Resumé SOS: tips for students, graduates & beyond…

“If I’m typical, then candidates only have a small window of opportunity to get the recruiter hooked. You can increase your chances of success with simple tweaks to your CV. In my role as part of the recruitment team here at TOPdesk, I read a lot of CV’s sent to me by a mixture of direct applicants, recruitment agencies, and job sites. I probably spend more time than the industry standard of 5-7 seconds per document, but not by much. I’ve listed my 10 favourite CV tips below:

Triple Threat

I’m not looking for robots, even though it would reduce our office beer budget and bring down the time spent daily playing table football. However, I am interested in outside of work / academia passions and pursuits. I would like to know what drives you and what makes you enthusiastic and engaged by reading through your stories. There’s a rabbit off if you spend all weekend ‘cleaning your keyboard’ as it doesn’t suggest you’re an engaging team player and in an open plan office like ours it’s crucial that you have the soft skills to get along well with people.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Candidates often look to stand out by including fancy design and interesting formatting choices. This may be a consideration if you’re applying for a role as a graphic designer. However, more often than not this is the pitfall that the majority fall into by including large chunks of essay text, obscure dates and flowery language. If in doubt, keep it simple as the recruiter doesn’t have the time to work out what you may or may not be trying to get across.

Presenting your best self on paper is a challenge, the more connections you can make between your skill set and the desired job profile, the better.


Stick to the point and sell yourself on talents and skills.

Don’t be shy and remember this is possibly your only opportunity to grab this organisation’s attention and personal statements are a great opportunity to set out your stall. Make sure that everything on the page is relevant and adds value to the application. You can display humility and soft skills in your interview but when I’m reading a CV I want to know that you’re capable of performing the role. If your experience doesn’t typically match the role you’re applying for, for example you have an Art History Master’s degree and you’re applying for a role as an IT support specialist then meet that head on and highlight the attributes that do make you a good fit. Employers are regularly looking for personality first and feel like as long as the basics are there, then the fundamentals of the job can often be trained. Keep it relevant and don’t use up precious CV space that doesn’t add value. The general consensus is that a CV is 1-2 pages long but don’t feel bad if it is only a page as we already know that most hiring managers don’t spend long enough to review it all even if they’re a really quick reader. Bullet points and good use of subtitles are effective ways to make the information that you want to ‘pop’, stand out.


You can make the recruiter feel special and instantly stand out from the crowd by tweaking your CV so it directly addresses the specific role you’re applying for and cross-referencing certain elements of the job specification helps join the dots in the eyes of the employer. Even simple changes like vocabulary used can help, for example if I refer in a job spec to an ‘Inside Sales’ position then similarly title your experience. If you’ve done the same job by a different name then feel free to relabel as long as it’s an accurate description of the role.

Don’t fall at the first hurdle

No spelling mistakes and a chronology that makes sense should be a given but how often do you think about the detail rather than sweeping generalisations. “Working well individually or as part of a team” features on so many CV’s that it doesn’t resonate with me. Avoid clichés and copying anything from search engine CV examples. Dare to choose and decide which tasks you enjoy performing the most and what you’re best at – highlight these and you’re more likely to ‘spark’ when you get into the interview room.

Limited work experience

Many times I hear in interviews that contestants haven’t included work experience that they don’t view as valuable, whether it be flipping burgers or putting kettles together on a factory line. This point is especially important for recent graduates or students applying as their experience may be limited naturally. However, if you can add values such as work ethic, tenacity or taking responsibility early on for your own income then why not spell it out alongside the role. Don’t leave out experiences that display alternative and additional qualities.

Accolades versus Responsibilities

If you can convert any bullet point beneath a job title that changes an obvious statement into an achievement then that is a worthwhile action. For example if the work experience title was ‘Car Salesperson’ for a Hyundai dealership then don’t bullet point as a responsibility:

  • Selling Hyundai made cars
  • Advised customers on what Hyundai to buy

Think more about accolades such as ‘Q1 top salesperson having sold XX amount of vehicles at a value of XXXXXXX’, ‘Upsold to premium edition models on 40% of my sales in the previous 12 months’. This information is a lot more helpful for potential recruiters. They gain confidence by the detail as they will look to mitigate risk on all new employees by looking for proven records and this starts with the CV.

Get feedback

Even if you’ve checked it yourself 100 times, make sure you get other people’s opinions of what impression your CV gives off. Having somebody who is involved in the industry you aspire to be a part of proof your résumé is invaluable so seek them out for advice. LinkedIn is a great tool for this purpose.

Picture yourself

Quite often I receive CV’s that have pictures of the applicants, especially from international hopefuls where often a selfie is expected to feature. In the UK it is unnecessary to include a picture and they don’t add anything to the recruiter’s decision-making process unless you’re applying for something like ‘onesie’ model. The only risk would be putting off an employer if an image incorporated was inappropriate.

Keep it current

Keep your CV up to date with any new qualifications, experiences and notable attributes. Your CV will be at its optimum strength and make more sense when it is regularly reviewed.

Hey, this is only my opinion and other recruiters may well agree or prefer other approaches but it’s important to challenge yourself to make your CV as good as it can be. You never know how close you are to booking that elusive 1st round interview…”

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