Does a "Stand Out" CV mean that the person with the most impressively designed CV will win the job?

The point that I keep bringing my clients back to when responding to the question of using eye catching, fancy templates, is “put yourself in the position of the employer”.  You’re about to pay someone tens of thousands of dollars a year – do you hire them on the strength of an exceptionally colourful and striking looking CV format, or do you hire them because the content shows they can do the job?  It’s a no brainer – at the end of the day, overly fancy designs have very little impact on gaining interviews beyond someone perhaps thinking “wow, that’s a nice design”.  

You’ll be hired because you have demonstrated to a hiring manager that you have the skills, knowledge, experience and attitude that make you a good financial investment for the employer on an ongoing basis – you’re a proven performer, and words demonstrate this, not colours.

There are some CV services that design CVs with bright colours, custom typesetting, and fancy design elements. They’re beautiful — and they’re often a turn-off to employers.  I have personally sat in the room with a top level QC Barrister while he was looking at CVs while in the process of hiring a new Executive Assistant – he threw all the CVs with overly fancy layouts into the bin without even reading them with an exclamation of disgust!

Here’s the impression that an employer can get when they see some of these over the top “designer” CVs:  Does this person think that their skills and achievements won’t speak for themselves? Do they not understand what our business is looking for? Do they put an inappropriate emphasis on appearance over substance?

In my professional experience, job-seekers are told that they need to “stand out” in the crowd (and our website advertises this also).  But focusing on the “looks” rather than the “quality of content” is not the way to do it.  The way to stand out is by being a highly qualified candidate with a CV that shows a track record of achievement, the desired skills, a great cover letter, and having a great attitude and work ethic, along with a passion for what they do and a drive to succeed.

I read an article recently by a recruiter that stated: “Standing out” isn’t about sending in an aesthetically gorgeous document — although the companies making money from that idea would like you to believe it is. “Standing out” is about the strength of your candidacy, which is something you can’t buy or fake or promote through even the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful font choice.

Some hiring managers may respond to the use of “in your face” templates, but we have discovered that they’re in the minority.  The most effective CVs in our many years of experience are the ones that are well set out with the information employers are looking for readily available, free from grammatical and spelling errors, and rich in content.  Understated, classy formats and strong words will get you into your new job quicker in the long run.



What information should you include in your CV?

Potential employers are looking for a document that proves why you're the ideal candidate to invest their time and money in.  Essentially it's a sales brochure, highlighting the unique selling points that make you stand out from the crowd.   

I had a very interesting discussion recently with a NZ recruitment specialist – she told me she was with 10 other leading specialists talking about how a CV should look today.  Every person there had a different opinion and no two people could agree on what a CV should look like! There's no universally accepted format, but your CV should cover the following elements. 


Personal details– name, address, one contact phone number and email address, enabling employers to contact you quickly and easily.  Nationality, age and date of birth are not necessary.

Professional Profile– a short introductory paragraph that sums up your experience and key offerings.  Rather than include a generic objective such as “seeking to work in a progressive company with opportunity for advancement”, a strong statement on planned career pathway can be more effective.

Career Overview– one line for each role showing job title, company name and dates.  This enables employers to see where you have worked and when without having to scan through the document, and will help them to make a decision quicker on getting you in for interview.

Key Achievements– the most effective CVs in today’s market are those that show employers what you have achieved for previous employers. Anybody can say that they are a great “team player”, but if you can demonstrate that you were a key member of a team that developed a process for simplifying customer interactions, which directly resulted in a savings of $X to the company, then you have made a strong impact with the employer already.  Skills are important – achievements are irrefutable.

Qualifications and training– if you have a Postgraduate Diploma or Degree, you don’t need to include pre-university education.  If possible, include any voluntary training you have undergone that is relevant.  Put the latest qualification first.

Technology– this is often left out in CVs, yet we live in a computer driven world and most employers are going to want to know that you have a degree of technical understanding and can find your way around a computer.



Professional experience – this is where you go into more detail on your work experience.  List your most recent position first, continuing in reverse chronological order including the name, location, website, brief description of the business and dates of your employment for each company you have worked for. Aim to use bullet points to highlight your responsibilities and achievements in each role so the person scanning your CV can quickly match up your experience with their job description. 

Hobbies and interests – 99% of the time, these should not be included. Keep the document concise and professional in format and in content. 

Personal details – one of the first things an employer is going to want to know, is whether you are legally entitled to work in New Zealand. It’s important to be up front about this.  Other things to include in this section are any languages, professional memberships, volunteer experience and certificates/licences.  It's not necessary to list referees on your CV, but you should state that details are available on request. 

The purpose of a CV is to get you an interview. Remember you're not writing a CV for yourself, you for your reader. 

Things to watch out for:

  • Resist the urge to jazz up your CV with images or colour.

  • Steer clear of long paragraphs. 

  • Bold type can be effective, but don't overdo it. 

  • Underlining should be reserved for website links only. 

  • Avoid font sizes smaller than 10.5pt. 

  • Don't use txt speak and only use abbreviations if they're universally known. 

And finally… 

  • Check for spelling or grammatical errors – do a manual and automated check, as computerised spell checkers often miss important things.