What Makes A CV (Resume) Outstanding?
An outstanding CV or resume is crucial in landing your professional dream job. It's so important for a few reasons. First, it determines whether or not an actual human being from the human resources (HR) departments looks at your resume. If a CV is not good enough, it doesn't even pass the HR systems phase (sometimes called ATS or applicant tracking system). Second, a recruiter typically looks at a CV for 10 seconds before potentially dismissing a candidate. You don't want to be dismissed in this early scan. Finally, when companies consider you more carefully as a candidate, they deep-dive into your history and experiences (or rather: the way that you presented it in the CV). So this needs to be on point. But how?
If a good CV is so important, what makes a CV outstanding? If we know this, we know a key piece in our journey to land our dream job in the Netherlands. In fact, a good CV can help you land your dream job in 2-4 months, a timeline typical for the people I work with. This is much better than the months or even years that people normally struggle with the job search process. In this blog article, we'll go over a few key reasons that make a CV good. I promise you these will be the most valuable tips you can get for writing a strong CV, as they are based on my extensive experience in coaching professionals from the international community to find their dream job in the Netherlands.
What is an outstanding CV?
Before we really get into it, let's first consider what an outstanding CV is. It may help to determine what it is not, as a lot of candidates get this wrong. An outstanding CV is NOT:
A standardized document that is the same for every job;
A fantastic looking document that catches the eye of the recruiter;
A list of your past employers or education institutions.
So, if an outstanding is none of those things. What is it? In short, a CV is outstanding if it gets you invited to the interview. Or, in other words, if the rate of conversion from sending it to getting an interview is high. To do that, it needs to successfully reposition you in the Dutch labour market. To explore that further, let's consider the concept of a job application funnel.
The job search funnel
We can think of the job search in terms of a typical "funnel" where each application goes through multiple stages and only some of the applications proceed. For example, imagine you send 100 applications. What happens to those? If you are a typical applicant who doesn't use my methods, you may experience the following:
You send 100 applications
80 of those get processed by HR systems
You pass the ATS test for 20, so that an HR person looks at it.
You get invited for 10 interviews.
You pass the first round with 5.
You get to the final round with 3.
You may get 1 job offer.
As you can see, the number at each step grows smaller, which is why this is called a "funnel". When considering your CV and whether or not it is outstanding, you can look at the first few steps. Are you getting responses at all? That is, do you pass the ATS test from HR systems? If not, you might be missing important keywords or the layout of your CV is not easy to read for machines. Maybe you are getting responses, but only negative ones? Then your CV's quality is not good enough and you can work on increasing it by showcasing more interesting experiences and numbers, for example.
Thinking of your job search in terms of a funnel also allows you to carefully analyse each step. Perhaps you are not getting any interviews. Then your problem lies in the first steps. Or you get lots of interviews, but no offers. Then we know we need to work on either your selection process or your interview performance. In general, you want to go for quality over quantity to get good results.
While this is really helpful advice for analysing your specific situation, you may also be wondering where to start. What makes a CV a great CV great in the first place? The answer may surprise you...
There is no such thing as an amazing CV by itself
A big mistake job applicants make is thinking there is such a thing as an outstanding CV by itself. Because of this belief, they may even hire a "CV writer" to write their CV for them. I understand. When I first entered the job market, I also thought this may be a good idea. But it's really not for several reasons. Let me tell you why:
You need to be able to sell yourself. It's a fundamental skill. You'll need it in your job interviews, in your job, and in your future networking. So it's best to learn it yourself rather than outsource it.
There is no "good CV" by itself. Your CV will need to be different for each job application, because each job description asks for a different skillset. That is why it's so important to truly understand a job description well.
Only YOU know yourself really well. A CV writer can ask you some questions and make something fancy, but it will typically feel stale and standard. Not quite perfect for the job, and not quite extraordinary in the eyes of the recruiter. Not the result that you want.
But there are some requirements...
Just because a resume isn't amazing all by itself, doesn't mean that there aren't any guidelines you can follow thankfully! There are definitely some do's and don'ts. As for things that your CV should do, you can start with the following:
Create a strong match with the job description
Don't forget to include important keywords
Include numbers and KPIs from your previous work
Be clear and concise (no more than 2 pages for jobs in the Netherlands)
Of course, there are also some things to avoid:
Avoid making a CV so 'pretty' that it's hard to read for ATS systems or computers. Keep it simple!
Don't only talk about responsibilities. Instead, focus on achievements and numbers as outlined above.
Don't send the exact same CV to multiple companies!
If you want to know more, check out my free training
We've explored a few concepts in this post. First, an outstanding resume is one that gets you the interview and has a good conversion rate. We also looked at the concept of a job search funnel to further understand that. We then noted that a CV is never great by itself, and that it's always good in relation to a particular job. Of course, that doesn't mean there are no good tips to be given. I shared a few do's and don'ts that I often see which hopefully help you out in your job search.
If you want to know more or if you are losing confidence in your job search, I recently made a free video training on how to write an outstanding CV and land your dream job in the Netherlands. You can view it here completely for free, no strings attached.