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Creating A Project Manager CV: Six Items To Wow In Six Seconds

Updated on February 15, 2014

Why A Great CV or Resume is Essential

There has been much research into how long recruiters spend scanning a CV, and the answer isn't encouraging. A recruiter will typically spend around 6 seconds looking at a CV before deciding whether it is a "no", or whether they want to read further.

On top of that, getting a job in today's market is difficult, and you face a lot of competition.

So looking at these two facts together, you can see just how important a good CV is. But what makes a good CV for a project manager? And how can you make yours stand out from the competition?

So let's take it one second at a time. In this article, I will explain how, in those precious six seconds, six vital factors can put your CV on the YES or NO pile.

Six Important Features That Can Make Or Break A CV

So here are six factors I think are essential to a compelling CV, and I will explain each one in detail.

  1. Experience, experience, experience
  2. Accomplishments that wow
  3. Presentation
  4. Keep it snappy
  5. The (right) qualifications
  6. A single-sentence headline

Let's go through each of these and find out why they are so important.

One Second......Experience, Experience, Experience

Project management isn't for the faint-hearted. It is tough, challenging, and often complex. That's why recruiters ask for experience. It is exceptionally rare to find an entry-level project management job.

So your experience needs to shine through on your CV. It will be the first thing, the absolutely very first feature, a recruiter will look at. They will be asking themselves: what has this person done before that makes me think I can trust them to do this job?


Make it easy for recruiters to find this information. Always make sure that your most recent, most relevant experience is on the first page, and it is absolutely clear what that role involved. Think about keywords that the recruiter will be scanning for and make sure those keywords stand out. For example:

Job: IT Project Manager

Keywords: IT, Software, Hardware, Project Manager, Testing, Development, Design, Planning, Team, Technology

Helpful tip

If you are struggling to think of keywords, then here's a useful tip: use the Google Keywords tool to get some ideas. This will show you the keywords that are most commonly associated for that job description, and it will give you a good starting point.

Two Seconds.....Accomplishments That Wow

Remember, the recruiter is scanning hundreds of CVs from other candidates who may have plenty of experience in project management. So how do they narrow down the field? They simply look at achievements. The difference between an average project manager CV and a great CV, is that a great CV has achievements in that makes the recruiter go: "Wow, that's impressive!".

So consider what achievements you have that could fall into this bracket. Perhaps you managed a project that had a high profile or appeared in press releases. Perhaps it had a really high budget. Or a really difficult timescale. Perhaps it won awards. Whatever it is, single out that one quality that will impress.


Again, think about what keywords will really help your CV to stand out, and bring it to the attention of the reader. Here's some examples:

Keywords: high profile, award-winning, multi-million pound, flagship, cross-continent

Useful tip

If there's some information about your project achievement on the internet, include a web address for a reference in that part of your CV

Three Seconds.....Presentation

Here's the truth: All else being equal, a clear, easy-to-read CV will end up in the YES pile more often than a wordy CV that is difficult to read. You don't need your CV to be the most beautiful document on Earth, but you do need to make it presentable.

Here's a short guide on how to make your CV presentable:

  • Include clear headings, well spaced
  • Arial or Verdana are the easiest fonts to read
  • Use 12 point for body, 14-16 point for headings
  • Indent subsections, so that it is easier for the eye to scan
  • Use bullet points where appropriate
  • Keep paragraphs short
  • Make sure key data is highlighted as a subheading, rather than hidden in body text (e.g. job titles, dates)

Four Seconds......Keep It Snappy

There is nothing more depressing than being handed a CV that reads like prose. As a general rule of thumb, try to keep paragraphs short (no more than 5 or 6 sentences) and avoid using over-complicated language and jargon.

A CV should never be longer than 2 A4 pages. You might feel like you have more to say, but a recruiter doesn't want to hear it. A CV is like the blurb of a book; it should grab the readers attention and entice them to want to find out more. You want to keep some detail for the interview. The CV should just give the recruiter some tasty morsels to get them interested.

Tell Us About Your CV

So tell us what you think: what aspect of your CV do you think is most important?

See results

Five Seconds......The (Right) Qualifications

If you have a number of qualifications to your name, you may take pride in showing these on your CV. However, never forget to tailor your CV to your audience. If the job asks for specific project management qualifications e.g. PMP, PRINCE2, then make sure these are clearly highlighted over and above any other qualifications you have.

If you don't have the qualifications that are mentioned in the job advert, there is nothing stopping you from talking about any qualifications you are working towards. This is helpful for a recruiter as it shows that you are moving in the same direction that they want their ideal candidate to be qualified in. Just remember to make it clear in the CV that the qualification is work in progress and the certificate is not yet obtained.

Six Seconds.....A Single-Sentence Headline

In those six seconds, you want to make sure the recruiter is given the very best picture of you that you have to present. How do you do that? You simply present a very short description of yourself at the start of the CV. If the recruiter is going to read anything, this sentence is what you want them to read. It should really help them understand: who you are, why you are applying, and why you are perfect for the role.

Think about this sentence the same way an advertiser would when they are promoting one of their products on a giant billboard on Times Square. They may have the most fantastic product in the world, but they need to get there message across in such a simple, short way that any busy passer by will stop to read it. And having a attention-grabbing headline is difficult to achieve. If you do it right, this is something that should take you at least a few hours to draft.

Helpful tip

Get your close friends and family to read through this headline statement. Does it describe you accurately? Does it sound sufficiently interesting, exciting and appealing?

Get Started Today

So there you have it. Six features to make your ordinary CV into one that wows. Get started on a revamp today, and you could be catching the attention of the next recruiter to take a look at it.


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