Your CV layout matters more than you may think.

Before you can impress a recruiter with your skills, experience and accomplishments, you need to catch their eye. Your CV's visual style will make an impression long before a reader has even engaged with the content. There are hundreds of guides about what to include in your CV, but what should a CV look like?

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who sees your CV for the first time. What will they notice? Enormous blocks of text, poor spacing and distracting colours? Or clear and concise language, well laid out and properly organised under clear headings?

So, what does a CV look like? There is no single answer that applies to every industry, but these tips on how to lay out a CV will help you create a great-looking CV for any position.

Keep it simple

You may want your CV to stand out from the rest, but this doesn't mean it should be over the top. Avoid a busy CV with bright colours and crazy fonts. A recruiter is likely to just skip over it if it's too overwhelming, and it can often appear unprofessional.

When it comes to font, keep it simple and sensible. There are thousands of fonts out there ‒ more than anyone could ever need. Resist attempting to stand out by using an unusual or whacky font, or you may find yourself standing out for all the wrong reasons. Stick to the classics like Arial or Times New Roman.

The same applies to your use of colour. You should be restrained and professional. As with fonts, it can be tempting to use loud colours to create an eye-catching CV, but being too eye-catching can just end up being distracting.

As a rule of thumb, stick to black and white. It may feel boring to you, but a recruiter will better be able to focus on the content of your CV, rather than being distracted by colour.

Stay clear, consistent and organised

Content may be king in CVs, but how it is organised is just as important. When done well, this can make your content more accessible and gives it a well-ordered and presentable appearance. Knowing what to put in your CV is one thing, but without a solid CV layout, you risk your valuable content being lost to the eyes of a recruiter.

Start with clear headings, which will keep the content of your CV in order and make it easy to navigate. Clearly identify each section of your CV: your professional summary, your work experience, your skills, your education, etc. Even before a recruiter starts reading about your skills and experience, they should know where to go to find what they are looking for.

When adding your headings and formatting your CV, take care to keep it consistent and to line up text and borders. Otherwise, it won't just look sloppy — it can distract the reader by drawing their eye away from the text. You don't want anyone to miss your skills, experience or achievements because of a poorly formatted CV.

When laying out your CV, you may find yourself with empty areas between headings, sections and borders. You might feel tempted to fill in those blank spaces, but leaving appropriate empty space in margins and between paragraphs can make your CV easier to read and navigate.

Don't shy away from blank space, especially when the alternative is a cluttered CV with text crammed in every which way.

Choose your words ‒ and your paragraphs ‒ with care

A wall of text is a barrier. Just knowing a big paragraph lies ahead can wear a reader down before they even reach it. Recruiters are only human, after all, and like anyone, if they see huge walls of text, their eyes may glaze over; they may even skip your CV altogether. The bigger the wall, the harder it will be for a recruiter to get through it.

The same applies to the words you use. At first, this might not seem like visual advice. Isn't word choice a question of content? Yes, the meaning of a word conveys a message, but so does the way it appears on a page. If a reader sees too many long and complex words it can be overwhelming, especially if they are run together.

Relevant, well-chosen technical language is a huge advantage for a job in a specialised field, demonstrating your expertise and understanding ‒ but if you overdo it, the reader can see those long words coming, and they may be worn down before they've even read them.

You want to draw the eye to your main points, hook them in and keep them reading for more details. To do this, break up paragraphs wherever you can, make use of bullet points and consider using shorter sentences.

You want to make your CV as appealing and easy to read as you can — don't make the recruiter's job harder. The quicker and easier it is to scan your CV for the main selling points, the easier it is for a recruiter to be impressed by your skills and achievements.

How is your CV format? We'll give you feedback through our free CV critique. Submit yours here!

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