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5 CV rules you need to break

If you want to get the attention of a potential employer you need to show some personality – and sometimes, that means breaking the rules.

5 CV rules you need to break

Your CV needs to do more than just convey factual information about your skills, experience and education. If you want to get the attention of a potential employer you need to show some personality – and sometimes, that means breaking the rules.

Rule to break #1 – Keep it formal

The problem with formal CVs is that they can be so devoid of personality, they are boring. To make it worse, using stock phrases to describe yourself such as "dynamic" and "motivated self-starter" are clichés that make you sound like everyone else.

'CVs can feel a bit like they've been written by a robot – the correct keywords, achievement structured to match the job in question, no pronouns and only hobbies that are relevant to the job,' says Sarah Archer, career coach and co-founder of CareerTree.

'The hiring manager wants to know that you can do the job, but they also want to get a feel for whether you will fit into the team and culture, and whether you have the energy and interest to commit to the role and the company.

'If you want to stand out from the crowd, show some personality. Think about your unique story and how to communicate your choices, what you enjoy about work and what you bring to the workplace besides your achievements.

'Don't be afraid to break conventional rules that say you can't use the word 'I' on your CV or can't write in full sentences. Give your CV a human voice – not that of a robot.'

Rule to break #2 – Stick to a chronological format

If you are looking for a change of career, then a chronological CV may not be the best format for you.

'It will just emphasise that your last job is very different from the one you're applying to,' explains Corinne Mills of Personal Career Management and author of Career Coach.

'Instead, choose a functional CV with a headline on the first page like "Relevant Skills and Experience," that includes everything you have ever done that demonstrates your suitability for the job you want. This might include previous experience, qualifications, training, voluntary work, etc.

'On the second page you can write your 'Career History' with previous roles and dates of employment - but hopefully you will have persuaded them that you're a great candidate on page one.'

Rule to break #3 – Keep it text only

Job seekers have been told to keep CVs plain and functional, but sometimes a little visual flair will get you noticed.

'If you are going for a creative role, then the way you present your CV will be an important indicator of your creativity,' says Corinne.

'Be inventive with design, graphics, colour, and use an interesting layout. Save it as a PDF to preserve the format. However, just be aware that PDFs are not readable by all recruitment software so check before you send it, in case you need to send a standard CV version too.'

Rule to break #4 – Avoid gimmicks

Job hunters are warned to avoid gimmicks, but depending on the role and sector, taking a risk could land you an interview.

'CV formatting has remained fairly static over the last five years. There was a little flurry of excitement around infographics and video CVs but they haven't really taken off, probably because recruiters tend to err on the conservative and stick with the approach they feel works best,' says Sarah.

'However, you do hear of innovative ideas that sparked a hiring manager's interest - the comic strip CV or the one delivered with muffins and coffee, which resulted in an interview.'

While some sectors demand formality, others, such as advertising and PR, offer an opportunity to have some fun.

Corinne says: 'Look for ways to get the recruiter's attention but make sure that the medium you use is appropriate to the company and role. For example, a chocolate bar wrapped in your CV would be ideal for a marketing role within a chocolate manufacturing company.

'Do send a conventional CV alongside it. Once you've got the recruiter's attention, they will need to have some factual information about you too.'

Rule to break #5 – Keep it impersonal

Digital recruitment is now so widespread that the old days of sending a CV by post or even email seems to have passed. However, it's always worth checking whether you can make some personal contact with the hiring manager prior to handing in your CV.

'It's a chance to sell yourself in person as someone who is suitable and keen. You may also glean some information that the job description may have played down,' says Corinne.

'Even if you can't speak to the hiring manager or hand your CV over personally, it's worth doing some research. Look them up on social media – what groups and debates have they participated in on LinkedIn, have they published a blog post about their sector, what industry event have they spoken at recently? This kind of information can help you to write a more targeted CV and covering letter.'