Creating a resumé or curriculum vitae (CV) is central to a job search, but it is the part that people dread most.

One of the biggest mistakes most people make is sending out the same CV for every application. After all, you’ve spent hours getting the details and layout just right, or perhaps you’ve paid a considerable amount of money to have someone write it professionally.

The trouble is that each CV needs to be tailored to the job in question, and it is vital that you do so if you want to stand out from the crowd.

Use keywords

Tailoring your CV means writing it specifically for the post you are targeting. To do this, you must recognise the keywords the employer will be looking for and relate them to your own experience.

Keywords are found in the job description in the job advertisement and on the company website. They describe the skills, qualifications and experience needed for the post.

Keywords should stand out on your CV: don’t forget that in the first round of the selection process, CVs are usually only given a 20-second glance. So if the interviewer does not find what he’s looking for, your CV is destined for the shredder.

Let’s say you are a secretary who speaks several languages and can take shorthand in all of them, but are applying for a job in an office where only English and audio are used.

Languages and shorthand, impressive as they are, would not be the most prominent skills on your CV. Instead, you should focus on the skills required, which may be fast typing, advanced Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint. Languages and shorthand would be mentioned briefly, perhaps under the heading “Additional Skills”.

Less is more

Another common mistake, usually made by older applicants, is including their entire work and educational history. It’s usual for CVs to go back only 10 years in terms of work and if you have a degree, school qualifications can be omitted, unless specifically requested or relevant. Employers occasionally ask for a full CV, in which case you do have to include everything.

The right format

Choosing the wrong format may also lessen your chances of scoring an interview — specific situations call for different styles. Many people stick to the chronological CV, but this is not always the most appropriate.

It works well if you have been steadily progressing up the ladder in a particular career, or if your most recent jobs are likely to impress the company you hope to work for.

A skills-based or functional CV is great if you have gaps in your work history, as you can use it to highlight that you have exactly the skills the employer is looking for. It’s also useful if you are moving to a new career or area of work and your work experience is not completely relevant.

A targeted CV is aimed at a precise job or career. For example, if you retrained as a teacher in your 30s or 40s and are applying for a teaching post, your work-related heading might be “Teaching Experience” and your main skills would all be relevant to teaching, such as using IT in the classroom and curriculum development. For soft skills, such as communication skills and team work, you would use examples from your teaching career.

You may need to have different styles of CV for different applications. Using the previous example of the secretary: you may have a series of language-related jobs and are now applying for linguist and non-linguist posts. You can choose a chronological CV for the language jobs, and a functional CV for the others.

To sum up, individualise every CV for the job concerned, choose the most suitable format for the situation and remember: keywords must jump out at the reader in the first 20 seconds.