A modern CV is part art and part science. The science is knowing how to get past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that most recruiters and hiring managers now use. The art is knowing how to make your CV enticing, so when it gets in front of a real live human they read past the headline.

Here are seven tried and tested professional CV writing tips to help you make the shortlist pile rather than the reject bin:

Start with key questions
It might seem counter intuitive, as many people think CVs are just about selling yourself, but time spent on a little career introspection at this stage will pay off. You need to have a clear idea about what you are trying to achieve. So start by asking yourself questions like these:

  • Who is your target company or target sector?
  • Are you looking for a career progression or a complete change?
  • Are you returning from a career break?

Custom fit
Next, look at some job descriptions and candidate specifications for the role you want. You will need to tailor your CV specifically to each role. The closer you can match titles, skills and achievements, the more you enhance your chances of success.
What skills are they looking for? Why would they pick you over potentially hundreds of other candidates? Make a list of the skills and experiences you have that match their requirements.

Play by the rules
Of course, you want the company to recognise your unique selling points. But your CV needs to get past the ATS first before it goes to a human. The ATS works like a search engine – scanning documents for key words. That means you must identify the key words from the job description – and then use them.

Generally, your CV should be no more than two sides (although there are some exceptions for project roles). Lay it out clearly and use a professional-looking font. Write in the third person singular and ditch the pronouns.  It can be a challenge to distill a long or varied career into two pages. That’s what makes job-specific CV writing such an art.

Now stand out
Some people have no trouble highlighting their career achievements. Others find it quite difficult and many even assume they have none. Yet, we know for a fact that everyone has them. The problem is you often take them for granted because they are part of your daily work. You just need to remind yourself of them.
Start by jotting down what you do on a day-to-day basis. Now identify the sorts of problems and challenges you overcome every day. What savings have you made? Remember, small but frequent savings can add up to a substantial amount over a year. What do people praise or thank you for, what amazing feedback have you got?

Cherry pick
Instead of trying to cram 20+ years of career details on two sides of A4, highlight exceptional projects, skills and experience that align with your target role. Facts and figures are a great way to reinforce your results and achievements. If you can quantify results with numbers of people, sums of money or percentages, it will help you standout as authentic and credible.

Hook them
Think about the last story you read in a newspaper, magazine or blog. What piqued your interest and enticed you to read on? Probably an interesting snippet of what was to come. Perhaps it zeroed in on some outstanding facts or experience but in a conversational and compelling way. That’s the crucial art to writing your executive summary. It can’t be dry and boring otherwise the reader won’t feel energised to read on.

There’s no margin for error
Check, check and check again. There is no margin for spelling, grammar or formatting mistakes. Companies reject huge numbers of CVs simply for these basic errors; make sure yours isn’t one of them. Print your CV and read it out loud and, if possible, ask a friend to proofread it as well.