With the growth of professional networking sites and the increase in websites for private contractors (think graphic designers, copywriters etc), it’s a little hard to see CVs lasting. However, for now, they are alive and well and you need a good one to get noticed. Writing a great CV is not difficult but it takes time and a considerable amount of work.

For an expat or remote worker CV, or as North American’s call them resumes, it can be tricky. The ‘guidelines’ for CVs vary from area to area as you travel around. Some parts of the world will put a limit on what they will accept. It is often two pages with a cover letter regardless of the level of the position. Some regions insist on a photo of the candidate front and centre. How your CV will look and the kind of information you include will depend on where in the world you are applying for jobs.

CV writing
It takes a lot of time to produce a good CV.

I reached out to some of my recruiter friends from around the world for their feedback on CVs. Some of what they told me didn’t surprise me but I was shocked that overall they felt only 7% of CVs they screened were excellent. And 50% fell into the below-average or shocking category! That is a lot of people not even getting a look in because their CV is so bad. It also means there are only a few people at the top who regardless of what kind of fit they are have a good chance of being looked at.

So how do you write a kick arse CV to make it into that top 7%?

CV Layout is key

Starting with a good layout will really help keep your CV clear, concise and visually pleasing.  Chose one that meets your needs visually and is easy to adapt as you go along. Today there is no excuse for a poorly laid out CV. There are so many online platforms that give you loads of choice and make it very easy for you to drop in your own information.

My top pick would probably be Canva. It is free, has an abundance of template choice and is straightforward to use. It’s also very easy to make multiple copies of the same CV. This makes it so easy to target your CV to the exact job listing you are applying for.  There are, however, a lot of online CV builders you can use and they all have their pros and cons. Here are reviews to some of the most popular ones.

Another online CV builder I will mention Resume.com here as it is free and easy to use.  It’s a bit like Canva in that it allows you to visualize the final product while filling in each section – these are considered CV guides rather than CV builders. You can download your resume in most formats for free.

You can also use Word templates or you will find cheap templates for Google Docs on Etsy. Once you buy the template then it belongs to you so you can change it and adapt it as you like.

A couple of things to keep in mind when choosing a template. Try and stand out from the crowd without going crazy. Recruiters are often trolling through a huge pile of CVs and you want yours to catch their eye but not raise their eyebrows! Also, remember a lot of CVs are not printed out these days and only ever seen on a computer screen.

Tailor Your CV

Tailor your CV to the job you are applying for.  You do not need to be rewriting your CV for every position but you do need to be constantly tweaking it. Highlight any skills you have that are mentioned in the job posting and fill in any gaps that you need to. While it’s essential to highlight your skills to get noticed it’s also important to keep it authentic. One of the reasons I like Canva is that it makes it very easy to duplicate your CV and tweak it without a whole lot of copy and pasting.

Keep in mind that recruiters are often seeing a lot of CVs for one position so it is important the skills and experience you have match the job description. They need to be highlighted so they pop out and catch the recruiters eye. The recruiter will not go looking for them!

Make it an easy read

Work on showing a skills progression from one job to another. Try to tie in how your education and training has helped with your job progression. This all shows you are willing to put yourself out there and growth is important for you.

Take time to flesh out your experience. It needs to be interesting to read. Try to make sure your duties and responsibilities are concise and not repetitive. This is probably what is going to take you the most time. Spend some time getting everything down on paper. Once you have it all down edit and tweak it until it has a nice flow and feels fresh.

Keep it fresh

No one is really interested in the ins and outs of your job from 20 years ago. Brush over outdated information and delete what you can. Make sure any work required certifications are up to date and listed. If you want to add in interests or pastimes keep them interesting and use them to allow some of your personality to show through.

Make sure you have a link to your LinkedIn account. Then keep your LinkedIn account up to date. This is a great way for a recruiter or organisation to get a better feel for you and your work life.

CV writing
Writing a CV takes a lot of editing and re-editing

What about an Applicant Tracking System CV?

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System. These are more and more common. One recent study indicated 75% of CVs will not be seen by a pair of human eyes! So how do you beat the bots? Your CV needs to include everything the bots have been programmed to look for.

You might decide to do a whole separate CV for online applications. Usually, when you are going through the process of registering with a company that uses an Application Tracking System it will tell you the specific file uploads it accepts. If you can’t find that information stick with a regular old word doc. You need to make sure your CV is in one of the acceptable formats otherwise its a waste of your time even registering because the system won’t be able to read it.

With ATS it is even more important to create a customised resume for each position you apply for. You should ensure you use as many keywords as possible that reflect the job listing. Lastly, make sure all relevant information is in the body of the CV. Often an ATS can not read what is in the header or footer of a document.

Final tips for Writing a Great CV

I am going to leave you with a few tips I got from seasoned recruiters around the world.

  1. Proofread. These days there is no excuse for spelling or grammatical errors. Don’t just rely on your computer to pick up all the errors. Once you (& your computer) have proofread it always get someone else to go through it too.
  2. Focus on key points. If there is too much information and content then key aspects often get lost.
  3. Read the recruiters mind! Submit your application in a way you think will work best with the screening and selection process. Keep in mind that even outside of ATS most people will still be reading your CV on a computer screen. Use any inside contacts to find out what you can on the companies process and then tailor your application to it.
  4. Explain employment gaps. Most people have them these days for one reason or another so go ahead and lay it all out there.
  5. You are trying to sell yourself. Make sure your CV presents the very best version of you!

This is part 3 of our 4 part series on remote work. Check out our first article on the pros and cons of remote work here.  Our second article is filled with resources and know-how on how to get a remote job and can be found here.


Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand ex-pat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.

Rachel has a background in International HR and has worked internationally her whole working life.