What to include in a CV? Which CV sections to keep off? This complete guide outlines exactly which things to put on your CV to make it shine.
The only CV that matters is the targeted CV—
A CV customised to a specific position at a specific company.
The vast majority of employers expect to see a personalised CV...
...but most candidates send out all-purpose applications.
But you’re smarter about it and you’ll get an interview invite.
This guide will show you:
- What a targeted CV is, and why you need to write one to get a job.
- How to tailor your CV to a specific job and convince the employer you’re the perfect match.
- Tips and examples to make targeted CVs in minutes.
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1. What is the Meaning of "Targeted CV"?
A targeted CV is a CV rewritten or edited for a specific job opportunity. This kind of CV is tailored to highlight skills and experience pertinent to one particular position. A targeted CV makes it very clear to hiring managers that you're a good fit for the position."
On top of that, the targeted CV is tweaked for the particular company by fitting its company culture and being in line with its plans and mission statement.
And this is really important: 61% of all employers expect to get personalised CVs and 36% will desk-reject your application if it looks generic.
Finally, a targeted CV must be tailored for the ATS.
The ATS, or applicant tracking system, is software used by more and more companies (including a whopping 98% of Fortune 500 companies) to help them organise and sort through the mass of job applications they get on a daily basis.
How does the ATS work?
Hiring managers scan CVs into their ATS software. Then, based on CV keywords given by HR, the ATS evaluates and scores each CV to calculate which candidates are the best match.
To get past this electronic sentry, you’ll have to tweak your CV with keywords and language which the ATS is told to look for.
According to ERE, each job position gets about 250 CV applications, on average. Then, the ATS will philtre out about 75% of those.
You want to be in that remaining 25%.
We’ll talk about that in just a few minutes.
Expert Hint: But, what about applying for a second job opportunity? Good question! In that case, you’ll rewrite your CV to fit that second job ad and company. A targeted CV should only fit one job ad. If not, it’s not tailored enough.
2. How to Tailor a CV to a Specific Job
So, you’re convinced—you’re going to write a targeted CV.
Here’s how you’ll tailor your CV to the job description:
1. Look at the job advertisement
That job ad makes this test open-book—everything you need to score an interview is right there in front of you.
Here’s an example:
Front Desk Receptionist - Dental Office
- Minimum of three years of dental experience is a must
- Knowledge of Dentrix is a must
- PPO insurance and DMOs is a plus.
For this dental receptionist, they require a candidate who is knowledgeable with Dentrix software.
Not reading the job ad carefully, you might have just put you’re “familiar with dental software,” or added an irrelevant program, like Open Dental.
If you didn’t put “Dentrix” as a keyword, you can kiss that opportunity goodbye.
2. Highlight important keywords
Here’s another example from a financial analyst position:
This position works with:
- HIPAA compliance training required
- Participation in medical surveillance required
This one implies that you’ll have to get HIPAA compliance training done before you are fully onboarded.
But guess what?
If you’re already certified as compliant from a previous position, adding it to your CV puts you ahead of the rest. That’s money they’ll save, and you’ll have a much faster initiation period.
3. Create a list of terms you need to mention on your CV
This will speed things up for when you start writing—
You’ll know to mention a specific skill, program, show how you’ve already had experience doing x, y, and z.
Expert Hint: Never lie on a CV. However, you can downplay any irrelevant details, and talk up those points which match the company and the position—that’s what targeting a CV is all about.
3. How to Tailor Every CV Section
So, now you know how to get information from the job ad.
Now you’ll learn how to apply it while writing your targeted CV.
Let’s start from the top:
On top of using CV power words, you’ll of course need some keyword matches to target them.
Here’s a portion of a job ad:
Knowledge and Skills Required:
- MINIMUM TWO (2) years’ experience in Medicaid Billing
- Strong communication and organisation skills
Now, here are some targeted CV examples of CV summaries:
That bad example fails because it didn’t specifically talk about Medicaid billing.
Disclosing your address is usually a bad idea as it can lead to discrimination.
However, you may see something like this in the job ad:
New York, NY (Preferred)
In which case it may benefit you to add your address, if you are in their preferred/required area.
There are a couple ways to tailor a CV work history section.
Usually, each experience entry is broken down into two parts: the responsibilities and the key achievements.
In the responsibilities section, don’t just list each task you performed. They know.
Rather, highlight a few of your duties that are most similar to the job you’re applying for—especially if you’re changing careers. Use action verbs to begin each job responsibility entry.
In the key achievements area, you’ll want to use numbers to prove your knowledge.
Let’s look at two achievements for someone who’s leaving their barista job to become a graphic designer:
Our job seeker here had both of these wins, and they’re each excellent and really helped the cafe.
However, only one of them is relevant for a graphic design job.
Expert Hint: Reorder your bullet points so that the most important and relevant items get read first. If you don’t think it’s relevant to this particular job, leave it off.
That’s right, even your education should be tailored.
Here’s an example:
Knowledge of FundEz Accounting System.
BA in Accounting or related field.
In your education CV section, would you have put that you have a bachelor’s, BA, or B.A.?
Most people skip periods, so it might make sense to skip them, too.
But the actual advice is about something completely different: go with the full title and the abbreviation:
#####[example of Bachelor of Arts (BA)]
You’ll cover two important keywords!
The skills section—
It seems like one of the easier areas to get right, but many people get it wrong because they don’t tailor it to the job.
Here’s a sample job ad qualification area for an IT consultant:
- Fast learner and quick thinker
- Excellent problem-solving ability: must be able to efficiently analyse an issue and make appropriate recommendations on how to proceed
- Strong organisational and time management skills
- Superb written and interpersonal communications skills—relationship building with our clients is essential
- Ability to work both independently and as a member of a team
- Ability to prioritise—understanding the bigger picture for both the client and the business
Pretty neat! The potential employer basically gave you a cheatsheet—
You know exactly what skills you should focus on.
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Targeted CV Tips
1. Mention important skills in the body of the CV.
2. List the most relevant abilities in the skills section.
3. Add a few additional “substitute” skills there as well.
4. Don’t make the skill list too long 5–7 items is enough.
Some recruiters roll their eyes when they see a separate skills section. Avoid it, however, and it will backfire as one in three employers might auto-reject you CV if they don’t see it.
Don’t feel tempted to embellish your CV if you’re not a 100% match.
Most employers are open to hiring people without the exact experience they’re looking for. Plus, most ATS systems greenlight less-than-perfect scores, too.
Yes, use the most critical keywords verbatim on your CV. But don’t repeat the wording of the job ad (32% of all employers reject over-optimised CVs).
Got more CV sections relevant to the job description?
Add them to your CV.
Check out this project manager CV example additional section:
- 2018 Northeast Shingo Lean Conference, Spoke on panel about vendor management.
- 2016 Change Management Conference, Led session on Agile w/99% audience score.
Remember: mention only those extras which increase your value as a candidate. If adding a particular hobby or certification doesn’t increase your chances of getting an interview, don’t add it.
Expert Hint: There are two kinds of keyword matches. A general match means you copy keywords into your CV—just not word for word. A direct match is when you need to go verbatim (useful in cases such as our education example above). Just make sure not to over-tailor!
4. How to Tailor Your Cover Letter & Email
Tailoring doesn’t only mean on your CV, of course.
You’ve tailored your CV to the job ad, and you can do that on your cover letter and email, as well.
However, you can go further on these other two documents, actually:
Tailor to the Company
Customising for the company is best done on a cover letter.
What’s that mean?
To tailor a customised cover letter for the company, do this:
- Get to know the type of people the company hires. For example, are they all business, or do they like to have fun and show some spirit?
- Take a look at the company’s “about us” page, or their company culture page, if they have one. See how your work ethic aligns.
- Understand the company’s values, from giving back to the community to their stance on parental leave.
When you’ve done this research—which will come in handy for your interview, too—write a cover letter bringing up any salient points you’ve found.
Also, try to replicate the company’s “voice” by using their tone and way of speaking.
Tailor to the Hiring Manager
No one likes to get emails that say “to whom it may concern.”
They’ll simply think it’s just not important.
When you’re writing your cover letter and the email it’ll attach to, address the HR manager by name. Find this from the company page or via LinkedIn—it takes just an extra minute of sleuthing.
Also, you could add a postscript or another sentence in the email to mention something particular to the hiring manager.
For instance, “I noticed from your LinkedIn profile that you’re an alumnus of Cornell. I hope you don’t hold my being from Yale against me!”
See? It’s fun, unique, and grabs their attention.
Now that’s tailored!
Have a look at our tips for writing cover letters to step up your game.
Expert Hint: Finally, don’t forget to check the job ad to see if you have to put something specific in the subject line of your email! All this tailoring will have been in vain otherwise.
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Want to try a different look? There’s 18 more. A single click will give your document a total makeover. Pick a cover letter template here.
Writing a targeted, custom CV is not exciting.
However, you’ll be excited when you see the results—calls for interviews now instead of later.
To write a target CV, follow these simple steps:
- Always tailor your CV to the job position.
- Use the job ad to guide your writing and customise each section.
- Personalise your application to the company and its culture.
- Write a targeted CV email tailored for the hiring manager.
- Include a custom cover letter with your tailor-made CV.
Have any questions on how to write a targeted CV? Not sure how to customise the skills or experience sections? Let’s talk about it below in the comments, and thanks for reading!