Home Psychology How psychology can help you design a better CV

How psychology can help you design a better CV

design a better CV

The Covid-19 crisis has pushed unemployment rates up significantly – and whilst these rates have seen a slight decline in UK, there is still more competition for every job vacancy than ever before. With so many other candidates to compete with, writing an effective CV has never been more important.

The majority of people who write a CV will download a template based on what they personally believe to look most attractive. However, an attractive template doesn’t necessarily equate with a successful one: certain templates will perform better than others based on various psychological factors. By understanding the psychology of how your CV will be perceived by the recruiter, you can ensure that the most important and attractive information stands out, thereby boosting your chances of a job interview.

Use color effectively

In their study of the psychological effects of color in documents, researchers Ichino, Takeuchi, and Isahara identified that color can help a reader quickly identify text of high importance. They discovered that when text of high importance was assigned a color with high saturation, it attracted the user’s attention immediately. In addition, using different hues to signify the importance of the text substantially improved readability and the reader’s ability to identify relevant and related information.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should create a rainbow CV with all manner of colors – this is likely to have quite the opposite effect! Instead, use dark rather than light text for key information, and choose a particular shade to help tie related information (such as key achievements in your work history) together. This might be either for the text itself or for bullet points, which generally make your CV easier to read.

In addition to using colors to help signify importance and tie together related information, it is also helpful to consider the psychology of your colour choices. Whilst there are many theories on the emotional relevance behind each color, generally the following are accepted in document design:

  • Green – easy for the human eye to process, relaxing, association with money.
  • Blue – associations of loyalty and honesty, a popular choice for business communications.
  • Purple – associated with luxury.
  • Black associated with sophistication and elegance in marketing, used widely in communications.
  • Gray associated with simplicity, calming, and soothing (Source: Cameron Chapman)

The above are all great choices for a CV, not simply for their aesthetics. There is a wide range of free CV templates here which make good use of the above key colors and may be downloaded in Microsoft Word format.

Know your time limit

There are plenty of studies quoting how long the average recruiter spends on each CV. The most-oft quoted study was by the Ladders, first carried out in 2012 and updated in 2018. According to this, you have about 7.4 seconds to impress the recruiter – during which, they will skim your CV for important details such as key skills, job titles, and more.

With so little time, it’s crucial that you design your CV to be skim-read. This means ensuring there are no large blocks of text, and breaking up the content into headings, subheadings and bullet points. Avoid wordy sentences and ensure your information is presented as concisely as possible.

Understand the F pattern

Most CVs will be read on the screen nowadays, so it helps to understand how a typical user will view content. An eye-tracking study by NNGroup shows that most people view documents in an ‘F’ pattern. Their eyes will start at the top of the page and scan across to the right, before skipping to about halfway down and then following the ‘stick of the F’ to the bottom of the page. Per the NNGroup study, the user is trying to be most efficient on that page and is not so committed or interested that he is willing to read every word.

With this knowledge in hand, it makes sense to put the most crucial information at the top, in the form of your career objective. This should be a concise 3 – 4 sentences which precisely address the key requirements of the job advert. In other words, you have just a few seconds to tell the recruiter that you have everything they’re looking for before they move on. Per the 7.4 second time limit, the career objective (or personal statement as it is sometimes called) should ideally be presented as a bulleted list.

Choose the right font

There are plenty of sites that will tell you to avoid Times New Roman because it is too boring and gives the impression that you haven’t made an effort. The truth of this really depends on what sort of job role you are applying for.

Fonts are classified as Serif, Sans Serif, Script, Modern, or Display and each has different characteristics or attributes.

Image source: A Pro Designer Shares the Psychology of Font Choices

Times New Roman is a Serif Font. This font group is traditional, respectable, and reliable – traits that, for many job roles, you would very much like a prospective employer to glean from your CV!

Modern fonts are seeing as strong, progressive, stylish, and chic; while Sans Serif fonts such as Helvetica imply stability. These are all traits that certainly suit some roles better than others

Script and display fonts such as Cooper are creative, unique, and expressive. These are perfect for candidates applying for creative roles such as graphic design.

From the above, it should be clear that for the majority of roles, there is nothing wrong with using Times New Roman on your CV. In addition, it offers more certainty that your CV layout will be preserved. If you submit your CV in Word format with a fancy font and the recipient doesn’t have the font installed, your beautiful writing will be replaced by mundane Calibri, or something similar. Since many companies are now using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), submitting as a PDF may not be an option (or maybe unwise).

The fact that your CV needs to be ATS-friendly does not mean it must be devoid of all design detail. There are a good range of ATS-friendly CV templates here which are free to download and look attractive, despite having simple fonts and no graphical elements.

Featured image licensed under Deposit Photos ID:6415406