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Hack your CV: Top 5 Tips for making your CV stand out from the rest

Specialist Recruiter James Liddell explains how you can give your CV the best possible chance to get in front of a hiring manager.

Right now, on just one of the job boards we use to advertise our roles, one of the positions we’re hiring for has 516 applicants. That’s not including the applicants we’ve actively sourced, or applications on any of the other job boards we use, we receive through our website or LinkedIn. Let that sink in. 516 applicants. It’s an Assistant-level role, suitable for someone with one to two years’ experience out of university, paying in the mid-£20Ks. If that describes that kind of role you’re looking for, you might feel a bit disheartened – even panicked, maybe. How on earth can you compete with 515 other people? The good news is, there are ways to make sure that you can compete.

Now I’m not going to tell you to make sure that your CV is free of spelling errors and grammatical mistakes – that should be a given. Word has a spelling and grammar check; you have no excuse. What I am going to tell you are the techniques and tricks I’ve learned as an HR practitioner and specialist recruiter, which will make your CV stand out above the rest.

  • Apply early

We pride ourselves on being thorough, which means that we’ve gone through every one of those 516 applicants. It doesn’t take too long – after you’ve looked through thousands of CVs in your career you learn the shortcuts in how to read them. However, not all recruitment agencies are as thorough as we are. They may be pushed for time, or have too many roles on to give each one their full attention. These recruiters might only review the first 10% or 20% of the applications they receive. By the time an advert has been up for two weeks, they’ve probably stopped looking at new applications. So don’t delay – if you see a role you like, apply for it straight away. If you think your CV was a perfect match and you’re frustrated that you didn’t hear back from the recruiter, it could be that you were just too late. Most job sites allow you to set up e-mail alerts for the kinds of jobs you’re looking for, so you can be sure to apply as soon as they come in.

  • Keep it updated

Make sure that you keep your CV, LinkedIn and job site profiles up to date. For your CV, make sure you’re updating the tenses in your roles. When I read a CV that says “I currently manage a team of 5” in a role that is two or three jobs ago, it isn’t that “current” and just appears sloppy – clearly that “great attention to detail” you’ve bragged about in your cover letter isn’t all that great!

Make sure you keep your job site and LinkedIn profiles up to date too. Recruiters may have a finite number of CVs they can look at every day, but they can see a basic profile. If your basic profile says you’re looking for £30,000 but you last updated that 10 years ago and you’re now looking for £60,000, you will continue to be contacted about roles at the lower level. Similarly, update your roles – it’s frustrating when I see someone who looks like they’ve been working in a role from 2015 to present, only to find out when I see their CV that they did that role for 6 months before moving on to something else. The more accurate your profiles are, the more appropriate the jobs you’ll be approached about will be. And if you’ve found a job, deactivate your profile on job sites – then we’ll stop pestering you!

You may not know this, but on a lot of job sites recruiters can see when you last logged in. The default search may return people who last logged in two or three months ago, but if you last logged into a job site two months ago it’s probably because you’ve found a job in the meantime. So, we’ll usually change the search terms to only return people who have logged in within the last two weeks. If you’re looking for work, make sure you’re logging into job sites on a regular basis, to make sure you’re at the top of the list.

  • Bullet Points

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far down the blog! Many people will have stopped reading by now. Why? Because this is text-heavy and you’re busy people. The same is true of hiring managers and recruiters. You have to imagine that this is the 50th CV they’ve looked at that day. It’s nearly the weekend, they’re tired and distracted. You have to make it as easy as possible for them to hire you. This means that your CV shouldn’t be a wall of text. It’s not an essay, break it up into bullet points – one bullet for each responsibility or achievement in a role.

  • Relevant and Impressive

How do you know what bullet points to use? Remember these two words – Relevant and Impressive. The first bullet points should be relevant to the role and impressive – so the reader is thinking “This is exactly what I’m looking for, and wow!”. Think big budget, big impact or complicated points. Don’t overdo it though – try to explain what you did without showing off. Avoid adjectives like “amazing” and “brilliant” when describing what you’ve done. And be honest; if you worked as a Sales Assistant don’t try to claim that dealing with customers was really client management, or that working the till was financial planning.

The next few bullet points should be those that are relevant, but not necessarily impressive – the day-to-day, business as usual stuff. You want the recruiter or hiring manager to think “This person is capable of doing the same sort of thing that we’re doing”. The final bullet points should be impressive, but not necessarily relevant – projects you managed, or impressive tasks you completed that don’t have anything to do with the role you’re applying for but do show what you’re capable of.

If a point isn’t relevant or impressive… what is it doing in your CV?

  • Names and Numbers

Which of the following sentences sounds more impressive?

“I handled accounts for several clients, ensuring profitability while managing a small team of account executives”


“I handled accounts for clients including Facebook, The British Government and Mercedes-Benz, delivering a profit of £1,000,000 in 2016-17 while managing a team of six Account Executives”.

It’s the second one, right? Names and Numbers add flavour and character to a CV. Going back to the previous point, they allow recruiters and hiring managers to draw parallels with their own experience, and they also allow you to show off without bragging. Names should be big clients you’ve worked with, or famous people you convinced to get on board with a project, or leaders in the field you’re applying to. Sometimes, you might have signed a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting you from naming who you worked with. If that’s the case it’s fine, try to name them in the abstract – “A Big Four consultancy firm”, “A national broadcaster”, “A Member of Parliament”. This can be difficult if you work in back-office roles like HR, IT or Finance – instead the Names are likely to come from organisations you’ve worked for, or institutions you’ve gained an education or qualifications from.

Numbers can be the size of budgets you’ve managed, or teams you’ve led. They can be targets you’ve hit (or exceeded), profit you’ve made, loss you’ve saved. You might think “I’m in a junior role, I haven’t done any of those things”. Be creative. How many phone calls were you handling every day? How many cases were you dealing with every week? How many customers did you serve in a month? Or maybe you came up with a new way of doing something that cut down the time it took to do that thing – how much time did you save? This is your opportunity to show a prospective employer the sorts of things you can achieve.

These tips won’t magically give you experience that you don’t have, or get you a job after the post has been filled – but they will give you a good chance of getting your CV seen by the right people, and of selling yourself in the right way.


For more information on the roles we are currently recruiting for, check out our website.

Join us for our next networking event on Wednesday 25th October in Central London…

Getting ahead of the crowd – how to write the perfect CV!

Are you at a crossroads in your career, do you need some inspiration to move on, get a promotion or even change sectors? Join us for our next networking event where we’ll be sharing some top tips on getting ahead in your career, with particular emphasis on getting your CV noticed. After the talk, members of the I Am Recruiting team will be available to discuss your career aspirations and provide advice and guidance.

Did you know that the average recruiter spends less than 30 seconds looking at each CV, and statistically, less than 2% of all CVs get shortlisted for roles? You don’t need to be reminded that competition for all jobs is fierce, and popular roles can receive hundreds of applications – either CVs, application forms or covering letters – or a combination of all three. But how do you ensure that your application is taken seriously, and you don’t end up with just another rejection?

As well as receiving expert tips from the presentation, the networking aspect of this event will help you to build your career networks with others in the non-profit, professional membership and association sectors.


6.00 – 6.45pm     Registration and networking

6.45 – 7.30pm     How to write the perfect CV, James Liddell, I Am Recruiting


7.30 – 9.00pm     Networking

See full details


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