How to boost your CV to impress employers – and the keywords you need to beat the system


THOUSANDS of Brits are job hunting after the coronavirus pandemic left businesses crippled and forced workers to be furloughed or made redundant.

Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics said the number of unemployed people in Britain had risen by 649,000 after dozens of companies went bust.

Jobseekers can improve their chances of getting interviews by changing their CVs

Retail chain M&S is the latest casualty – announcing on Monday it is axing 950 jobs.

But people who are looking for jobs may be missing out on getting interviews just because their CV hasn’t been written or styled properly.

Recruitment firm Collingwood said the average time spent looking at a CV is five to seven seconds, meaning that you have just a limited amount of time to impress your next boss.

Lots of companies nowadays also use something called an Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, which is a type of software that sifts through CVs to find the best person for the job.

We’ve created some guidance of what to include and what not to include in your CV when applying for jobs and how you can get around the ATS system.

Tailor your CV to the job you’re applying for

When you find an advert you want to apply for, ask yourself the following questions. Am I the right person for the job? Do I have enough experience? Do my skills match what they’re asking for?

If you answer yes to all of these, then it’s a good idea to apply.

Go through the application and see what keywords and phrases they’ve used in the advert and include them in your CV.

When writing your CV, create clear, concise sections which all fit on to one page. Anything too long won’t be read by your future employer – think of how many they have to get through.

If you need advice about how to structure your CV, Debut Careers has a CV tool which helps you see how to write it.

Avoid “fluff” language

When employers look for keywords in CVs, they won’t be looking for adjectives, so anything like “outgoing”, “passionate”, “smart” needs to be cut out.

What they will do is look for key skills and that your previous experience matches what they’re looking for.

Don’t write your CV in the third person either. Research from job advice company Twin Employment said 43 per cent of CVs are discarded because they are written in third person, so just keep the language clear and concise.

Keywords you need to know

The role of the ATS system is to go through applications and pick out keywords in them.

The people with the highest number of keywords, or that match the job description the best, are then passed on to the managers who do the interviews.

This means that people who apply for jobs who include certain things, such as words that don’t match the job advert, bad formatting or fluffy language will be binned by the system as it won’t be read properly.

CV advice company, CV Library, says around 75 per cent of CVs are rejected by the automated systems because they don’t include the right information.

To give your CV the best chance of getting through, include the following details:

Correct wording: If you’re a marketing manager, you may need to change your title to head of marketing or marketing communications manager, product manager or brand manager, depending on the job advert’s description.

Don’t shorten words: Keep words in their original form, rather than shortened versions. So if you work in Human Resources, don’t say you have experience as an HR manager. Or if you’re an Excel expert, the ATS may be searching for someone who has “experience with spreadsheets,” so make sure you write that instead.

But, make sure you don’t copy and paste directly from the advert into your CV. The ATS system has a tool which stops people trying to cheat the system by just copying and pasting the advert into their applications.

The best thing to do is to include the key words by matching them to your skills and adding in context to it so it reads well too.

Formatting: Your CV should also avoid the following style features as they won’t be picked up by the ATS system.

  • Graphics or symbols of any kind, except for simple bullet points (like this one)
  • Lots of different fonts (styles, sizes or colours). Stick to two or three maximum
  • Capitalisation for section headers, such as ‘PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE’
  • Tables (use tabs instead)
  • Photographs – These aren’t read properly, so don’t include them on your CV

Your contact information should be clear and professional

You know that embarrassing email address you set up when you were 14? Well that shouldn’t be included in your job application.

Just something simple like your first name and last name would do well for your prospective employers.

Make sure also that your contact information is at the top of your CV too under your name.

If you are concerned about putting your full address, you can just put the street, town or city and first part of the postcode as well as a phone number and email address.

  • Street address
  • Town/city
  • Postcode
  • Number
  • Email address
  • Professional social media pages – for example a LinkedIn profile

Search for your name on the internet and see what comes up

Think about how often you use a search engine to find something.

Employers may do that with you too, so try and search for yourself and see what comes up.

If your social media pages show up and are public, make sure that everything that features is PG friendly. Anything that isn’t, delete it or make it private.

If you think about photographs of you partying, arguing with people on social media or anything too personal could put off employers from bringing you in for an interview.

Check, check and check again

Before you send off your CV, read through it one last time. Is everything formatted properly? Have you used the same font and size of text all the way through? Are there any spelling or grammar mistakes in there?

You could also ask a friend or family member to look over it too before you send it off as they might be able to spot a mistake you might have missed.

Remember to check when the deadline for the job is and try to apply within good time of the closing date to give you the best chance of getting an interview.

Meanwhile, four million women could be forced to work longer or survive off smaller pensions if a change in change in state pension age goes ahead.

If you’re on Universal Credit, you could get an extra two weeks of pay once you are moved over to the new system on Wednesday.

And if you’re worried about going back to work because of Covid-19, we’ve created a guide about your rights when returning to the office.