I’m often asked what a seasoned recruiter looks for when assessing a large application response, and what will put a candidate in the ‘yes’ pile and not in the ‘no or unsure’ pile.
Whatever online adverts may tell you, there is no such thing as a perfect CV or the best CV layout. CVs need to be tailored to the different audience and the role you are applying for. As irritating and time consuming as this may be, there’s no way to take shortcuts. If you do not tailor your CV to highlight specific experiences you’re at risk of your application being rejected – is it worth it just to cut a few corners?
Your CV is your sales pitch, and a good application could be the key to securing your dream job. Not only does it reflect your skills and experience, but it should also give a little insight into your personality, direction and goals. You only get a small amount of space and time to portray the best version of yourself, so please don’t fall short at the first hurdle.
I have compiled 11 of my best tips to optimise your CV and ensure your best attributes are noticed –
- 1. Keep it relevant
You want potential employers to get the most information from your resume as quickly as possible. More does not always mean better. Be specific and tailor your CV to every role with key skills at relevant companies on similar projects. This will boost your chances of getting a job because the reader is looking to match your experience with the company’s needs. Include as much as you can without making your resume appear cluttered. Depending on your years of relevant working, I would suggest for experienced hires no more than 3-4 pages. For candidates in the early stages of their career, no more than 2 pages.
- 2. Ensure your dates are correct
Make it easy for the recruiter, a lot of CV’s have dates that don’t match up or have no explanation for missing time periods. In an ideal world, your CV will flow from your first job to your current job, with no gaps. Gaps leave room for questioning and assumptions, so if you had time out of work to travel, look after a family member, or even to pursue a career in professional Ikea furniture building, make sure you include them.
- 3. Show your hobbies & interests
Interviewers want to find common ground. They want to understand what makes you tick, inside and outside of work. I use their hobbies to start a conversation ‘I see you are a big football fan, who do you support? How are they getting on? Do you get to see them play much?’ Now I have very little interest in football, but it relaxes the candidate and I often find that 3 minutes of conversation will relax them, allowing me to get more from them in the interview. I have even been known to express an interest in some obscure hobbies ‘Irish clog collecting’ and ‘Peat bogging’, just to get a better interview! The more obscure the interest, the more an interviewer wants to ask about it.
- 4. Don’t list the reason why you left a role
This is something that can be discussed once the recruiter has decided you’re a suitable candidate. Once again it would be a waste of valuable space, remember, 5-7 seconds is all you have. Rule of thumb should be ‘is it going to make a difference’, if it isn’t, leave it out.
- 5. Make sure you spellcheck
This is so important. It is so simple to download an app or use the Microsoft Word spellcheck feature. (we use Grammarly here….) If you’re still not sure, get someone to proofread and spellcheck for you. Don’t lose out on a job, just because you rushed to send a CV and used the wrong their/there/your/you’re/ etc. Get it right and put the ‘best you’ forward.
- 6. Make sure your address is correct
To increase your chances of getting the position, make sure if you put down your address. If you are applying for a job that isn’t close to you, include why you’re applying and your ability to relocate in your cover letter.
- 7. Make sure your experience meets the brief
In a market such as this, you need to play to your strengths and will undoubtably be up against candidates with very relevant experience to the brief, therefore you need to ensure that you read the brief, understand the needs of the role and any stipulations for qualifications. If a recruiter’s advert states that you must be a qualified accountant, and you’re not, it is highly unlikely that your application will be successful.
- 8. Creativity is not always a good thing…
Please be honest and open in your CV. Creating career experiences or qualifications that you do not have will always be discovered. I know it sounds incredible, but there are many examples of candidates bending the truth to make themselves more attractive, at all levels, only to be exposed when they come in front of our consultants for a full competency based interview or even worse, in front of the client.
- 9. No photos… please
This isn’t social media. A lot of employers and recruiters find this unnecessary, and it protects them from potential allegations of discrimination. There are a few industries where photos of your smiling face is appropriate, such as actors and models, as their appearance matters for hiring, unlikely to be as relevant for a HR Manager or Financial Controller remit. If you believe your appearance would be an asset for your target job, incorporating a link to your LinkedIn profile on your CV is a safe and acceptable way to show a photo of yourself. Also, please make sure your LinkedIn picture is not only relevant, but professional, reviewing a good CV then looking at a LinkedIn picture of that candidates in a bar on holiday with the biggest cocktail in the world does not always give the best impression!
- 10. ‘I’ not ‘we’…..
Please do not fall into the trap of selling your colleagues work in your CV. A client wants to know what you did, not how great your colleagues are! Saying ‘we did this…’ is not selling yourself effectively to an interviewer, make sure you give a detailed outline of what you do. Even when outlining what a project team delivered, giving them the understanding of what your role was in that team is essential. Always remember sell the ‘I’ not the ‘we’.
- 11. Ask the experts
Recruiters not only assess hundreds of CV’s a day, but also, we are the ones who decide ultimately who progresses to the client and who doesn’t. Ask us…. Whenever I meet a candidate, I will offer some feedback on their CV if they would like it, and in some instances help them make changes. But regardless of which recruiter you are talking to, ask them for feedback on your CV, covering letter and what may make your experience more attractive to a future employer. Nothing better than asking the experts!