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The job market of today is highly competitive and employees are confronted with a large number of candidates competing for the same positions. A professional CV is an essential document when it comes to job applications and career growth, and it could be the deciding factor as far as job interviews are concerned.

According to the NWU Career Centre, a potential employer spends between 10 and 40 seconds to evaluate a CV during the appointment process. Therefore, a job seeker only has one opportunity, and a few seconds, to create a lasting impression. In this regard, a CV should be seen as a marketing tool and an advertisement for the potential candidate. In what way can job seekers ensure that their CVs stand out from those of all the others?

A strong CV is adjusted and updated constantly, and successful job seekers regard a CV as a flexible working document. An exceptional CV reflects the job seeker’s personality and to some extent the applicant’s view of life as well as non-work related interests. It is also important to take the online environment  into account – nowadays, many employers make use of the internet and request that CVs should be submitted via e-mail or online platforms. Successful job seekers are familiar with the internet and are well able to adjust their job search efforts and CVs in accordance with this medium.

Although it is not necessary to strictly adhere to a fixed format, certain important information should always be included in a professional CV:

  • Personal details: Full names and surname, address, nationality, telephone numbers, e-mail address and a link to a social media profile on a professional platform such as LinkedIn. Keep personal details short and to the point.
  • Personal details: A short paragraph in which the candidate showcases his/her unique characteristics and remarkable achievements, and also communicates his/her career goals.
  • Job experience: Focus on current or most recent positions first, listing the rest in reverse chronological order. Give special attention to job experience relevant to the job for which you apply. Include the name and website of the organisation, dates, and position held (full time, part time or contract work). Emphasise outcomes and achievements, and choose your words with care to make a strong impression.
  • Job skills:  Here the applicant should list the key skills that he/she has acquired in his/her career so far. However, it is also important to point out how these skills relate to the position for which you are applying (specialised skills). For instance, computer literacy is a key skill, but mastering specific software programmes can be seen as a specialised skill for a specific job. 
  • Training and education: Briefly describe your academic qualifications, starting with the most recent qualification/academic achievement, and the rest in reverse chronological order. Include degrees, diplomas and certificates and also mention extra-curricular achievements during your years of study. Candidates that have graduated recently can include grade 12 subjects but job seekers with more experience can focus less on high school subjects. It is rarely advisable to provide information about primary school, except in exceptional circumstances.\
  • References: Include two to five references in your CV and contact these people beforehand to ensure that they feel comfortable about answering questions about you if potential employers should contact them. Keep it professional or academic – family members should not be listed as references! Provide the names, surnames, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of references. Briefly describe how each person has played a role in your career and in which organisation you have worked together. 

Ensure that no spelling or typing errors creep in and remember to include a covering letter that highlights the most important points on the CV that are relevant to the position that you apply for (online platforms sometimes allow limited space for this). Choose a font that is easy to read and use the same font and layout throughout the document. Also, last but not least, do not exaggerate or distort the facts. Lying on your CV is inexcusable and could land you in trouble.

Main sources:

How to write a successful CV before applying for a job

How to Make Your Resume Stand Out from the Crowd

North-West University Career Centre

5 Creative Ideas To Make Your Job Application Stand Out


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