Today we’re talking CVs - and most importantly how to write the very best CV possible. In this article we’ll cover some basic psychology in human decision making, design principles and the content to focus on in your CV.
Humans’ decisions are largely based on emotion.
The Somatic Marker Hypothesis states that emotions can guide and/or bias human decision making and behaviour.
In researching the Somatic Marker Hypothesis, Domasio noted that humans who could not experience emotion often struggled to make basic day-to-day decisions, such as what to have for dinner.
Now let’s put that into context. These findings have huge implications for getting a job. They underpin the common and often unexplainable phenomenon in hiring: The fact that the best candidate doesn’t get the job, but often the best fit does. Therefore, it is extremely important to go the extra mile in order to manipulate the emotions of the reader of your CV.
So let’s emotionally optimise your job prospects.
Hiring managers are pretty busy and they see a lot of CVs. Usually, a lot of bad CVs. Let’s consider one role for a Multi-platform Swift Developer - 100 candidates send in their CV. Let’s also consider the size of the company and the amount of other vacant positions available too, for roles such as finance and marketing. Perhaps the hiring manager isn’t dedicated to technology and works across all of these disciplines. Already we can see the scale of the problem.
As such, CVs are often judged by a glance at the first first paragraph, or in some cases the general aesthetics without even being read. In an era of performance driven work, this is not surprising. Employees need to be efficient and can’t afford to spend days trawling through hundred of CVs when there are more productive tasks at hand.
So, what does this mean for CVs?
Optimising emotional appeal is critical. This can be done in many ways. For the early stages of the hiring process, aesthetics, design and your introduction is critical. It’s only later that the main body of information really matters.
So let’s look at eliminating any pre-decision friction or cognitive dissonance and appeal more emotively to prospective employers.
There are a few key attributes of the CV that can help to eliminate friction. They are:
Microsoft Word sucks. It is evil. There are better solutions. Whenever I receive a CV in .doc format, I instantly feel sad and sub-consciously judge the candidate slightly less positively. It’s not fair, but that’s just me - it’s the way it is.
As our audience is Swift programmers, I think it’s safe to assume most people use a Mac as their day-to-day machine. So let’s first of look at some of the alternative solutions for crafting your CV.
Pages - Pages ships natively with macOS - and makes it easy to create beautiful documents with ease. As it’s built by Apple it provides and intuitive GUI with clean settings chosen by default. This is probably the quickest option to produce an aesthetically pleasing CV.
Adobe InDesign - is the industry standard for professional designers creating beautiful documents for all types of media. This is my preferred choice. Whilst it’s not free, or as easy to use as Pages, it’s much more powerful. Indesign gives you full control of just about every aspect of your document, allowing you to make optimal use of spacing, typography, image placement etc.
Web-only - CVs have been floating around for a while now - and while most people have them in some form or the other (LinkedIn, personal website) I feel that they haven’t totally replaced the traditional CV. Why? Because the people that look at CVs tend to prefer to print them off and hand them around. Web-only solutions tend not to print so well.
So, what should I use?
Either Pages or InDesign IMHO - if you don’t have InDesign, Pages is a great starting place. As long as your chosen solution can produce beautiful multi-platform documents, you’ve made a great choice.
Now we get to the fun stuff. Let’s make it look pretty. But how?
Using colour to express sub-conscious emotion
Colour is critical for emotional engineering. Colour implies meaning and creates sub-conscious emotion. We can use colour to our advance to imply characteristics about ourselves, without writing them down.
Green - implies stability, prosperity and natural. Blue - implies trustworthy, inviting and serene. Grey - implies neutral, gloomy, formal. Red - implies passionate, important, aggressive.
For more examples, see here.
It is important to use one core colour. This core colour should generate the emotive qualities you are targeting and also represent you as a person and candidate. Once you have chosen your core colour, you should consider creating a colour palette. This is easy with fantastic tools such as Paletton.
Once you have a palette, it should be applied and re-used throughout your CV - consistency and colour placement is critical.
But colour is only one aspect of the design challenges in crafting an emotionally provocative CV. We must also consider the following five core principles in graphic design to use emotive decision making to our absolute advantage:
When you consider and apply these key principles, your CV will automatically feel more pro and less amateur. Making these small changes adds up to a huge change in perception.
Now lets again think in terms of someone reading your CV.
If this were you, what would you do?
I know what I’d do.
I’d start by systematically sifting through them to get rid of the utter worst ones. Watching out for terrible design, obvious mistakes, poor spelling or just a general lack of tidiness. Whilst it’s difficult to quantify some of these traits, you know it when you see it and you judge it in accordance with your own and your company’s expectations. For example, if I show this to my boss, what would their reaction be? But more importantly; if I show my boss this, how does it reflect upon me?
Now, let’s assume the CV made it through the initial ‘sifting phase’. What next?
CVs are full of words and words take time to read. Let’s think about some of our graphic design principles from earlier - but most importantly - proximity. When the reader’s eyes fall on the page, they’ll usually start somewhere at the top and then progressively start scanning down. We can ensure the reader of your CV will read the most important parts by using design principles.
The first paragraph of content of your CV should be a TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) block. This is where their eye should be guided after learning your name. It should give them a quick flavour of you. In this section, try to succinctly say who you are, what you do, why you do it and where you want to be. Imagine it’s your Twitter bio, but a little longer. The same principles apply.
If someone reading your CV finds this part interesting they are much more likely to read on. Don’t write a dull CV. Life is too short for dull. Go all out and inject who you are into the CV. Make the CV you. Rub the CV on you. Be the CV. But seriously, you get the point.
We must’ve made quite an impression. Getting a reader this far is an achievement in itself. The reader is now interested and wants to know more and is willing to invest time to do so.
What should I include in the main body of content?
As the reader is now interested, we can go about providing more detailed information about yourself and your employment history. I’ve seen many CVs that are a mere list of previous positions, with some educational stuff slapped on at the end. Personally, I think this information is meaningless without the appropriate context.
Therefore, we have to consider how to generate maximum value to both ourselves and the reader. Even if the reader is interested, we are still realistically restricted to a page and a half of information - assuming the header and opening paragraph require half a page each.
When listing your employment history don’t simply state what you did. Tell the reader the value that you added, the initiatives you led, the technologies you learned. And perhaps include a recommendation from a previous employer.
In terms of design, we can use repetition, alignment and proximity to great effect. Use a repeating design pattern to make it clear that it’s a job specific section. Use alignment to help make proximity clearer - thus guiding the user vertically down through your employment history.
When including your education - why did you choose degree X? What were you passionate about? Aside from the core learnings, what did you learn about life? How did this degree prepare you for the industry or the job that you are applying to?
You can make your CV much stronger by reducing friction and emotionally engineering the aesthetics and content. By considering the reader of your CV, it’s much easier to improve the RX (reader experience) of the document and thus improve your relative success rate.
Do you need help with this? We’ve just launched our Career Services page, where we offer CV optimisation and career consulting. Check it out if you feel it might be of interest!
We hope you found this article useful, feel free to contact us with any questions. Go and get that Swift programming job!