How to Make Your CV Stand Out from The Crowd

Your CV is the first step in getting that all-important approval from the hiring manager. Ten years ago, if your experienced match the requirements, and you’d written your CV correctly, you could be sure an interview was right around the corner. Today this is just not the case. Candidates can easily log onto a job board and apply to 50 jobs in an hour.

For entry-to-mid-level roles, a simple job advert can easily have a thousand applications, and on average, mid-to-senior roles attract over 250 applications. If you apply, you’re going to compete with these applications. Your first challenge is no longer focusing on the job interview, but getting your CV read by the hiring manager.


Imagine trying to read a thousand CVs? If you gave yourself one minute per CV to load, read and make a decision and move on, it would take over 80 hours to get through every CV. This is not possible, and as a result, recruiters today are using technology to search through a list of candidate CVs quickly and efficiently.

ATS Portals

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) work by allowing recruiters to filter candidate CVs based on set criteria. Using technology, a recruiter can make light work of thousands of CVs each day by searching for keywords that are relevant to a specific search.

If a recruiter is looking for an Accountant, they will search by accounting-related terms, such as Accounting Qualifications (ACCA, ACA, CPA, CIMA) or Accounting Keywords ( P&L, Budgets, planning, analysing and tax). If you’re CV contains these keywords, it will be chosen by the ATS portal. If not, you’re automatically sent a rejection email. 

How to Separate Yourself from The Crowd

If you want to separate yourself from the crowd, you need to make sure that your CV ticks two boxes;

  • The ATS Box – which is the first step of any job application and means that you’re CV will be chosen to be read by the hiring manager
  • The Hiring Manager Box – which means when your CV is selected, it shows your experience and knowledge in the best possible light and gets you a face-to-face job interview

The Applicant Tracking System Box

Ticking the ATS box means that when you apply to a job, and your CV is amongst the other thousands of CV’s in a company database, the recruiter or hiring manager choose it.Companies are using ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) to store, study and be able to search through candidate CVs in a very short period of time.

Using an ATS system allows the recruiter to see every job application that you’ve ever made, and every message that has been sent to you, and you have submitted to the company. Let’s imagine I am looking for candidates that speak French. It’s a straightforward search to enter “Fluent” AND “French” (as a Boolean search) into my ATS portal and bring up every candidate, either on my database that speaks French or as applied to the position and has “Fluent French” on their CV.

This is a basic search, however, by using Boolean Strings, I can run in-depth searches for candidates covering a range of skills and knowledge.Remember, if I’m asking for Fluent French, and your CV doesn’t contain the words, “Fluent French”, I won’t even see it. You’ll be automatically sent a rejected email as I move on to another candidate.

Beating an ATS Program

To beat an ATS portal we need to focus on three key, keywords areas; Company Keywords, Job Specific Keywords and Job Advert Keywords. The idea is to make along list of keywords that you can make sure are on your CV and therefore will be searched for by a recruiter.

To start this process, think about every keywords that relates to your job, or the job your applying for. If you’re struggling to think of specific words, you can review job descriptions, or job adverts as these should be able to get the words flowing.

Career Specific Keywords

Career-specific keywords are those that are relevant to your role in a company. Let’s imagine that you work in sales; there will be keywords such as Account Management, generating sales and client relationship management that are only relevant to you and your job. You need to make sure that these keywords are on your CV as they will be searched for by a recruiter.

Company Keywords

Company-specific keywords are keywords that will be relevant to the specific company. To give you an example of a “Company Specific Keyword”, we have used the careers page.

Google mentions that they “don’t just accept difference – we celebrate it, support it and thrive on it”. If you’re going to apply to Google, then a perfect profile or summary would include these words, something like, “Dynamic, Skilled and highly educated candidate that doesn’t just accept difference but celebrates it, supports it and thrives on it”.

Job Advert Keywords

Typically, within any job advert, there will be a number of specific keywords that detail experience, relevant skills or even travel timescales. You need to make sure that these keywords are on your CV and easily readable.

As example, if I’m looking for a candidate that B2B consumer electronic sales, I’ll use the exact words “B2B and consumer electronic sales” in my search and expect to find these word on your CV. If they’re not on your CV, my applicant tracking system will not pick them up, and your CV will head straight to the rejection list. Without these keywords on your CV, I will not even see your CV.

The Hiring Manager Box

Below are ten pointers to point you in the right direction when it comes to thinking about what a hiring manager wants to see on your CV. Remember, these are tips to directly help your CV stand out from the crowd while being reviewed by the hiring manager. To have your CV selected, you need to make sure that you tick the ATS box as well.

  • Your CV – If someone looked through your CV for ten seconds and had nearly a thousand others to get through, would you call your CV? If the answer is “No”, you need to make some adjustments. 
  • You Need My Attention Quickly – What’s on the first few lines of your CV? Generally, the first few lines of your CV will always be read by the hiring manager to see the relevance behind the candidate. My advice is to get as much useful information on the first few lines as possible that is relevant to your experience. Next, to your name, put your qualifications. An MBA or another recognised qualifications, as these will stand out.
  • Summary/Profile – What does yours say? You need to make sure this is a compelling summary of your career showing your impressive experience and achievements. It’s important to focus on your relevancy to the role that you have applied to. If the job advert asks for a mid-level candidate with five years of experience and your profile says 20+ years of experience – It’s on to the next candidate.
  • Job Advert Keywords – I want to see these on your CV – Where are they? I have mentioned that I need someone to spend 50% of their time travelling. Where on your CV does it say that you will happily spend 50% of your time travelling around the world? “I am okay with travelling”, written in small letters at the end of your CV probably means I will miss it”, however at the end of your profile/summary would be the right place.
  • The Type of Job That You’re Looking For Does Not Matter – Your CV, should be a maximum of three pages long, however the focus should be in the first page, as it’s unlikely I’m going to read much of the second or third. Why on earth are you using up valuable space on the first page of your CV telling me what kind of job you’re looking for? If you are not interested in a Sales Role, why did you apply for it?
  • What Are You Responsible For – Often candidates will only mention the keywords to what they were responsible for. As an example, recently I looked for a Sales Manager for a client. Nearly every candidate that I reviewed mentioned they were responsible for looking after the XXX Account, but only a few told me what they did for the account.
  • What Were Your Achievements – your responsibilities are essential, however, an experienced hiring manager will be able to assume 80% given they’ve probably done the same job during their career? Your achievements cannot be assumed, and therefore you need to discuss these on your CV.
  • The Numbers – The percentage improvement, profits made, money saved and any stats that can show how good you’ve performed are vital to your CV.
  • Keep It Short – I am not going to read an eight-page CVs. At best I will read 75% of the first page and have a very quick skim of the second. Keep your CV to the last ten years of your career and list the rest in one paragraph.


Separating yourself from the crowd is not difficult, but it does mean that you need to take some to think about keywords that need to be on your profile to help you beat an applicant tracking system, and secondly, that your CV is written in the correct way allowing your experience and knowledge to be seen by the hiring manager.

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Nick Jones

My name Nick Jones, I am a professional Head-Hunter with over 20 years of experience working all over the world. I specialise in out-of-the-box job search strategies to get your CV directly to the hiring manager, thus skipping any ATS portals or recruiters who think they're important.

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