How To Craft A CV That’ll WOW Recruiters

What to Avoid

In a moment, I’ll lay out a C.V’s content components. And I’ll also teach you how to structure them. But before all that, here are some elements that are better kept OUT of your pages.

Eliminate them at all costs:

  • Photographs (even pro shots!)

We all have biases that affect our decisions, consciously or unconsciously. Having your photograph on the C.V increases the chances of triggering those biases for the recruiter, based on race, gender, or appearance. So why take the risk?

Also, recruiters google all their applicants, so they’re going to see you on LinkedIn anyway. So its great to have a professional headshot in formals up there but there’s no need to flash that smile in the C.V again.

Lastly, even if you’re applying as an actor or model (among other “appearance-based professions), your photographs are expected to be submitted in a separate portfolio, so reserve them accordingly.

  • Full address & Age

Revealing your long home address is a big risk when it comes to documents that are shared widely and publicly. On the C.V, it just takes up space but doesn’t serve any real function at all. So just mention the current city you’re in, and your preferred locations. If the recruiter decides to write an offer letter, they’ll ask you for the full details later.

Also, including your age might prove counter-productive because you might be considered too young or too old for a certain role. So keep it out, and only share if asked.

  • Self-rating scales

Saying you’re an 8/10 in PhotoShop, surprisingly enough, doesn’t tell me anything about your PhotoShop skills. Self-rating scales are useless because they’re subjective. And obviously biased because who’d give themselves a 2/10?

So avoid rating scales or unnecessary infographics (pie charts, graphs, etc.). Instead, add PhotoShop certifications from courses that you’ve done online. Or hyperlink your Behance page/portfolio. Certs, case studies, and awards are more effective than scales when it comes to establishing your credibility.

  • Hobbies

No boss in the real world cares about what you do in your free time, honestly. If they ever ask, it’ll just be for small talk at the interview. That’s the harsh truth.

So instead of going off about your hiking adventures or favourite crime novels, use this space in your C.V. to share your volunteering, exchange/internship programs, or freelance experiences that are relevant to your current job, and help you build a case as a serious professional. “RELEVANCY!” That’s the golden rule! Stay focused.

  • References

References come into play only at the last stage of your application. They’re just a safety background check to confirm what the manager already knows about you after meeting you for the interview. So avoid sharing contacts early in the game because nobody cares… yet. And please don’t write, “References will be provided upon request.” Of course, you will, if you want the job! Duh.

Content Structure

With those pesky bugs out of the way, let’s get to the meat of this episode- my “Power C.V” structure. This structure enables to answer the quintessential HR question: “What unique value can you bring to the table?” 

To answer it, we’ll split our data on the C.V into 2 pages as shown below. On a side note, for those concerned about whether that’s too lengthy, the latest studies have proven that recruiters spend more time reviewing 2-page C.Vs than they do on 1-pagers. So as long as you’re placing all the data like I tell you, you can relax.

Without further ado, here’s the Power Structure:

Page Element Position
1 Name top left
Title (Specialization/Niche)
Phone number (WhatsApp) top right
Email ID
City you’re in
Preferred cities (if any)
Summary top left
Technical Skills (hard) center right
Certifications & Awards bottom right
Experience 01 (Current/Recent) center left
Experience 02 (Previous) bottom left
2 Experience 03 (only relevant to job) top left
Experience 04 (only relevant to job) center left
Volunteering top right
Freelance / Side Projects center right
Events bottom right
Links (portfolio, LinkedIn, social media) bottom right
Education bottom left

Let’s dive deeper into the format. We’ll be going through ten elements:

  1. Tagline
  2. Biodata
  3. Summary
  4. Experience
  5. Skillset
  6. Certifications
  7. Volunteering
  8. Freelancing
  9. Education
  10. Links

1. Tagline

Firstly, we’ll look at the tagline, which goes just below your name. This also applies to your LinkedIn profile, by the way.

Try to avoid these:

  • XYZ Graduate/Fresher from ABC University
  • Unemployed *role* seeking full-time employment

These taglines indicate inexperience and desperation. As shitty as it sounds, the reality is that nobody finds graduates or layoffs attrative. So even if you’re in those positions, you must project expertise, experience, and confidence in whatever you do.

Try these taglines on:

  • ______ Specialist in ____ Industry
  • Ex-(big company name- Google/Amazon, etc.) ______

You can use the first tag even as a student because being a “specialist” doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re an “expert.” It just shows you have a clear idea of your niche. Now, going niche is important, but ensure that it won’t restrict your scope in the hunt too much.

For example, my initial tagline was “Social Media Specialist.” But I realized that I have other marketing skills outside social media, like video editing, graphic design, etc. Not highlighting them would lose me many good opportunities.

So I changed it to “Digital Marketing Specialist.” This title covers a diverse range of functions and gives me a wider net to cast when applying for jobs. It increased my job application volume from just 20 per day to a whopping 75!

Case in point, strike a balance between niche and broad areas of expertise.

2. Biodata

Secondly, lets look at the biodata, placed on the right of your name and tagline. This includes your:

  • Phone Number
  • Email ID
  • Current city

In the case of numbers, ensure you have WhatsApp enabled on your phone. Many recruiters prefer to gauge you by initiating the conversation with a quick casual chat before moving on to a serious phone interview (nobody likes to call lol) so having WhatsApp is a must.

When it comes to emails, create a special inbox that has your “name + profession.” For example, my email ID for job hunting is

Also, try to not use IDs from Hotmail or Yahoo; they make you look outdated. And definitely avoid using personal or vague emails like “badboy2000” or “warlord239.”

On a side note, you can check out some shiny free tools to level up your inbox game here. Also while you’re at it, take a look at basic email etiquette, just to be safe.

3. Executive Summary

Thirdly, let’s come one step down to your executive summary. This section is a deal-breaker because, as we discussed, recruiters spend only seven seconds scanning your page. A summary not only sets clear expectations but also, if done right, peaks their interest to keep on reading. So you’ve got to nail this one anyhow!

Check out how I wrote mine:
Content-focused digital marketer, experienced in managing social media for Malaysian fintech startups with a combined following of 1.375 million FB fans, 35000 Instagramers, and 90000 Twitterati.

For Fave (Groupon), increased Instagram engagement by 22% in 3 months. For RinggitPlus (Jirnexu), attracted 2000+ organic, high-intent leads in 6 months. Consulted for TEDx, International Rotaract Society and the Malaysian Vegan Society. Featured by Mad Over Marketing, The Indian Express, MensXP, India Times, and Storypick. Won the “Best Graduate Award” for Media from Monash Uni 2019 with a 3.58/4 GPA.

Offers a unique all-rounder creative skillset in copywriting and sales funnel strategy, commercial graphic design (Adobe Illustrator + Photoshop CC), video editing (Premiere Pro CC), customer service, performance (Google + FB ads), analytics, and blogging (editorial).

Let’s break that down. Your intro should have 3 paragraphs. And this applies to your LinkedIn “About Me” section, too:

  1. Niche
  2. Achievements
  3. Unique Offering
  • Step 1: Establish your Niche

Skip the pronouns because they’re redundant- I already know this is about you. Cut out vague and cliché adjectives like: “A passionate, strong, results-oriented, innovative, ambitious, hard-working, and people-friendly unicorn with a demonstrated experience in the bullshitting industry, and a burning love for macrons.” In other words, do away with personality traits you cannot prove without working with me for a month.

Instead, stick to cold, hard, concrete facts that help the reader gauge your technical capabilities. In my example, the first part addresses 3 points:

  1. Core Skill: Saying I’m focused on crafting content on social media helps the reader get a perfect idea of my sub-role, even within the marketing department.
  2. Industry: My field experience with fintech startups will help me perform better in similar companies. This may make me irrelevant to beauty or food businesses but it puts me at the top of the STAR-list for other financial service providers.
  3. Capacity: By reading the follow counts of the social media accounts I’ve managed, you understand exactly how much responsibility I’m capable of handling.
  4. Step 2: Show off your achievements

Now that you’ve told me what you’re good at, you need to prove your claim. This means highlighting achievements or milestones that are relevant to the target role.

A common mistake freshers make is listing their previous responsibilities, not only in the summary but also in the bullet points of their experience (work history) section. This is a waste of space in both cases because recruiters already know what a person in your role is normally assigned to do. It’s literally their job as HR.

What they really want to hear about is all the milestones you’ve accomplished. So don’t tell me what you did. Tell me what happened as a result of what you did. Start with action verbs that subtly highlight in-demand traits. Pick from these:

  • Efficiency: achieved, gained, enhanced, accelerated, generated, conserved, saved, increased, decreased, reduced, yielded, boosted, expanded, expedited.
  • Innovation: integrated, standardized, transformed, upgraded, simplified, restructured, merged, modified, converted, improved, replaced, restructured.
  • Growth: acquired, partnered, secured, navigated, negotiated, grew.

Not enough options? Check out a bigger list here. A smart trick is to pair these verbs with specific numbers and statistics if you want to make a bold impact. Here’s an example:

  • Weak: Organized a business networking event for company at Kuala Lumpur
  • Strong: Got 15 tech startups to sign partnership contracts by organizing a ”CEO Night 2019″ event in Kuala Lumpur, 2019.

But what if you’re just starting out? That shouldn’t be a problem if you know how to sell yourself. Here’s a mock profile of a fresher applying for his first-ever job:

Communications and arts graduate with a 3.2/4 GPA from Monash University. Reached a readership of 5000 students for a personal business blog with 100+ posts focusing on experiences at career and startup events across the top 15 universities in Malaysia. Achieved an ’85/100′ HD grade in social studies final year project on “Social Media Impact” by leading a group of 5 students over 3 months. Offers a unique digital media skillset for promoting business through blogging content, organizing events, and growing social media reach. Aspires to grow in the tech industry to develop scalable & sustainable sales funnels through digital campaigns.

For someone without any actual work experience, it still manages to pack a punch, don’t you think? It conveys I’m fit for an entry-level media position because:

  1. I’ve handled my own media initiative (no matter how small or personal that is)
  2. I’ve had some success in a project related to the job
  3. I know what I want to do a professional.

My point here is that wWe’ve all had unique experiences that can be presented as achievements. It’s all about playing with language. So keep experimenting and you’ll find the right words after 3-4 trial runs.

  • Step 3: What can you offer?

Many of us start summaries with ‘career objectives’ that outline the type of companies we want to work with, or the big goals we’ve set for ourselves. That’s the corporate equivalent of calling someone for a date and spending the first hour talking about your preferences. It’s a really big turn-off. So if you really want to mention your aspirations, please save them for the end.

As a recruiter, instead of reading your requirements, needs, or dreams, I’m more interested in hearing how my company can benefit from you. So the question you should really focus on is: What is it that companies want that I can offer?

In the third paragraph, therefore, you should highlight the special edge you have over candidates. What separates you from the herd and makes you more valuable? In my example, I argue that I have a uniquely diverse marketing skillset. Which means I’m an all-rounder, and I can do the jobs meant for 4 different people. This is gold for companies looking to cut costs.

Long story short, focus on creating immense value for the recruiter. Don’t tell me what you want. Tell me what you can do for me.

Next, we’re talking about skills and experience. Flip to continue reading. Or go back to the table of contents.

Published by Manik Rege

Hey there! Full disclosure, I'm a bit of a mess. But my interests range from Career Growth Strategy to Marketing & Branding, and Animal Rights to filter coffee. Same vibe? Tweet to me @manik_rege.

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