Top 10 tips to optimise your CV or Resume

Here are the top 10 ways to help your CV stand out from the crowd to help you land your dream job!

Image by Shafin Al Asad Protic from

It is really a difficult time right now to find a job, so you need to make sure your CV stands out from the crowd. The following 10 tips will help you to optimise your CV or resume, particularly your academic CV, to help you ace those tricky applications!

1. Tailor your CV for every application

The most important thing to do when crafting your CV is to work out who you’re writing it for! Who will be reading your CV? What will they be expecting to see? What do you want them to focus on when they’re reading you CV?

Your CV will change for every application you make, whether that be the sections you include, the evidence you provide or simply the descriptions of your activities. Work out what the most relevant experiences are to that job and name the section headers accordingly. Some ideas for section headers could be…

Relevant experience — a great catch-all if you want to include experiences from a range of activities

Teaching experience

Research experience

IT skills



Publications (particularly important for academic CVs!)

2. Space on your CV should reflect its importance to the reader

When thinking about what to include on your CV, it’s important to think about how you order your experiences, and particularly how much space you give each section. You should limit your CV to two A4 pages, so you have to think carefully about how to best use this space. Moreover, the recruiter may have many hundreds of similar resumes to look through, so if you don’t make it easy for them to find your relevant information they may just move on!

For example, if you’re just graduated from school or university, your education will be the biggest part of your experiences, so it should take up the most space at the very top of your CV. This is the part you want a recruiter to focus on!

However, if you’ve been out of university for many years and have gained a range of experiences from many jobs that are more relevant to your current application than your education, don’t focus on it as much! To the same ends, you don’t need to list all your high school qualifications if you’ve got a PhD! Don’t waste space with information the employer won’t care about — give the most space to your most important experiences and qualifications, and put those at the top of the first page of your CV.

3. Tick off all the criteria with your experiences

A great way to help you work out what to include on your CV for a particular job is to make use of the job description or criteria. Scour any information you’ve been given about the job, particularly what is expected from a successful candidate, and highlight the key skills or experiences you need to demonstrate.

Then, go through this list and next to each point write down something you have done that demonstrates this skill. If you can write down something for every point, then you’re qualified to apply for the job!

4. Formatting, formatting, formatting

The format of your CV is vital. Don’t use blocks of text, use bullet points under clearly highlighted sub-headings. Nothing is more off-putting to a recruiter than wading through paragraphs of information!

Using bold or italics can be really useful to highlight key parts of your CV, especially the skills you want the recruiter to focus on. However, don’t overdo it. Too much formatting, or inconsistent formatting, will make your CV look cluttered. Pick one, or at most two, fonts and stick to a consistent layout throughout.

This will make your CV look professional. If you take time to craft and perfect the look of your CV, it will convey to an employer that your care about your work and presentation of yourself, all key characteristics they want from an employee.

5. Contextualise your experiences

You need to make sure that anyone reading your CV can understand your achievements. This is particularly important if you’re applying outside of your field, or in a different country.

For example, if you achieved a 2.1 at university, explain what that means. Describe your mark, particularly what it is out of, and if you can write down where you ranked in your year. This will help a future employer to understand your relative merit compared to other candidates better than simply stating a score out of context.

The same goes for other sector- or employer-specific information. If you got an award for your work, state what it was for and, if applicable, how much money came with it. Similarly, if you previously worked in an industry with complicated jargon explain the words you use, or better still, don’t include them at all. If a recruiter doesn’t understand the information on your CV they won’t be able to judge how suitable you are for the role and you might miss out on an interview!

6. Show not say

Focus on achievements in your CV as a way of demonstrating your skills, rather than simply stating you have that skill. You should be able to imply you have great teamwork skills by saying you co-operated with a group to successfully implement a project. Running an office demonstrates good managerial and administrative skills without having to explicitly state them. Simply writing you have skill can seem shallow — you need to provide evidence for it!

7. Use active verbs and numbers

Make your CV snappy and to-the-point by starting each bullet point with a verb. And make them active rather than passive verbs. Words like ‘initiated’, ‘engaged’, ‘managed’, ‘created’, ‘developed’ and ‘researched’ all suggest that you were proactive in the experiences you’re describing, and are also great ways to demonstrating your skills.

Moreover, use numbers to quantify your achievements. Managed a team of 10? Delivered 30 hours of teaching? Using numbers is another great way to contextualise your CV and help a recruiter understand the great work you’ve been doing.

8. Make the most of what you’ve got

Just because you’ve not had paid employment in a sector, it doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to apply for it! Think laterally about your experiences, whether that be in work, volunteering or hobbies, to identify skills that the employer wants to see. You may not have managed a team at work, but if you organise local charity events or you were team captain of a sports society in college, these experiences all demonstrate great leadership skills and show that you’re able to work well in a team.

Basically, don’t sell yourself short — if you’ve got the experience, even if you’ve not been paid for it, don’t be afraid to include it on your CV!

9. Highlight the interdisciplinary nature of your experiences

This tip is particularly important if you’re switching industries, but even if you’re not, it’s a great way to demonstrate commercial awareness and the importance of your work.

Highlight how your work can impact other sectors. For example, if you’ve been working on a research project, show how your work has influenced policy decisions, or how you’ve engaged with the public. Focusing on the interdisciplinary nature of your experiences will further demonstrate the transferrable skills you’ve gained and how you can use your previous experiences to shape your new job.

And finally… 10. Don’t forget your soft skills

Your CV is not just a list of your achievements! You need to sell yourself as well as your expertise. So don’t forget about all the soft skills you have. No-one wants to employ someone who is standoffish or uncommunicative, so use your CV to demonstrate you have compassion, creativity or conflict resolution — whatever skills you have identified will be important for the job you’re applying for. Use a wide range of evidence for these, including your hobbies and interests, and pick out examples from your work where you’ve had to use these skills.

So that’s ten tips to help you optimise and craft your CV. Put these into practice to increase your chances of getting your dream job!

DPhil Student in Neuroscience at the University of Oxford 🔬 Science 🧠 Neuroscience 🎓 University Life