Returning to work? You need these CV tips in your life

Confidence Trick

Writing a CV is not easy.  One of the hardest bits is selling all your skills and strengths – but hopefully, if you’ve read my last blog entry on turning two strengths into twelve, you’ve already done some work on this. Before I get on to share my CV tips, I want to highlight that if you haven’t written a CV for some time, there’s a very important change in the recruitment world that you must consider – which is that your CV may not be read by a human. Yes shocking!   All that work you put into making it look perfect and it’s shoved through an automated system.

There are exceptions to this, small companies that recruit directly will probably still read your CV, but larger organisations and recruitment companies mostly use something called ATS – it stands for Applicant Tracking System – and its main job is to match keywords on your CV to keywords in the job description.

The ATS gives your CV a percentage score based on what the company has decided it’s looking for, and if your score on matching keywords is not high enough, sadly your CV will be rejected at this stage.

So the number one rule and CV tip is to make sure you carefully tailor your CV to match as many keywords as possible from the job description. For example, if the job description requires face-to-face customer contact; problem-solving; client management; event coordination; make sure you include mention of these in both a key skills section on your CV and in your career history so they are picked up by the ATS.

As well as keywords, there are some other important things you need to watch out for with ATS: 

  1. Don’t use fancy fonts – ATS readers don’t like them (and nor do most human readers) – keep it nice and simple.  I mostly use Calibri font these days, Cambria is also professional-looking but Arial and Times New Roman are probably a bit old-fashioned now.
  2. Don’t use columns or text boxed sections – as above, just keep it clean and straightforward.
  3. Don’t send your CV as a PDF as some ATS readers can’t open PDFs. MS Word is best.

Once your CV has made it past the ATS machine, a human will then read it – unfortunately, this may be along with a big pile of other CVs. So give some consideration to the person (such as me in a previous life) who has to wade through these CVs, and consider the following CV tips:     

  1. CVs are best read without squinting! Font size 9 or 10 are too small. Size 11 is ideal. And size 12 is a bit too large and clunky.
  2. Recruiters scan read CVs in about 10 seconds – make sure the layout is quick and easy to follow.
  3. The decision to pass applicants to the next stage, i.e. an interview, is mostly made by the end of the first page so try to make sure all your good and relevant stuff is on page 1.
  4. A maximum of 2 pages is the ideal (although there are some exceptions to this.)
  5. Use black font only – if your CV is printed out in black & white, any coloured text will be grey – which equals more squinting!

One other CV tip I want to mention is about covering a career break on a CV. My advice here is to simply explain it in one line, e.g. Dates followed by “Career break to raise family” – no need to dwell on it further than that.  If you have maybe studied, taken exams or volunteered during a career break this could get a mention but again, only if it’s relevant – otherwise, treat a career break exactly as it is – a fact of life.

My final CV tip is, take your time in writing your CV.  A good CV can’t be written in a few minutes. Start it, save it, go away and come back to it and you’ll find you’ve thought of more skills to include. Or consider having it professionally written to give you an excellent targeted CV which you can then tailor going forwards.

I hope you found these CV tips useful. f you would like a free CV review, please email me your current CV to – I will review your CV and provide you with a written response with advice on how you could improve it and send you a free CV template to try.

Sandie Reed is a Career Development Coach who specialises in supporting and encouraging women to maximise their potential. You can contact Sandie via her website 

She also co-runs Back to Work Workshops for women looking to return to work after a career break – details can be found at  

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