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CV & portfolio design: Top tips for professionals looking to stand out

Completing your study and training and heading out into the workforce is an exciting time – however it can also be a highly challenging and competitive experience for many young professionals.

Mastering the art of putting together a standout CV and portfolio can make or break your chances of getting your foot in the door at that major company or dream job opportunity – and first impressions matter.

Fortunately, there are many tools out there that can assist. You can use Adobe Express to handle layout and design while there are numerous spelling and grammar checkers with advanced features to ensure your CV is free of errors.

However there are several nuances in a CV that will make them sink or swim when they are launched into the shark tank of a competitive job application. Understanding and leveraging these nuances could be the difference between landing that well-paid job or not.

This guide will help you grasp those nuances and put you in a strong position to create customised CVs and portfolios for your prospective employers.

Understand Your Audience

The vital first step is to know the eyes that are going to be looking at your CV and portfolio. The aesthetic and content for a graphic designer eyeing a spot in a dynamic creative firm will starkly contrast with that of an IT specialist pursuing a role in a traditional corporate environment, for example.

When preparing your CV and portfolio, it’s not about one-size-fits-all; it’s about customisation that speaks directly to each unique application. Showcase the skills and projects that resonate with the specific job you’re aiming for and mirror the culture and principles of the prospective company.

Incorporate keywords that align with the role you are applying for and the requirements specified in the job posting. Whether it’s demonstrating expertise in areas like cross-functional team collaboration, consumer goods marketing, above-the-line/below-the-line strategies, new product development, project lifecycle management, or client engagement—select keywords with intention.

Getting your CV and portfolio past the HR consultant that is the gatekeeper to reaching the hiring manager is crucial. And they will likely have hundreds, if not thousands of applications that they have to whittle down to just a handful. This means less is more. Creating a technical proficiencies checklist is the best way to go. A dedicated section for technical abilities allows you to highlight the hard skills you’ve mastered. This area is especially critical in fields where specific technical knowledge or software proficiency is a must.

The Importance of Keywords

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are now a standard tool in hiring, with an overwhelming 99 percent of Fortune 500 companies using this technology. These systems scan job applications for specific keywords from the job listing. It’s important to know that more than half of all recruiters use ATS to filter resumes, which means your resume needs to be optimised for these systems or a human may never even see it.

CV Layout and Design

Opt for a clean layout with plenty of white space which creates balance. This makes it easier for employers to scan through your CV and quickly find the information they need. Clean design is the preferred choice here, as bold fonts and colours can have the opposite of the intended impact, overwhelming the reader and causing them to move on to the next applicant.

Also remember that your CV and portfolio could be viewed as a physical product, or they might be read on a screen. Choose fonts and spacing that is clear and readable for both formats. And remember consistency is king, including your font choices, colour schemes, and formatting styles.

Highlighting Skills and Achievements

Recruiters don’t want to read your personal views on your abilities and skills, they want quantifiable facts. Stats and figures are crucial to achieve that, showing you have verifiable accomplishments. Consider adding these metrics to key sections such as:

  • A resume summary – very few HR managers or hiring managers are going to read every word of your CV straight off the bat. Summarise the information with simple stats and bullet points and position them at the top of your application, giving them a quantifiable snapshot of your skills and abilities.
  • Work experience – include stints as an intern or carrying out work experience while study/training with figures on any accomplishments you can quantify,
  • Academic/personal/professional accomplishments – highlight academic, professional and personal achievements, quantifying them to illustrate your potential value to prospective employers.
  • Career highlights – for those with extensive professional experience, a section dedicated to career highlights allows you to summarise varied successes across different positions.

Digital Presence

For professionals with a few years under their belts already, it’s imperative that you invest in your digital footprint. Those with plenty of highlights to share should, for instance, have a collection of articles, podcasts, and interviews in other formats that may be valuable to add into your CV or portfolio – just to showcase your position as a genuine authority in your industry.

Be sure to add these links to your LinkedIn profile, professional website, or online portfolio alongside adding them to your CV. Making sure that these digital profiles are up-to-date and consistent with your CV and portfolio will demonstrate a greater attention to detail that will also act as a vote of confidence with any prospective employers.

And what if you’ve written articles or blog posts yourself? Then even better! Depending on what industry you’re in, you can use free publication platforms like Medium, Behance or GitHub (for developers) to showcase your work publicly and increase your visibility online. Doing so shows a level of proactivity that hiring managers love.

Creating an exceptional CV and portfolio is a critical step toward advancing your career. By following these tips, you can design materials that not only showcase your qualifications and experience but also captivate the attention of potential employers or clients. Remember, your CV and portfolio are living documents – they should grow and adapt as you do professionally. So long as you invest the time to make them truly represent you,  you’ll be well on your way to standing out in a crowded field.

Also read: Leadership: What if we used Impact Portfolios as evidence of our potential?

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