Build a killer CV - how your CV can set you apart

Recruiters and HR professionals typically scan through hundreds of applications to identify the best fitting candidate to fill an open position, especially in large and popular companies.

Studies and surveys have shown that HR professionals spend only 6 seconds on average on each individual CV during the selection stage. This is due to the high number of CVs and the goal of HR to filter out as many candidates as possible in this early stage and focus on the most interesting ones in the second round.

In large companies, the initial selection is often automated and occurs through Applicant Tracking Software (ATS), which requires special attention when preparing your CV in order to get selected (see keywords section below).

Here are 5 key elements for preparing your CV, which will help you increase your chances of being invited for an in-person interview:

  1. Tailor your CV to the specific job
  2. Catch the reader’s attention right from the start
  3. Mention the most important information at the start
  4. Use the right keywords
  5. Structure your CV

Let’s dive into all 5 elements more thoroughly.

Tailor your CV

It is essential to always adapt your CV to suit each application you make, according to the specific job role, industry and company. It is also advisable to prepare templates in advance for different roles or industry sectors.

Prepare generic templates that highlight your specific skills and experience.

These should effectively communicate your key performance indicators (KPIs) and illustrate your unique strengths and professional experience. You can then pick and choose from these templates to quickly prepare a tailored CV that ticks all the boxes of any specific job opening in your field of interest.

Catch the reader’s attention right from the start

The visual centre of your CV that is always assessed at first glance by an HR professional is the top third of your first page. This section is comparable to the first impression in an interview, so don’t miss out on making a strong impact here. Not much can be scanned in 6 seconds and this part will be looked at for sure. This is often where the decision is instantly made whether to pass your CV on to the recruiting manager for a more detailed review.

Include as a header your name and contact information (make sure that you state your email and Linkedin profile URL) and a professional photo of yourself. Your CV should start with a summary of your major accomplishments and successes that are relevant and add substantial value for the position, team, and company you apply for.

Don’t bury the lead

Always mention the most important information at the start, for example in bullet points in your CV, or when you list your major accomplishments at the beginning of your CV. This ensures that your main message reaches the reader/listener, which is achieved by stating the result first (or answer to a question) and only afterwards (if necessary) providing additional information that strengthens and underlines the respective skill, experience, and success.

Use the right keywords

Using the right keywords is essential to pass the initial stage when recruiters aim to discard as many candidates as possible to end up with just a handful of highly potential applicants.

When tailoring your CV to the specific role, you should align the keywords you use with the job posting. This is especially critical when applying to large corporations that are likely to use automated software systems (ATS) to select applicants. Software systems will scan your CV only looking for keywords that match the job posting. Don’t be afraid to use the wording of the job advertisement, as this may be crucial if you want your CV to reach a human examiner.

Clear and appealing structure

Your goal is to increase readability of your CV by providing a clear structure with enough white space between sections, text boxes, and bullet lists. This will ensure that the reader gets a good overview of your fit for the vacancy in the 6 seconds that is spent deciding whether to proceed and read your CV in more details or put it on the pile of rejected candidates.

Make sure you use a consistent font scheme and align your bullet points. Preferably do not use more than 2 levels of indentation for your bullet points and ensure that these are aligned throughout the complete document. Short and well-flowing sentences in layman’s language ensure clarity in your communication.

Your goal is to make a strong impression of your fit in 2 pages, so try to keep your CV down to 2 pages in length. If you do decide to add a third page, then it should provide additional information about yourself or your experience directly relevant and highly valuable for the position or company. Often a third page is used to personalise your CV in case you have experiences, hobbies, or achievements in your professional life that you consider special and unique and sets you apart from the average candidate.

A short, focused, clear structured, and pleasant-to-read CV also illustrates your ability to communicate effectively – a skill that is highly valued in corporate culture.


An outstanding CV is always accomplishment-focused, leading the reader to the conclusion that your expertise, experience, and added value for the team and company will result in a higher return of investment (ROI) than the cost of hiring you (your salary).

Summarise your professional experience that successfully demonstrates your unique skills and value for the specific position and company you are applying for. Quantify your achievements and successes and give the most impressive ones pride of place, in your summary in the first part of your CV. Underline your skills by giving examples of successful projects or accomplishments from your career and strengthen these by quantified results of your contributions in past positions.

Example CV