Career Advice

How to Craft the Perfect CV

What does a job-winning CV look like?

The answer is surprisingly simple: it’s an easy-to-read, highly scannable, reflection of you and the value you bring to an organisation.

Ask any recruiter, hiring manager, or professional CV writer, and they’ll all tell you that a CV should contain different things, based on their own interests and experience. 

But in reality, it all boils down to whether you can do the above: share your most essential qualifications in an accurate and simple manner. 

What does the perfect CV look like? We asked two Irish CV and interview experts about the typical CV’s journey from your desktop to the hiring manager’s desk, so you can write a CV that outperforms the rest.

The Perfect CV Checklist

  • Use a readable CV layout.

  • Write a short personal summary that highlights future goals and past accomplishments.

  • Include these sections: your name, your contact info, professional experience, professional certifications, academic history, and industry awards, publications, etc.

  • Update your skills to match the role.

  • Use keywords that match the job advert.

  • Send out CVs tailored to every application.

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread.

  • Remove the following items: academic course details, irrelevant past roles or experiences, and personally identifying information like your address or date of birth.

  • Save and send as a PDF.

Create a Readable CV Layout

What does your current CV look like? Did you write it in Microsoft Word? Or did you download a flashy format from Canva?

It sounds counterintuitive, but your CV format or layout can be more important than the content. Why? Because the layout makes your CV scannable, which is vital. As those famous statistics from CareerBuilder remind us: 40% of hiring managers spend under a minute reviewing resumes. 

These statistics are true in Ireland, too. Lorraine McGuinness, a CV writing expert in Sligo, told us this: 

“Generally, a hiring manager would scan your CV for information present in the job description. If the CV has already passed through the ATS software, or has been directly sent to a person, then they want to see if you meet the criteria. Typically, the CV Layout and CV Design are what can affect this which may be a factor of why CVs to be placed in the 'no' pile.” 

“If they can't quickly find what they are looking for, or have difficulty scanning through a 4-page document, the CV will not be considered.”

Learn more about ATS software and what you need to know in the FAQs.

So what are our best tips for your layout?

They’re pretty simple:

  • Pick a readable font, like Times New Roman. Use it consistently across your CV.

  • Break up your CV with headings. Make those headings larger and bold.

  • Use a CV template or format example to structure your resume and give it polish.

Adjust Your CV for Every Application with Relevant Content

The best CV tip anyone can follow is to tailor your CV to every single application.

A CV that reflects the job ad, post, and company can transform your prospects from just another CV to a must-interview candidate. And it’s absolutely vital if you are in a career transition or returning from a career break.

So how do you tailor your CV and land an interview? We’ve already covered a few important tips, like adjusting your skills and keywords to match the ad.

As Andrew Fennell of StandOut CV told The Guardian, you should also:

  • Prioritise the requirements the employer seems to value most.

  • Read the job requirements a second time and write your two-to-three sentence job history to demonstrate your experience in those specific requirements.

  • Address any unusual requirements that may appear in the job advert.

How to Write a Relevant Professional Experience Section

Let’s start with professional experience as an example.

For each role you list, you want to add a bit about your job. Very often, it’s enough to offer a three-sentence description of your job duties or experience under each heading that reflects your experience as it relates to the job you intend to apply for.

How do you keep it brief? Heather Hamilton, a career advisor at TrueYouCareer says to be specific as possible and use examples. Doing so allows you to say more in fewer words.

Here’s a quick example:

  • “I managed a monthly marketing budget.”

  • “I managed €500k per month in marketing ad spend.”

Both of these sentences are true and representative of your job.

Yet, the second option tells the reader so much more and invites further questions, even though you’re communicating the same basic idea (i.e., you managed a budget).

When you give specific and relevant examples, you demonstrate competency and raise potential interview questions.

How to Write Your Personal Summary

The first pass of a CV will see the reader skim it for the basics: do you have the required certifications or education? Do you have the required years of experience? If yes, you likely get a read

Heather at TrueYouCareer says adding a short personal summary or professional profile to the top of your resume helps out recruiters:

“Ensure your professional profile is punchy and strategic, highlighting your current situation, your most relevant experience, and your future career plans.” In other words, don’t use the space to say “I’m a motivated team player.” Use it to say what you want, what you bring, and keep it tailored to the role and organisation.

A personal summary should:

Adjust and Pivot for Career Breaks and Changes

Writing your first CV is simple: you finished your education, you have a bit of hands-on experience, and you’re ready for an entry-level career. Things get more complicated later on as you target senior-level positions, manage career breaks, or make a career change. Plus, the last few years have challenged each of us in different ways. For some, it was a chance to shift or re-focus on your career. Other people decided to not only change their role but their whole industry.

Complicated, however, doesn’t mean impossible. It merely requires a strategy.

According to Lorraine McGuinness, “it’s all about strategic placement of content throughout your CV.”

“The Profile and Skills, which should be at the very top of the CV, can be edited to explain the value of previous experience to the new career path; can highlight new skills that can add value; and promote contributions made to showcase your ability to do the role,” Lorraine says. 

UCD Professional Academy students have a leg up in this respect. You can and should lean in hard to your continuing education and utilise your course. No matter what field you’re in, employers want to see commitment to lifelong learning, so your UCD Professional Academy course can absolutely set you apart. 

Lorraine says:

“If you are currently studying or have recently completed a certification, you can then mention your Education; now the focus is on where you'd like to go, rather than where you were before. Follow that with any Academic Projects (if no practical experience) and then your Professional Experience.”

CV Writing FAQs

Have more questions about your CV? Let’s dive into some of the most frequently asked queries.

How do I account for a period of unemployment on my CV?

First of all, take a deep breath. A period of unemployment or job gap is understandable, especially right now. If your gap was less than six months, don’t worry about it. Put the reason for leaving on your job application, whether it was furlough, business closure, downsizing, or a need to leave work to care for family during the pandemic.

If you’ve been out of the job market for more than a year, then you will want to address it. However, you don’t need to talk about unemployment yourself; you can and should write about what you did during that time. Talk about your UCD Professional Academy course, personal development, or even volunteering.

Have you been a caretaker over the last year or more? Don’t minimise everything you’ve done: you’re an expert project manager, team leader, and if you’ve children, an education assistant. These all translate into highly coveted professional skills.

Tip: LinkedIn now allows you to include stay-at-home mom or dad as a job title, so if these roles apply to you, there’s no reason not to use them on your profile!

What is an application tracking system (ATS) and does it affect me?

An application tracking system (ATS) is a type of software used by HR and recruiting teams to manage the hiring process. The software scans your CV to see if you meet the basic qualifications, and then passes your CV on for human review.

If you apply for a role at a multinational or a large Irish company, you need to account for the ATS when crafting your CV. 

Small and medium-sized Irish companies are less likely to use the software. However, the same rules apply because you want to avoid formatting or compatibility issues that may happen if they download your CV with a different program or version than the one you used to create it.

ATS is nothing to be afraid of, but you do need to make sure your CV is ATS friendly if you make an online application. Some tips for an ATS-friendly CV include:

  • Use a standard font like Times New Roman.

  • Utilise headers or section titles like Education and Experience to make your CV scannable for the software.

  • Avoid using colours, pictures, tables, headers or footers.

  • Submit your CV as a PDF.

How long should my CV be?

Here’s a real sticking point for many people. How long should your CV be? The answer: Keep your CV at one page or less, unless you have decades of experience.

A common thought is to include all your experience, relevant or not. However, this can have several implications. Hiring managers vary, but many want to see a synopsis of your work history with a focus on the most recent and relevant experience and skills. 

Not only do two-plus-page CVs fail to attract recruiters, but they often violate design principles. Long CVs tend to cram information into the document, which makes them hard to read. So even if the hiring manager doesn’t consider a long CV to be a faux pas, they might pass anyway because they can’t read it.

Should I include volunteer experience?

Volunteer experience in your field is a great asset to you, particularly if you’re going through a career change. It’s a chance for you to get hands-on experience and develop your skills; it doesn’t matter that you weren’t paid.

Where should your volunteer experience go? You can put it under a volunteer heading. However, if your volunteer experience is part of your career transition, you don’t need to delineate your volunteer role from a paid role or put it at the end of the CV. If it’s important and relevant, stick it up top! As Lorraine McGuinness says, it’s all about strategic placement!