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Did you know an average employer spends less than 30 seconds reading a CV and if the first page doesn’t grab their attention they won’t even read page two?

I’ve been a recruiter for more than 18 years, with almost three years working at the PPF. In that time, I’ve read thousands of CVs, and the most common mistake jobseekers make is using the same one for every job they apply for. 

Recently I spent some time with a group of student job hunters from charity Whizz Kidz, supporting them in their CV writing. I’ve also run CV writing workshops internally to help our current employees who want to progress their career within the business.

As a recruiter, I see hundreds of CVs for every position and deal with multiple vacancies at a time. It’s important you take the time to make sure your CV is suitable for the position you’re applying for, drawing attention to the skills the position requires.

With job-hunting season just around the corner, you might be thinking about applying for one of our current vacancies. So here are my top tips as well as some do’s and don’ts every job applicant should follow.

Tailor the content

This is the most important part of the CV writing process. Make sure that you:

  • spend time working on your CV for each application you make. Tailoring your CV to bring out the key skills that we’re looking for is essential. Don’t assume that we know what skills you have;
  • read the job description and person specification carefully so you fully understand the role you’re applying for, and what skills and experience you’ll need to demonstrate in your CV. All the answers are there to guide you; and
  • use real-life, specific examples to show how your past experience relates to the job. There’s no point telling us you’re great at painting a house blue when we want someone to paint the house red.

Consider the structure 

Although there’s no right or wrong way to structure your CV, it’s important to bring key information to the forefront.

  • The way you structure your CV will depend on what the job description is asking for and what stage you’re at in your career. A graduate looking for their first job will shape their CV differently to someone looking to take the next step in their career journey.
  • Ask yourself a few questions first. Have we asked for a qualification? Do we want work experience in a similar role? Or are specific skills important to us? If the role you’re applying for is different to your most recent experience, think about how you can showcase your transferable skills.
  • Most importantly, don’t be afraid to tell us about your all fantastic achievements! If you’re applying for an IT position and you’ve used a software package that we’ve detailed in the job advert then put it on your CV. Small details like this will get you noticed.

Use the right language

Show us that you’ve considered what language will prove you have the right experience and set you apart from other applicants.

  • Think about what language is used in the adverts and job descriptions and reflect this in your CV. This will clearly indicate you have the skills and experience required for the position.
  • Use active verbs like ‘created’, ‘analysed’ or ‘devised’. These present you as a person who shows initiative. If you’ve familiarised yourself with the job application then you’ll know what the employer is looking for.
  • Avoid over-used phrases such as ‘team player’, ‘hardworking’ and ‘multitasker’ as they don’t tell a recruiter anything. However, you should instead provide real life examples to demonstrate these skills.

Above all, never exaggerate the truth and always be honest. It’s easy to get caught out on a lie, especially if you make it to the interview stage. 

Some things to remember



Stick to two or three pages – no more than four – and don’t worry if your CV spills onto a half page. Don’t use the same CV for every job application. One set of skills might not be right for another application.
Read your CV out loud to yourself or a friend before submitting it and address any criticisms or spelling/grammar mistakes. Don’t use bad humour, fancy language or jargon. Be clear, concise and professional.
70% of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring so make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and the photo is appropriate. Set other social media pages to private. Don’t use inappropriate email addresses, fancy fonts, borders, tables or and other graphics, unless it is specific to your job e.g. you’re a graphic designer.
Showcase your key skills and strengths, education and qualifications. Let people know what you‘ve achieved and how. Remember, all of your experiences have helped you develop transferable skills. Don’t leave unexplained gaps in your employment. Record any maternity or paternity leave, travel or volunteering gaps.
Keep your CV up-to-date and make sure you send out the correct tailored version. Don’t be negative about any of your experiences. Focus on the positives and use them to your advantage.

I hope you’ve found this guidance useful. I look forward to seeing your CV if you apply for any of our vacancies.

Gary Brignall is one of our Recruitment Partners.