Your CV is a sales tool with just one purpose: to get you an interview. That’s it! So you need to make it relevant to the job, and free of error.
Most people don’t put enough thought into their CV, and they certainly don’t tailor it to each application. Remember that if you’re applying through a recruitment agency (or an HR department), the person who sees your CV first doesn’t know the role as well as the person who actually needs to recruit. So you need to make it as easy as possible for them to pass your CV along.
In other words, your aim should be to make it very difficult for them to turn you down. Don’t give them any reason to reject you!
Follow this advice, and you will be way ahead of the game.
The format that you use is a matter of personal choice, but the following guidelines will help your CV to do its job.
- Your CV must look good. The easier it is on the eye, the more likely it is to get a fair reading.
- Make the CV as long as is necessary to do your experience justice, but cut down on detail of your early career if you need to reduce its overall length. And don’t get bogged down in the two-page myth! Two pages are usually enough for graduate roles, but experienced candidates will need more than this. Use three or four pages if you need to. Ten is going too far, though.
- Use consistent formatting and don’t overuse frames, tables and borders. Recruiters often remove your personal details (data protection) and add a cover sheet with brief notes about your situation, notice period etc. This is much harder to do if you’ve used complicated formatting.
- Choose a font that is easy to read – and stick with it.
- Leave the margins where they are.
- Bullet points are effective visual aids, but don’t overuse them.
- Make sure that your personal and contact details are prominent and up to date.
- Avoid graphics and special effects unless you are applying for a job in graphic design. It is better to have a conventional-looking CV than one that stands out for the wrong reasons.
The words that you use will make the difference between rejection and consideration.
- The text needs to be clearly worded, concise but complete. Recruiters don’t usually have time or experience enough to read between the lines. Assume that the reader of your CV is not an expert in your technical field, and state the obvious if necessary.
- A brief personal profile and list of key technical skills are useful for the reader.
- Write the CV in the first person.
- Don’t leave any unexplained gaps. The reader of the CV will assume the worst.
- Don’t forget to include details of professional and educational qualifications, with details of relevant training courses.
- Set out your employment history in reverse chronological order.
- Avoid ‘humorous’ references unless you are applying for a job as a stand-up comic.
- If you decide to list your interests outside work, avoid making reference to unusual activities that might prejudice the reader.
- Check for spelling mistakes and bad grammar. Rather than editing CVs ourselves, we prefer them to be error-free in the first place. Don’t be surprised if we ask you to rework your CV before we send it out.
Remember who is reading this CV, and make it easy for them to pass it on to stage 2.
- Only apply for jobs for which you are potentially suitable. Your experience, earning expectations and personal circumstances must all be approximately right.
- Make sure that your CV refers to the skills or experience that are required in the job description. If you lack the experience, the covering letter is the place to explain why you think you might still be a suitable candidate.
- Make sure that all the information contained in your CV is true.
- Recruiters use search tools to identify candidates on databases with specific skills. Make sure that your CV will be picked up by listing all the areas in which you have experience, using the most commonly-used spelling or wording.
- Tweak your CV so that it highlights the areas that the job advert lists as required skills or experience. Remember that recruiters are not good at reading between the lines, especially if they don’t have specific knowledge of your field. Make it easy for them to identify you as suitable for the role.
This is something that only about 10% of applicants do well. It makes a difference and shows that you have put some thought into your application. Recruiters LOVE covering letters.
- A covering letter that is specifically tailored to the job in question and addressed to the hiring manager / recruiter by name will indicate that you are serious about your application.
- Make sure that you have all details correct or the effect will be undermined.
- Include information about your salary / current rate, notice period, and whether or not you will relocate for the job. If there are any other relevant factors, mention them.
- Don’t just your duties; list your achievements instead! “I answer the telephone and speak to customers” says nothing about you, but “I have been praised by managers for my excellent customer service skills” says a great deal more.
- Turn negatives into positives. It isn’t unusual to see a period of unemployment on a CV – don’t leave it unexplained and, worse still, don’t try to cover it up. Accreditations, training, voluntary work, caring for a family member or even simply pro-active jobseeking can be mentioned in this space.
- Don’t include a photo, unless it is specifically required. It isn’t expected in the UK so it can give the wrong impression. If anyone needs to see what you look like, they can visit your LinkedIn profile.
- Ah – LinkedIn! A professional-looking online presence, ideally with some recommendations from former colleagues and employers, will do your prospects no harm at all. In fact LinkedIn is valued by agencies and employers as an excellent source of talent.
- Don’t forget other social media – we always check you out.
- Have a sizzling opening statement – this is your chance to grab the recruiter’s attention. Briefly outline what your achievements are and what you hope to achieve in the future. Avoid starting too many sentences with ‘I am’ (don’t talk about yourself in the third person though). Try to avoid clichés like ‘I’m a motivated team player’ – recruiters tend to take that as a given and it says nothing about you. Much better to mention actual achievements in this space.
- Your hobbies and interests don’t need to take up much room on your CV, and – again – it is better to demonstrate achievements than a mundane list of sports that you like to watch. Hobbies that are relevant to your career such as programming or repairing computers in your spare time, or that demonstrate that you are committed and driven (like training for a marathon), are more likely to generate conversation if you get an interview.
Because getting the interview is the name of the game, remember!