Top tips on how to stand out in your job application

Recently, the BBC reported that unemployment is at the highest it has been in three years and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said that redundancies have risen to their highest since 2009. These are just two of the many issues that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused.

With so many people looking for a new job, the competition is now fiercer than ever and could mean securing a job is harder than before. Recruiter Rebecca Headen from r13 recruitment agency shares her advice on what you can do to help your CV stand out: 

What is the best format for a CV?

“This depends on the job you are applying for. For the most part, the best formal CV format is clean, crisp and clear. The below reflects our suggested CV template which can be found below.

  • Use a standardised CV font (calibri / arial etc) in black on a white background.
  • Don’t incorporate multiple colours or images, you can run the risk of this looking unprofessional, unless you are a design expert.
  • Use headings / bold font / text boxes / increased font size to differentiate between the different elements of your CV and stick to a reverse chronological timeline
  • Use bullet points to transition between your various duties for each role
  • Prioritise the most relevant aspects of each of your job roles (to the job you are currently applying to) at the top of each job role heading
  • Include and exclude points dependent on the job you are applying for to keep it clear and concise
  • Conversely, if you are applying for a design led or creative role, your CV should showcase your own personal style and be reflective of the company’s style. I’ve heard of CV’s being on a pizza for a pizza company before – nothing is too out there!”

Whether you’re a recent graduate or someone who wants to switch career paths, a common concern is lack of experience. So Rebecca, what do you put on a CV if you have no experience? 

“If you have limited experience, it’s still important to build a CV. Research CV templates and CV formats online, and utilise and follow the previous advice I’ve given. Re-shuffle the format and if your education is the most relevant element of your CV application, then move this to the top, underneath your professional profile.

List the elements / units of study of your degree – again prioritising those at the top which are most relevant to the role you’re applying for. If possible include or list references from your lecturers. Be sure to list ANY work experience (including voluntary) you have had and consider your transferable skills, and list those.”

Many people will most likely have an idea of what you should include on a CV, but is there anything that shouldn’t be included in a CV? 

If you worked part time as a paperboy 20 years ago, consider whether this is relevant information to your current application for a Head of Sales role. You should be reviewing your CV every single time you send it to someone new and making sure it shouts out to the person looking at it about your suitability for their job. They shouldn’t need to search for the information they want to see in it, it should be crystal clear. If you need to strip back some information on some job roles which are less relevant to keep your CV short and sweet – do it. Just list the company, dates, your job title and reason for leaving, and this can be explored further at interview, if necessary. Ask yourself, if I was recruiting for this job and I looked at my CV, would I call me?”

What do employers look for?

“Employers are receiving hundreds of applications for every job they advertise at the moment. To stand out, you need to make it easy for an employer to see why they should hire you by delivering them a clear and easy to understand CV with your relevant skills highlighted. Additionally, you should consider how to sell yourself on a CV. 

Review the job ad, look at the companies profile and socials online, identify if you know anyone who can introduce you, do your research and this will help you distinguish if this is a company for you. Then let’s talk about how you can make your CV stand out by using your research: make sure you reflect what you find in your CV – utilise similar language and tone, refer to things you have seen that they have done which you admire, refer to things you think they can do better and what skills you have to help them to do that (politely!). 

Employers want to see quickly from a CV that someone has the skills, but they also want someone who specifically wants to work for THEIR business in the job that THEY have – a generic application just won’t cut it. Go the extra mile and make your CV stand out.”

However, there are companies, such as Advanced, that have taken a different approach when it comes to hiring. Having felt it was too restrictive, instead of using CVs to choose potential candidates, everyone who applies has to complete an online cognitive aptitude test, as well as a personality questionnaire. This helps employers to understand each candidate’s suitability for the roles, but also make sure the business is a good fit for the candidate.

Cognitive aptitude tests assess abilities involved in thinking, for example reasoning, perception, memory, verbal and mathematical ability, and problem solving. These tests pose questions designed to estimate applicants’ potential for using mental processes to solve work-related problems or acquiring new job knowledge. 

More information on this can be found at

Whatever the recruitment process, there are some key things to remember to get the most out of it:

  • Be authentic – recruiters will be looking at you as a person and your potential to do a role. You will have unique experiences and it’s about bringing those to the table and owning them rather than being overly formal. If you aren’t yourself and are trying to be something different, you are less likely to perform at your best.
  • Identify and build your transferable skills. You will have a wide skill set from previous roles that you may not even have acknowledged. You may think that you couldn’t solve a software technical error, but with training and support you will find it’s the exact same critical thinking that you would have applied when helping to solve a problem for a customer in a store, or a pupil you were helping to teach, for example. Communication, time management and problem-solving are just three transferable skills nearly everyone will have and develop, so consider when you have used those skills in your life.
  • Be open-minded. A lot of people talk about how they ‘fell into’ their role / job / career path. There are roles now that didn’t even exist five years ago, so how could anyone plan to go into that role? When starting out in your career, do not be afraid to acknowledge that you’re not sure what you want to do, or even what you’re good at. It’s about identifying these things along the way; you may find that you’re fantastic at managing projects, or at problem-solving technical issues. If you’re open to where you start, where you finish could be completely different.
  • Don’t be scared of failure – everyone experiences this to some degree and there is the opportunity to learn and grow from it. Nobody is perfect and will undoubtedly face some setbacks in life. Many people let a fear of failure stop them from performing as well as they can, but it is important to understand that it’s okay to fail. In the immortal words of Rocky: “It’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”.

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