How to write a kick-ass CV

There aren’t many people who see as many CVs as we do here at Lightning. Which means we can tell you, with confidence, that most CVs look and sound exactly the same.

Soz – we know you’ve spent hours crafting yours. 

But we also know you’re a bad-ass individual with great skillz and experience and, crucially, personality… So take it from us: that boring AF, jargon-filled Word doc just isn’t doing you justice. You can do better – and we’re going to help you.

Read on for some easy-squeezy, “why didn’t I think of that?” tips for making your CV stand out. Because, in the inimitable words of L’Oreal, you’re worth it.

  1. Tailor your CV to the job description

We know you’ve heard this advice before and we know you’ve ignored it. 

But stop ignoring it. Yeah?

When it comes to job applications, think quality over quantity. If you send the same, irrelevant CV to a billion brands, we promise you’re going to be ignored. But if you take the time to properly read the job spec and understand what the brand is looking for, then tailor your CV to demonstrate you tick those boxes, you’re going to have a far better chance of standing out.

Literally: go through every bullet point on the job description and make sure you’ve clearly shown you a) have that experience b) have those skills c) will be an asset to their business. Spell it out – don’t leave it up to a stressed, distracted hiring manager to work it out.

  1. Sell yourself in 10 seconds

If you’ve ever hired for a job, you’ll understand how many CVs hiring managers (and recruiters) have to wade through. If you haven’t: imagine stacks. Piles. More than you can shake a stick at.

Our point is: you have less than 10 seconds to make an impression, before the maker of decisions flicks to the next CV. So, your CV’s opening statement needs to pack a punch. 

Imagine you find yourself in a lift with the person you really want to give you a job: what do you say to impress them? (Or rather, what would you kick yourself later for not saying when you’re replaying that convo in your mind? #iykyk)

PSA: This is not the time to be all humble and coy.

  1. Show, don’t tell

If the job spec asks for specific skills and experience, demonstrate specific skills and experience. Broad, ambiguous  statements and fluffy, emotive words tell us nothing and can sound like you’re exaggerating.

To build trust and confidence, include relevant facts, figures, and achievements – including KPIs you’ve met (or surpassed), programmes you’ve used and courses you’ve completed. Anything that proves you actually know what you’re talking about. (But remember: keep it relevant and tailored to the job description.)

😕 A passionate and ambitious travel professional

😃 Sustainability advocate leading X company to net zero 

  1. Inject some personality

Your CV is a document that’s supposed to sum up your career and you as a person. So why the name of all things shiny would you want it to look and sound so boring?! This is your chance to showcase your best self to make someone like you, so grab it by the you-know-what.

Now, don’t confuse “personality” with “needs a code-breaker to read it.” Above all else, your CV should be clear and easily legible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t inject a little fun: think about injecting a bit of your personality with fonts, colours, layout, tone of voice and the language you use – check out our article on how to level up your personal brand for inspo.

Btw, you might want to have different versions of your CV that are more or less ‘out there’, according to the brand you’re applying to. Remember: it’s all about tailoring.

  1. Stop using ‘business speak’

For some reason, we’ve all been conditioned to talk like a cyborg when we’re trying to write ‘professionally.’ But the only outcome of this is sounding exactly the same as everyone else – which is not what we want. Agreed?

So, read your CV out loud: does it make you cringe? If so, re-write it the way you’d actually explain it if you were talking to someone in real life – because, essentially, you are. (And please don’t talk about yourself in third person – it’s weird.)

Here are a couple of tricks that not only make your writing sound more human, they also help you save valuable characters, showcase your role and your achievements, and transform your writing from sounding insincere to imaginative and honest (because in reality no one is passionate about marketing automation – geddit?).

  • Verbs over nouns, e.g.

😕 I made a decision

😃 I decided

  • Kill your darlings, e.g.

😕 Due to the fact that

😃 Because

  • Active voice FTW, e.g.

😕 A 2,000-word report was produced

😃 I produced a 2,000-word report

  • Contractions are cool, e.g.

😕 I am a team player who is always up for a challenge

😃 I’m a team player who’s always up for a challenge

  • Exaggeration kills authenticity, e.g.

😕 I'm passionate about marketing automation

😃 I’m a left-brain processes-person who finds efficient automation more relaxing than meditation

  1. Cull to be kind

Vis-à-vis the previous point about hiring managers and recruiters being inundated with CVs: your CV should not – we repeat, should not – be a multi-page professional auto-biography presented in a ring-binder. Keep it to a maximum of two sides – and make sure you put the most important, relevant information on the first page.

If you’re struggling to cut it down, think back to the first tip about tailoring your CV, then hack anything that’s not relevant to this specific job. Does anyone care if you got a GCSE in sociology? Probably not. What about that work experience you did when you were 17? Unless this is your first job or the experience is directly relevant to the role, that can probably go, too.

Remember, your CV isn’t supposed to make you feel good by showing off about every last swimming medal you ever won: its sole purpose is to clearly demonstrate to the recruiter or hiring manager why you’re a great fit for a particular role.

  1. Throw out the rule book.

When it comes down to it, CVs are a matter of opinion. After all, hiring managers and recruiters are humans with different preferences and tastes, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

So, stop stressing about doing everything ‘by the book’ and focus on creating something thoughtful and intentional that you’re proud of. You got this, boo.


Want us to give your CV a once-over? First, give these tips a go… Then book a free Lightning Lounge session, our 1:1 confidential safe spaces, for accessible video chats with our consultants to talk about whatever you like.

In the meantime, you can hear our Talent Consultant's Jack Williams (he/him) and Sarah Akhtar (she/her) advice for candidates job-searching in the current market below:

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Thea Bardot

10th June

Career Advice Blog