Visual Secret To Writing The Perfect Curriculum Vitæ (CV)


Did you know that for every job vacancy advertised, the recruitment officer can receive literary hundreds of applications? So how does he or she sift through the whole pile, assuming that all the applicants have similar qualifications and working experience?

This topic was actually brought up when I was asked to give a talk to a group of fresh and undergraduates, organised by a corporate training agency, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. I wasn’t there to help them develop contents for their Curriculum Vitæ (or Résumé). They were the experts in their own fields, not me. Instead, I was there to help them make it more “beautiful”, so that it will stand out among the hundreds of applications that recruitment officers receive for every vacancy advertised.

Is There a Difference Between a Curriculum Vitæ (CV) and a Résumé?

Let’s get one thing straight – while they are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference between a Curriculum Vitæ (CV) and a Résumé. I won’t be elaborating much on the differences, so if you really want to split hair, please Google it up on your own time. Although the technique is applicable to both, for the purpose of this article, I will limit it to the CV.

The Purpose of a CV in a Job Application

There are basically two components to an application for a job – an Application Letter and a CV. The Application Letter (or email) is the medium in which you express your interest in that particular advertised vacancy, and why they should hire you instead of the other guy (or gal). The CV is the next (usually the more important) component of an application, the medium that you use to justify your suitability of your academic qualification and working experience to fill in the vacancy.

The CV basically lists down your academic qualifications, working experience, and other relevant information about personal or professional history that qualifies you to take on the advertised vacancy.

Because of its purpose as a “list”, many undergraduates are taught to adhere to a strict format, so that they will conform to a norm. However it is also this norm that will do them more harm than good when it comes to actually applying for a job after they graduate.

Standard Format CV and Templates

As with many other “standard” formats, templates are available for most of the commercially available word processors. And because of the mass availability of the word processor and its templates, almost all of the applicants vying for the same advertised vacancy will create their CVs based on the same word processor, and using the same templates.

So what happens on the receiving end of these applications? The recruitment officer will receive uniform looking documents, of which he or she will have to shortlist down to the small number of applicants, who will then be invited to attend an interview.

Sample CV.pages

Shortlisting To A Manageable Number Of Applicants

Because of the mountain-high stack of applications they normally receive for each vacancy they advertise, the recruitment officers will never be able to go through all of them within the limited time available to them. To ensure that they can shortlist the large number of applicants down to a manageable number to call for an interview in the shortest possible time, most recruitment officers will do a two-cut shortlisting method :-

  1. First Cut Visual Glance – To remove any applications that doesn’t “feel good”, without really reading anything in detail.
  2. Second Cut Detailed Reading – To further remove any under qualified or unsuitable applications by reading the contents in detail.

As you can see, the most “unfair” cut is the first cut, where candidates are removed even if they are perfectly qualified to fill in the vacancy. But in order for the contents of your CV to even be read by the recruitment officer at all, you have to survive the first cut.

And if the bulk of the applicants (regardless whether qualified or not) are using the same template from the same word processor, the chances are that anybody who doesn’t stand out from the mountain-high pile of applications will be removed from the first cut.

So how do you improve your odds of surviving the first cut?

Secrets of Human Visual Communications


Humans are visual creatures. That means the bulk of information processed by the human brain is received via visual means. Although humans have the most developed brain in the animal kingdom, and are capable of processing a lot of other information simultaneously, visual cues still remain the dominant form of information receiving and processing.

This means humans are involuntarily deciding what “looks good” to them, and what doesn’t. Put this in the perspective of the recruitment officer, he or she will involuntarily divide the CVs into what “looks good” and what doesn’t.

Only after cutting the mountain-high pile of applications down to about a quarter (or less) of the starting pile that “looks good”, will he or she actually read the contents of the CVs of the individual applicants. These survivors of the first cut will then be further cut down to remove the unqualified or unsuitable applicants.

Surviving the First Cut

Let’s assume that you are fully qualified to fill in the vacancy. Your best chance of surviving the first cut, and having your CV actually read, is to make your CV “look good” to the recruitment officer that is doing the first cut visual glance shortlisting.

Regardless of your contents, the human eye is attracted to bright colours, clean-cut division of the page, and symmetrical balance of the overall page. Of course, calling attention to your personal details will also personalise and humanise the inanimate piece of document too, making it stand out from the rest of the pile.

Just take a look at the comparison between the “standard template” and the custom designed CV. Ignoring the contents, which piece of inanimate  document will your eye be drawn towards?

Sample CV.pages

So do you want to conform to society’s norm, and be among the hundreds of applicants, who might never even get their CVs read?… Or would you rather be different, stand out from the crowd, and raise your chances to be called for a personal interview?

One Reply to “Visual Secret To Writing The Perfect Curriculum Vitæ (CV)”

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