Is your CV launching your Job Search or only reporting your history

October 12, 2016, 9:09 am

There are plenty of articles about how to write your CV, but if you are sending CVs and getting no or negative replies, there is one fundamental check you can do with your CV.

Step back and, as much as you can, take an objective view. On balance is your CV reporting all you’ve done in the past or is it using your biggest achievements to indicate your future potential?

We’re not talking about a list of possibilities and wishes. We’re talking about a concrete emphasis on the positive skills or areas of expertise you can offer to a future employer.

What does this mean?

It means that if your CV is a reverse chronological list of your job history and each role has a detailed list of your ‘duties’ and or ‘responsibilities’ then, simply put, you are asking your CV reader to do too much work. By writing your CV in this way, you are asking them to work through all that detail and imagine how you and your experience may be able to fit into their organisation and how you may be able to help their current problems.

Can you see why that often doesn’t work? Most CVs receive about 30 seconds of attention and often the decision is made in the first 15 seconds. If the way that you can help, fit in and contribute is not jumping off the page in direct words in that first visual scan you are already on the way to a rejection.

Your CV must be written in such a way that the ways you can make the reader’s world better are standing out off the page. At Obvious Candidate we call that a “High Impact” CV. It’s a CV written in such a way as to avoid the reader having to do work.

It’s important to know how your CV is being received in its current state. So here’s a quick test you can do. It’s not scientific, but you’ll be surprised how much you can learn in a matter of minutes. The key is to pick the right people to give their opinion – ideally someone who is in a hiring position within your industry, but any professional will be able to give you an indicative response.

Try “The 30 second CV Test”…

Give your CV to someone (not your Mum and not your partner – they will be too kind) for 30 seconds and ask them to take a quick look. After 30 seconds surprise them by taking the CV off them. And ask them to spontaneously tell you what they recall and what stood out as the big idea from the CV.

Try this with 3 or 4 people to get a consistent idea of what is happening.

Now you know the impression you are making. What can you do to make things better?

Here are 8 simple tips to make your CV higher impact:

  1. Remove the long lists of ‘duties’ and ‘responsibilities’. No one wants to read through everything you did at work. It probably bored you. It will bore them.
  2. Replace with simple prioritised lists of your 2-3 most notable achievements in each role. Prioritise them by relevance to the job you are applying to. What will the reader want to see? What will impress them?
  3. Help them to find the facts by using bold. Highlight the benefit you brought with that achievement in a few summary words at the start of each bullet point.
  4. Never have a list of more than 4 bullet points in your CV. They often won’t be read.
  5. Never have a paragraph of more than 4 lines in your CV. These are often skipped. We live in a world of ‘Twitter’ attention spans these days. Make your points snappy.
  6. Back up your points with the strongest evidence you have. Use numbers where you can permissibly share details and facts without breaching any confidentialities.
  7. Add a Headline to the CV. Never waste space by writing “Curriculum Vitae” or “Personal Profile” – How do either of those make you stand out? They are literally 100% wasted real estate at the premium location on your page. It’s like pitching a tent on a beach front spot. The value is maximised by building a hotel. Your hotel is a high impact Headline that conveys what you are and why you are worth interviewing in 1 line. What better way could there be to open your CV?
  8. Remember the role of the CV is to get you and invitation to interview. Not to share everything you’ve ever done. Give a brutal edit. Make it intriguing so they want to find out more. If you try to tell the whole story they will think they already get you from the page and make up their mind yes or no from the CV. We want them to be impressed enough and interested enough to want to meet you!


Example headlines:

Senior Food Technologist | Expert in Flavour & Colouration NPD

EU Food Law Specialist | EFSA Regulatory Advisor for Food & Beverage Innovation 

Retail Marketing Manager | Commercial Leader & Food NPD Specialist


Example bullet points:

And here’s a tip: make sure the bold ideas are closely aligned with the essential and desired skills listed in the job description. That way you are describing the way you can deliver the skills they are specifically looking for. e.g…..

  • Stakeholder management: A proven ability to engage and manage multiple stakeholders from Board level to departmental leaders and key third party external influencers. Specifically led an open innovation programme with 15 participants and delivered 3 new launches in 2014 with global sales exceeding £35m.
  • Team leadership: A skilled builder and leader of teams with experience managing 5 direct reports and a wider team of 25 to achieve record sales in 2014 and 2015.
  • New product development: Successfully led a multifunctional team of nutritionists, food technologists, packaging specialists, and brand marketers to launch a new range of 12 soups under a The Covent Garden brand in 2015. Full range listings achieved in all of the top 5 UK retailers.

Remember that you must do the work as a CV writer. Don’t ask your CV reader to do the work when they receive it. They will end up missing the best of what you have to offer. It’s not that you aren’t good enough or don’t have the skills. Most of the time it’s that your CV is letting you down so badly because its format isn’t allowing your reader to pick up on the core of the message you’re trying to communicate.

For more tips on improving the impact of your CV, take a look at our post on The 7 Essential CV Upgrades – simple changes you can make in under an hour that will transform the first impression you make with your CV.


With thanks to FDIN advisory panel partner, Sam Waterfall at Obvious Candidate. For more information on this topic contact Sam at


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