I’ve seen, read, designed, discarded, and sent hundreds of CVs. It’s amazing how such a basic document is still a mystery. There are whole businesses built around helping people produce their CVs.
How about starting by thinking about a CV differently? I got this idea during my first job when I faced the same dilemma every young person faces: nothing to put in there. As I had plenty of space left, I decided to write down what I wished it would say. This way, it stopped being a history report and turned into a career plan.
I had that next sales job, and the first management position in there, and I was looking for a way to connect the dots. What got you here won’t get you there, they say. When you look at it like this, you stop looking for jobs and start choosing them. That’s easy to say, but it’s another way of dressing for the job you want. Knowing what you want next helps with daily prioritization and making the right choices. Once you know where you want to go and how to get there, it’s easy to say Yes to the right things.
Being creative with a CV is easy when you’re young and inexperienced and there’s not much to put in there. But the real challenge is doing this after a number of working years when you might have done five or ten different jobs, oftentimes at different companies.
I’ve seen people trying to switch careers and being proud of their multi-page CVs. That might work for academia, but it’s useless for a corporate job.
Who's it for? What's it for?
We have to start by asking ourselves What is this for? Who’s it for? The purpose of the CV isn’t to brag about all your achievements or to have a written record of every training course you’ve ever taken. The CV is part of the hiring process, a form, part of the whole courting dance. It’s used and abused and then discarded.
My perspective is, that CV is to get a foot in the door, and get past the first filters — which might be an agency, and/or internal recruiters, and all the obstacles on the path to the hiring manager.
Recruiters don't recruit
I won’t make any friends by saying this out loud, but the recruiter’s job is not to recruit — it’s to filter out and disqualify all the inappropriate candidates.
When a hiring manager has an open position, tens, hundreds, even thousands of applications might come in. Especially nowadays, when it’s so easy to click Apply. I’ve had openings with nearly a thousand applications. The recruiter’s job is to filter those down to something a hiring manager can digest — ten, maybe fifteen.
When tens, hundreds, or even more CVs flow in, your CV is basically a marketing tool for raising attention. Its job is to catch that second glance amongst thousand others, and it has to be nice enough that someone is okay, maybe even proud to pass it to the next level.
Enter a single-page CV
That's difficult with years of experience, so you’ll have to decide which of the great successes to highlight.
And because nobody reads anything these days, you have to stick to the bullet points and single line as much as possible. The rest of the data can be copy/pasted during submission. However, those things mainly stay within HR — hiring managers rarely look at any of that :-)
Design and adjust for machine-reading.
Below is an example of my CV. If I'd send it somewhere, I'd adjust some details and highlight the wording to fit the job description — these days a lot of CVs are uploaded into AI-powered tools that filter out whatever doesn't have certain keywords that fit the job description (so most CVs never even make it to an actual human).
So here’s some quick & dirty CV advice:
- a nice, single-page CV with a photo,
- the rest of the stuff on LinkedIn (Xing, if you’re in the DACH markets)
- after the call with a recruiter (or before meeting the hiring manager): send the rest of the details as a follow-up (full experience + some recommendations)
The objective is to make it to the interview where you can do your social magic. Nobody gets hired because of a CV, but with a bad one, you won’t even stand a chance.
If for any reason, you do need a full extended CV, then Europass might be a great start. It helps you produce a nice-looking PDF based on your inputs.