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How to create a persuasive CV

If you’re applying for a job after a lengthy period of employment, chances are your CV will need some significant updating. Using psychological triggers or ‘nudges’ offers an interesting way to approach refreshing your CV…

When you’re applying for a job after a long period working for one employer, your CV is unlikely to have had much attention in the interim. There’ll be lots of missing information – new skills, achievements, employment experience and even contact details may need to be updated. The design and font may look a little tired too. Time, then, for an upgrade.

Where to start? An interesting way to approach the job of refreshing your CV is through the science of ‘nudge theory’. Simply put, nudges are psychological triggers that help you to influence people towards a specific behavior such as buying a holiday or eating more healthily – or taking notice of your CV, in this case – by appealing in various ways to how our brain is wired to respond. One of the pioneers of nudge theory, Richard Thaler, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Economics.

For example, we have a tendency to respond to evidence of expertise (authority), we like to follow crowds (social proof), and we have a fear of missing out on good stuff (loss aversion). That’s why businesses respectively tell you about the awards they’ve won, put testimonials and case studies on their website, and – as anyone who has booked travel online recently will know – find all sorts of ingenious ways to hint at how quickly their products and services are selling out.

The insights of nudge theory are widely used in social policy, education and marketing. Here are a few ideas on how to apply some well-known nudges to refreshing that essential self-marketing tool – your CV.


We have a natural tendency to defer to people who can demonstrate evidence of leadership and expertise. So mention any awards you’ve won, responsibilities you’ve taken on, areas of expertise you’ve come to own. Engagement stats for any thought leadership content you’ve written, or ROI metrics for any projects you’ve led, will confer authority too.

Social proof

We’re naturally wired to follow the herd, so if other people rate you, anyone reviewing your CV will need to take notice too.

So consider including quotes from clients or senior managers, to highlight key career successes. If you’re active on social media or a speaker on behalf of your company, cite evidence of the engagement and positive responses you’ve received.

Cognitive ease

Making your CV look easy to consume is a powerful nudge in itself. A resume that looks like hard work – dense slabs of text, busy graphics, tiny print, spelling errors etc. – will create a poor first impression.

So make sure your CV is presented with a clean, intuitive design that reflects the clear, logical structure of your content. Add in lots of intuitive headings and keep it brief: if need be, cut back on some of your earlier experience so as to focus on your more recent, more senior achievements.

Objection handling

Without the reassurance we get from face-to-face interactions, we are naturally more in need of trust and confidence when dealing with people online. So we’re always checking for signs of people’s credibility. Authority and social proof help here, but another way to generate trust is to anticipate and pre-empt objections.

Look at your CV with the eyes of an imaginary but slightly suspicious interviewer. What questions might they have? Is there a gap between any of your jobs? Did you change jobs in quick succession? Is there evidence of a redundancy you haven’t really mentioned?

Rather than try and brush over these anomalies, try to own them – be transparent and positive about what happened. A redundancy, for example, is rarely about the individual, but looking to cover it up could make people read more into it. Explain briefly about your employer’s difficulties, and highlight what you learned from the experience.


It’s no surprise to learn that people tend to respond more positively to people, brands and organisations that they feel affection for. So how can you make yourself more likeable through your CV?

The tone of your language is key. A light, crisp writing style, devoid of clunky jargon or sterile business-speak, will help you stand apart.

Your covering letter is another place to inject some personality. Try writing a little more as you’d speak, and avoiding excessive formality, whilst always remaining professional. This is also a great place to work in a line summarising what makes you unique – a sparky personal brand statement.

For more career advice information, please contact our specialist recruiters on +27 (0)11 881 2400 or email southafrica@robertwalters.com.

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