let good design draw the eye to where it needs to be.
  • Be as sure of yourself as Simon Cowell. Communicate who you are and be bold. Show you have talent. Show you have the X-Factor. This is your CV so make it say who you are.
  • Be as great a storyteller as Pixar. Tell the story of who you are in a way that intrigues and is unique.
  • Be as easy to read as a Kindle Fire. Make your CV easy to navigate. Don’t distract from the content with fancy embellishments such as tabs, indents and font changes.
  • Be as much of a data-nerd as CSI’s Gil Grissom. Give evidence of your successes and accomplishments. Share numbers and back up your claims by demonstrating your added value.
  • Be as succinct as a Zen haiku. Think about every word, recognise that your words have the power to convince and express who you are. Spend time crafting your CV. Write it, then rewrite it. Read it and then re-read it. Spell check it and once you’ve done that, spell check it again. Say it aloud, listen to what it sounds like, and keep amending until it’s pitch-perfect.
  • Bend it like Beckham. Be as deadly accurate as David Beckham. Make sure that every word delivers, every bullet counts and every point proves your worth.

So, if it takes 5 seconds to read, 5 seconds to grab their attention, how long should it take to write? I would say at least 10 hours. At least 10 hours of drafting, testing, redrafting and perfecting until you get it just right. And it’s only then that it’ll wing its way past all those defences and into the mind of the reader who will then say, ‘Let’s talk to this person, they look interesting’

How your CV is written and comes across determines whether you’re put in the ‘let’s look at this further pile’ or passed over. So make your CV arresting, make the person who picks it up wonder. Take them on a journey and tell your story with accuracy, brevity and clarity.