The question I am asked most often as an Application Adviser is ‘How can I make my job application stand out from the crowd?’
People often think that there is a magical secret or quick fix which will enable their application to catch the recruiter’s eye, and they’re desperate to uncover this secret. Others think that an application which ‘stands out’ must be strikingly different from the norm, so they use different coloured fonts, stories about their childhood interest in their chosen career area, or long inspirational quotes.
Unfortunately, there is no magic trick which will automatically secure you that interview! And it is better to avoid gimmicks, tricks or very unusual formatting. There are some jobs (particularly in fields like advertising) in which a distinctive, imaginative approach to the application is required. But these jobs will usually make that clear in the advertisement.
For most roles, an application which stands out (for the right reasons) is one which clearly shows how the candidate has the right skills for the role, and which is extremely easy to read.
In particular, a CV which stands out is likely to have:
Correct spelling and grammar: mistakes in an application can give the impression that you lack attention to detail or, worse, that you’re not really that bothered about the job. Spelling and grammar can be difficult, and it’s often hard to see mistakes in your own work, especially when you’ve been revising it for a while. So ask a friend or family member with good spelling and grammar skills to check it over for you. Also, if you leave it for a day without looking at it and print it out it can be easier to spot mistakes.
Consistent formatting of CV and cover letter: Check that the font style, font size, spacing, indenting and use of bold/italics/capital letters in titles are all consistent throughout. Again, this is easier to see if you print the CV/cover letter out and look at it on paper.
Readable CV: convey the information in a straightforward, easy to understand way. Use headings and bullet points; avoid long paragraphs.
Tailored to the role: don’t send out exactly the same CV/cover letter to every job you apply for. Show clearly and specifically how you have the skills required by the job. This might take more time, but it is more effective, because it allows the employer to see exactly how you meet their criteria.
Specific, quantifiable achievements: it is more persuasive to say ‘I exceeded sales targets by 15% in May 2015’ than to say ‘I performed well in sales’, because it gives the reader a concrete understanding of what you achieved.
Lurking behind the question ‘how can I make my CV stand out?’ is often insecurity and anxiety – there are lots of qualified candidates for each job, and perhaps it is understandable that many candidates feel they need to take dramatic steps to ensure they get recruiters’ attention. However, a much more reliable way to reach the interview stage is to ensure that you get the CV-writing basics right.