CV structure: beyond the content

Your CV says a lot about you. Now, that may sound pretty obvious, but there’s much more to it than the raw information that is often overlooked. The way your document is constructed gives an indication of your attention to detail, sense of presentation, understanding of the industry, and ability to communicate clearly and effectively.

Save your CV from the bin! Good formatting could give your application a better chance.

Some research published earlier this year by an American outfit suggested your CV will have an average of six seconds to impress a recruiter before you’re shortlisted or binned. You may have some great content, but how can you make sure it gets the attention it deserves? Not a lot can be read in six seconds, so it’s apparent that the structure and aesthetic of your CV has a big impact on the decision. While we give our applicants’ CVs a thorough read in the hunt for ‘diamonds in the rough’, we can’t make any guarantees beyond our desks. I’d like to think that the slower pace and smaller job market here would give New Zealand job seekers a better chance, but the underlying message is clear: you get one chance to stand out from the crowd, and you won’t get long. If your CV isn’t laid out clearly, effectively and professionally, you could be missing out on opportunities for all the wrong reasons.

Your CV is a marketing tool; your opportunity to sell yourself as the best candidate for the job. The following considerations will set you off on the right path and help convey a sense of competence and professionalism:

  • Decide on a clear and consistent structure from the outset. Sizes, weights, indents, margins and paragraph spacing of headings, subheadings, dates, body text, bullet lists etc. should be consistent throughout. Setting and using document styles (rather than direct formatting) will make everything a lot easier, and the end result will be much easier to digest.
  • Don’t cram it all together. Use a clear font size (below 10pt is getting squinty) and give sections enough paragraph spacing to be clearly distinguishable.
  • Pick a font and stick with it. More than two and it’ll start looking like a ransom note.
  • Check your spelling and grammar. Again.
  • Use the standard MS Word .doc format if possible. Although they’re nice and clean, PDFs are more difficult to work with (for the majority without Acrobat Pro), especially when your CV becomes part of a bigger document. Raw text files from notepad usually look unprofessional.
  • Your CV will often be read on-screen, so be conscious of the non-printed content. This includes table structure (do you really need a table inside a table?), empty table cells or text boxes and even your document properties.
  • Photos rarely help. We’re not models; this is IT.

If you’re stuck, our sample CV will provide a good starting point.

You wouldn’t show up to a job interview in stained pants and a t-shirt, so don’t send out your CV under-dressed. On the other hand, dressing up a CV can go too far; unless you’re a kids’ party entertainer, flashing text, WordArt and rainbow-filled meters won’t do you any favours. And please, don’t use Comic Sans. Ever.