In 2017 I authored a CV for a client who required a CV to support his application for Engineering Technician status from The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Much like a traditional CV, the document was prepared in such a way that it clearly demonstrated the clients’ ability to apply proven techniques and procedures to the solution of practical engineering problems as outlined in the assessment criteria. Two years later, I was humbled when the client returned for a CV Update.

Not only had my client gained formal recognition from IET, but he had also acquired international experience in the Middle East and was eager to return to the UK with his sights clearly set on a fantastic role with one of London’s largest infrastructure projects. His CV was completely reformatted and revamped to showcase his latest employment and academic achievements. Needless to say, he got the job!

Fast-forward to 2021, and my client once again is requesting a CV Update as the project draws to a close. However, this time, I was presented with a CV that looked very different to the interview-winning documents previously prepared. It turns out a colleague had taken it upon him/herself to transpose the carefully curated, streamlined and balanced document and paste it into a generic template. The result was somewhat eye-catching, but not for the right reasons.

The point that I keep bringing my clients back to when responding to the question of using eye-catching, fancy templates is “put yourself in the position of the employer”. You’re about to pay someone tens of thousands of pounds a year – do you hire them on the strength of an exceptionally colourful and striking looking CV format, or do you hire them because the content shows they can do the job? It’s a no brainer – at the end of the day, overly fancy designs have minimal impact on gaining interviews beyond someone perhaps thinking, “wow, that’s a nice design”.

You’ll be selected because you have demonstrated to a hiring manager that you have the skills, knowledge, experience and attitude that make you a good financial investment for the employer on an ongoing basis – you’re a proven performer, and words demonstrate this, not colours.

Some CV services design CVs with bright colours, custom typesetting, and fancy design elements. They’re beautiful — and they’re often a turn-off to employers. I have personally sat in the room with a Procurement Director while he was looking at CVs. In the process of hiring a new addition to the team – he threw all the CVs with overly fancy layouts into the bin without even reading them with an exclamation of disgust!

Here’s the impression that an employer can get when they see some of these over the top “designer” CVs: Does this person think their skills and achievements won’t speak for themselves? Do they not understand what our business is looking for? Do they put an inappropriate emphasis on appearance over substance?

In my professional experience, job-seekers are told that they need to “stand out” in the crowd (and our website advertises this also). But focusing on the “looks” rather than the “quality of content” is not the way to do it. The way to stand out is by being a highly qualified candidate with a CV that shows a track record of achievement, the desired skills, a great cover letter, a great attitude and work ethic, and a passion for what they do a drive to succeed.

I read an article recently by a recruiter that stated: “Standing out” isn’t about sending in an aesthetically gorgeous document — although the companies making money from that idea would like you to believe it is. “Standing out” is about the strength of your candidacy, which is something you can’t buy or fake or promote through even the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful font choice.

Some hiring managers may respond to glossy templates, but we have discovered that they’re in the minority. The most effective CVs in our many years of experience are the ones that are well set out with the information employers are looking for readily available, free from grammatical and spelling errors, and rich in content. Understated, classy formats and strong words will get you into your new job quicker in the long run.