5 Ways to Simplify a Long CV While Maintaining Sophistication and Nuance

Confession time: recruitment is as much about quantity as it is about quality, and most recruiters work in a permanent state of overdrive to hit volume and placement targets.

As a result, successful recruiters are efficient recruiters: those who are able to quickly get through the huge stack of CVs sitting on their desks.

What does this mean for you? There’s no surer way to make a recruiter run screaming in the other direction than to hand over a multi-page monstrosity of a CV.

If your CV is more than 4 pages long or doesn’t follow a simple, easy-to-read format, you’d be well served by taking some time to simplify. The good news is: simple doesn’t equal plain, and it’s possible to have a sophisticated and nuanced CV without causing recruiters’ eyes to glaze over, beginning with these 5 strategies.

1. Use Grouping to your Advantage.

While reverse chronological CVs are certainly the most common – and preferred – CV style, you shouldn’t be afraid to tweak this tried and true format if you have a legitimate reason.

Professionals with significant project experience, consultants or sole traders with multiple clients, and people who’ve switched positions frequently within the same company are most likely to benefit from this technique, as it allows for a succinct summary of multiple roles.

The trick is to group responsibilities together whilst still highlighting individual projects and accomplishments.

My team does this by describing role mandates and common responsibilities in 5 or 6 bullet points, and creating a ‘Key Engagements’ or ‘Projects’ section with 1 to 2 bullet points per project to describe your role and highlight results.

2. Use the Russian Doll Approach.

I swear by this approach because it allows me to subtly direct the readers’ attention to the most important experience, which is typically also the most recent.*

Think of your current role as the largest in a set of nesting Russian matryoshka dolls: because it’s the most important, it should take up the most amount of space – around 5 to 7 ‘responsibilities’ bullet points and 3 to 5 ‘accomplishments’ bullet points.

As you move further back in your career history, imagine each role as a smaller doll, and give it less space on the page. This will keep the overall length in check, while allowing you to give the most important information the detailed approach it deserves.

*Of course, this approach only works if your most recent experience is indeed the most relevant.  

3. Master the Mandate.

If I’m honest, most long and complex CVs don’t have to be; the writer simply didn’t do a great job at presenting the information succinctly.  

Considering you only have 6 seconds to capture a recruiters’ attention, it’s crucial you make the time you have count. That means putting the most important information for each role up-front, so even recruiters that stop reading past the first bullet point get a good idea of what you did.

Make the first bullet point for each role a ‘super bullet’ that includes:

  1. a high-level overview of the role,
  2. the mandate,
  3. and the main target.

Here’s an example: Divisional leadership role [overview] driving market expansion across 5 APAC markets [mandate] to turn around financial performance and restore divisional profitability [target].

4. What-Why Writing.

Many people have difficulty summarising a role using less than 10 bullet points, and as a result, role descriptions spiral out of control and take up way more space than they need to.

The solution is to create fewer, but more complex, bullet points, using What-Why writing.

For each ‘responsibility’ bullet point, express what you did, leading with an action verb, and why you did it, showing the positive impact your actions had.

For example: Forged cross-functional partnerships with senior client stakeholders (what) to identify business requirements and ensure the project plan aligned with organizational priorities (why).

5. Be Selective.

It always baffles me when clients list every job and short course they’ve ever completed on their CV.

It’s hugely distracting and often has the opposite effect to that intended, detracting from the experience and qualifications you really want the recruiter to notice, or making you look unfocused or out-of-touch.

While deleting irrelevant qualifications and experience is a must, sometimes it’s not enough. If that’s the case, use grouping and formatting to your advantage:

  • Create a ‘Selected Qualifications’ section on the first page to draw attention to 3 or 4 of your most impressive credentials. Move all other relevant qualifications to an ‘Additional Qualifications’ section on the back page.
  • Group similar qualifications together rather than listing them out separately:
    • Australian Marketing Institute Short Courses: Public Relations Writing Tactics (2015), Event Promotions & Sponsorship (2013), Social Media Marketing (2012).
  • List your most recent career experience in a ‘Professional Summary’ section on the first page, providing details for each role in the ‘Career Experience’ section. Create an ‘Additional Experience’ section to list, but not detail, roles prior to the past 10 years.

Before you hit “SEND” on a job application, ask yourself if the recruiter has to go digging for the good stuff. If they require a Rosetta stone to decipher your CV, chances are they’ll move on to the next candidate.

Remember that the best CVs are both sophisticated and easy to read. Do yourself a favor and take a few hours to simplify – in a smart way – and enjoy the results.

By Irene McConnell

Irene McConnell runs Arielle Careers, Australia’s #1 executive personal branding agency. They specialize in crafting executive resumes, LinkedIn profiles and digital career assets.