It’s easy to know what skills an employer is looking for — they usually give you that info on their job ad. What they don’t tell you, though, is how they look for that information in your CV…
Imagine you’re a prospective employer. You have one vacancy, 50 CVs to read and only a few minutes till your next meeting. Where do you start and how do you figure out who to call for interview?
Here are five critical questions a recruiter will ask him or herself — and how to make sure your CV can answer them.
1. Who is applying?
The correct answer isn’t your name. An employer needs to know as much about you as possible, as quickly as possible — so make sure that you include a profile of yourself. Just ask John Lees, author of nine careers books including Knockout CV. “The opening 50 words of your CV matter. Don’t waste them on background information — write a short profile that sums up your work history, sector knowledge, skills, and know-how.”
2. How good are they really?
Listing universal transferable skills isn’t the same thing as proving you have them. Especially if you’re using the same laboured descriptions as everyone else. “Avoid CV clichés (self-starter, team player, highly motivated),” says John Lees, “but show where you have made a difference in your most recent jobs.” So, don’t simply say that you’re ‘a team player’: give a relevant example of when and how you’ve proved you are. Clichés are comfortable, but they won’t convince anyone.
3. Is this CV unique?
This doesn’t mean ‘is the CV printed on glossy paper and does it have a photo of the candidate?’ In recruitment, ‘unique’ doesn’t mean gimmicks, it means submitting a CV that is specific to the job you’re applying for. Dr Joanne Earl, co-author of Brilliant CV, recommends you “tailor your CV for every job you apply to. Think about your strengths — what are you best known for? What is your point of differentiation? What makes you an asset? Analyse the job of interest carefully.” No CV can magically fit every job, so don’t waste your time by sending the same one off with every application. It won’t fool anyone.
4. Where are the achievements?
Experience isn’t the same as achievement. Don’t just list where you’ve been and what you’ve done, show the recruiter how you stood out. James Innes, author of The CV Book and chief executive of the UK consultancy The CV Centre says that: “If you can include an ‘achievements’ section then it can make an instant and dramatic difference to the power of your CV, enabling you to distinguish yourself from other candidates.” So don’t spend too much time describing the obvious parts of your job — focus instead on what you actually achieved while doing them.
5. Why am I still reading this?
This is not a question you ever want someone to ask while holding your CV. Thankfully, there’s a way around it. “Give more attention to the first half page than any other part of the document,” says John Lees. “Say the things that matter early on, while you’ve got the reader’s attention.” Even the most dedicated recruiters skim-read applications, so don’t make it too hard on them to decide that you are right for the job. Your profile is the most important part of the CV and your current job is vastly more important than what you were doing five or ten years ago. Think of the first page as the main event and the first half as the only bit likely to get close attention. Before you send off your CV, read it alongside the job spec and ask yourself: have I made it as easy as possible for a very busy recruiter to call me for interview?