Make Your CV Stand Out from the Crowd

Mark Swain is an experienced recruiter. His years as a headhunter, and then employer, mean he has seen thousands of CVs and interviewed countless candidates for junior and senior positions, so he has plenty of stories to tell … but that’s for another day!  We asked him to share his tips on how to stand out from the crowd, even as a new graduate with little experience to shout about.



Mark explains first impressions start with your CV and covering letter. So how are you going to make a good one and get yourself on the list of people to interview?
Here are his six tips:


1. Please answer the brief

That might sound like advice for interviews, but it applies just as much to the CV and covering letter. You must tailor your CV and cover letter to the role. I can’t stress this enough. If there’s a list of requirements, address them directly. If there is a brief, then answer it. If there are specific instructions, then follow them. And in your own words, not stock phrases. If you don’t have the time to tailor your application, then there is no point in applying. Those who have made the effort, even if it’s not in perfect prose, will capture recruiters’ attention. Generic applications shout that you can’t be bothered. You can be anything you want in life, but make sure you’re bothered and not indifferent.



2. Stick to two pages

This should be easy for recent graduates, as most won’t have enough relevant experience to fill more than a single side of A4. You should always aim to exclude irrelevant information, which may detract from other more important points. Up to 90% of recruiters say that two pages is the perfect length (depending on the role and industry – so do double check). More than two pages imply you’re either a job-hopper, or you can’t write concisely.



3. Watch for grammar and typos

Recruiters see plenty of CVs and covering letters that make little sense, and many more that are just sloppy with language. If you’re sloppy in a CV, what does that say about you as a potential employee? Well, it hints that you’ll probably be a bit slapdash, and no one wants that. So get someone else to read your CV to triple check for mistakes!



4. Trick and cheat the machines

OK, so you can’t cheat the machines. It’s like going through an airport scanner. It’ll find on your person anything you should have packed in your suitcase, or placed in your hand luggage. Machines will find you out, so you just have to play the game. With more and more recruiters using software and AI to filter out unsuitable candidates, you have to first get past the robots. The only simple advice is to absolutely follow the instructions given, and then to make sure your CV and application contain all the keywords in the job specification. Without insulting your intelligence, if the role requires something specific e.g. management experience, literally say the words ‘management experience’ somewhere, and not ‘leadership’ or ‘manager’, or ‘managing people’. Machines think literally. So act literally.



5. No to novelty

Be careful about introducing novelty in your CV to make yourself stand out. It might be a plus for creative industries, but as a general rule, font variation, borders, colour, shade and images can look naff to the reader. So consider what’s appropriate for the specific role and industry when deciding on your format. And scrap your photo. It may seem like a good idea to include a cheesy snap that has you artistically leaning your head to the side, looking model-style into the camera, but sending your photo leaves you open to judgement and bias. So unless you’re specifically asked for it, don’t send it.



6. Gloss over the negatives

Remove all sense of the negative, because it will stop you getting an interview. The most obvious example is being bluntly honest about why you left previous positions (like ‘not suitable for the role’). Best to leave this out when you are being judged on just two pages. It’s not compulsory to say why you left. And if you’re asked at an interview, give a positive answer e.g. “I want to pursue a more creative role”. If you have parts of your story that are best left unsaid, leave them unsaid. And if you can’t do something, don’t shine a light on that particular problem. Be positive and highlight your strengths.



That’s all for now. This is a formerheadhunter’s view on how to stand out for the right reasons. Use these tips to make your CV sing and zing, to show your talent and your fit for even the very best of roles. Give yourself that little extra edge, which could get you an interview for the opportunity of a lifetime. Just remember me when you’re famous.


Mark Swain is now Director of Partnerships at Henley Business School


Click here for more tips from on producing a great CV: what to include, how to sell yourself, video CVs and more.



See more from Mark:

Grad Bites: Work Out how to Stand Out
Mark explains MERITology: 5 dimensions to help you stand out in interviews
From First to Last
The importance of first impressions & how to make them last
For Those Shrinking Violets
Top tips for introverts, & for extroverts who want to better understand the introverts you know
PRIME: 5 Ways to Boost your Happiness
Personality, Resilience, Image, Mindset, Expectations
Mark explains how to make the best of each dimension, and what you can change to boost your happiness



About Mark Swain

Mark has enjoyed a career across sales, marketing and many aspects of HR. As Director of Partnerships at the Henley Business School, he delivers high-end learning and leadership development to senior business executives – through training, events and networking.

Contact: or and @meritology


Director of Partnerships at the Henley Business School
FInstSMM – Fellow of the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management
Fellow at The Learning & Performance Institute
Lead consultant at The Chemistry Group

Education: University of Portsmouth – Economics