20 quick wins for a killer CV!

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December 30, 2016
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March 1, 2017

20 quick wins for a killer CV!

So you’ve reviewed your options in the ‘planning your job search’ blog Jan 2017 and decided that moving is definitely your best option? So what next, dust off the old CV, add an entry and bang it out then, right? As somewhat of a recruitment veteran now of 15+ years, I can see that a fair proportion of the time, that that has exactly been the plan. Worse is if the candidate leaves a recruitment agent to update it for them before forwarding it on to the client(s), for speed. This tends to create a document that is potentially too long, doesn’t flow well, maybe is bottom heavy with more detail in earlier jobs and, if you’ve really cut corners, leaving different fonts & bullets. This is kind of like putting a new tie with your old wedding suit and hoping it passes off OK for a 2017 interview! What you want is a modern, coherent, professional engaging document that will create a positive impression and open doors for you!

1 Redo CV: So first advice is to redo your CV from scratch or at least give it a serious overhaul from top to bottom so that it is fit-for-purpose in the here-and-now. You can google CV examples and templates and start with one you like as a basis; there is no one-size-fits-all across industries, jobs, and levels of seniority. However, I’m confident that the following guidelines will serve you well:

2 Clean look:
Make sure it has a clean, balanced un-cluttered look that is easy on the eye and present on decent quality white paper if hard copy is required. I think choosing heavy coloured paper to stand out is kind of like an avocado bathroom suite these days!

3 Tailor: I highly recommend tailoring the CV to suit an individual application even if it is adding most relevant / subtracting least relevant bullet points. OR as a minimum having 2 or 3 different CV versions to suit different industry/company/job types that you may be targeting.

4 Format/Style: Having have reviewed potentially hundreds of thousands of CV’s across my 20 year recruitment career, I’ve developed a healthy OCD about what works and what doesn’t in terms of format. The general consensus is that a simple clear format is preferable to a creative / fancy look. To this end I suggest Ariel font style and 10/11 pt font size. Use bullet points and keep them plain; if not circle go square. Be sure to avoid inconsistency in fonts bullets or be tempted to over-use bold or italics.

5: Photo: No Photo! Yes, really no photo! Even if you look great, no photo!

6: Personal information: Whilst required, contact details are not a selling point for you and therefore not worth wasting significant, first-page space on. My personal preference is to include name address contact number & email in small font within the header. However, in an age of online security concern, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to exclude full contact information. However keep in mind that if the person reviewing your CV is not sure where you currently reside in relation to the job that they may dismiss your application rather than going to the trouble of asking.

7 Career objective: Historically, this used to be recommended as the paragraph with which to kick off a CV. I say this comes from entirely the wrong perspective. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the hiring company cares much more about what you can offer them rather than what you want them to offer you!

8 Professional summary: SO instead of career objective, lead with a high impact professional summary which explains succinctly why they should be very interested in the rest of the document! This should cover a general synopsis of your strengths and experiences but also include your USPs (Unique Selling Points), that differentiate you from other similar candidates and ideally are of high value to the company/job in question.

9 Accomplishments: A great and, I think, underutilised inclusion, but obviously this relies on having something to shout about; If you don’t, maybe focus on accomplishing something noteworthy before moving jobs! This should come after professional summary and before experience. Again bullets are good. Ensure the accomplishments are specific and ideally quantifiable e.g. increased sales by 10%, reduced cost by £100K etc.

10 Sequence: Show the work experience in reverse chronological order i.e most recent jobs first. I still see CVs the other way around. You don’t want your most recent, and hopefully best, experience hidden on page 3, you want it front and centre as again yes/no decisions are often made within 5 seconds.

11 Chronological vs Functional: I think the debate continues here. Chronological is the traditional format and most commonly used where you list work history and duties/responsibilities in order. I speak to many candidates who are advised by (self-proclaimed) ‘CV Consultants’/gurus to change to a functional format. This is where skills, experience, capabilities & competencies etc. are all pooled together. This is useful for example when individuals are trying to leverage competencies into another field. However, I think these ‘consultants’ need to suggest a change to get paid and that is the primary reason for this advice. As a CV screener and interviewer, I would much prefer to see a chronological CV with bullets under each job, meaning you can track where and when an individual picked up what experience/capabilities. A functional CV leaves a lot of room for sweeping claims, exaggeration and often makes for a disjointed/confusing interview.

12 Truth: It should go without saying but it clearly doesn’t give research showing that most people do ‘lie’ on their resume. I would say that integrity is everything and your document should be true, complete and accurate. If, after being hired, an employer discovers that an individual’s CV wasn’t fully representative, then this can be grounds for dismissal. This also means not omitting things i.e that job that only lasted a few weeks etc. It’s better to be open from the outset than hide things that will look more suspicious if discovered at a later point in the selection process or during future employment.

13 LinkedIn: While you are ensuring that your CV is complete and accurate it’s a good time to ensure that it is mirrored by your LinkedIn and any other social media profiles, therefore avoiding concerning inconsistencies. Again employers do check this kind of thing assuming they are ‘on the ball’.

14 Links: Use of links I would say is a matter of debate and therefore personal discretion. I suggest that links to previous employers or projects that help sell your background are a good idea plus perhaps a link to your LinkedIn profile. However please check that the link is live and make sure that you make sure it looks tidy, e.g I suggest to use a shortened URL by using tinyurl.com or another product, and ideally rename the hyperlink to make it clear and obvious. The downside is that some people don’t like links and also that if you divert the reader away from the CV you distract them from your CV which should be a provide a compelling stand-alone case that you are a great candidate for the role.

15 Dates: Again as a professional interviewer I’m going to want to see full dates of each employment time on CV, month and year I would say is fine. This to establish how long with each employer and to highlight any gaps. If you say for example 2015 – 2016 this could be 2 weeks or 2 years employment, dates dependent and of course this is an entirely different thing. If there are gaps, that’s fine, just be prepared to speak to why and what you were doing in the interview. Positions where background security checks are required may need evidence to support any gaps of 3 months plus.

16 PDF/Word: My personal preference is for a PDF version, which is professional, clean and secure. I would use this for emailing a CV one-to-one to a known contact of yours. HOWEVER please be aware that when applying to jobs online, especially through job-boards or employer portals that this selection can disadvantage you. Some reasons being that CV screening software may not read a PDF well so you may be overlooked, it often does not upload fully/correctly to a portal or CRM and recruiters often cannot cut and paste PDF’s easily into their template/format. So if making general applications where the recipient is unknown or the process is automated I’d go with MS Word.

17 Creative CV’s: I do concede that architects, designers and artists etc may need to do more of a creative style CV format even if not to my taste. However, in regular jobs/applications I would avoid whacky colours and formats as the viewer may well be a bit of a traditionalist like me. Even if you are a creative I would still suggest having a formal style CV but with links to or a separate attachment for work examples/portfolio. Again as with the PDF advice above, how it is presented / sent may not be how it appears / reads at the other end!

18 Straightforward: Essentially I mean to avoid overcomplicating things and looking like a ‘smarty-pants’ in the way your CV is worded. Don’t try to blind the reader with science, using overly complex terminology. Likewise avoid clichés, jargon and insider jokes. Your CV should work for an HR generalist to read as well as an SME (Subject Matter Expert). Wow, I just ignored my own advice on jargon! Duh 

19 Hobbies: Always a tricky one, you may as well include them as I think it’s somewhat of a CV/recruitment tradition. If you end up listing a hobby that is the same as the interviewer then great you potentially get a bit of free rapport. However typically people (including hiring managers) aren’t really interested in other people’s hobbies, (much the same as other people’s holiday photos). So I’d advise to keep that bit short & sweet, current and again accurate. Plus, avoid the irresistible urge to be a comedian in that section!

20 References: I think excellent references available on request or similar should be the strapline. However, I would advise against including your referees and contact details on the CV. Your reference is like your expert witness who you should use wisely and only when pre-arranged. You should protect your references from too many inquiries to ensure they are willing and able to give a full and positive account. When being asked for the umpteenth time no doubt the reference will be less shiny. Also, I’m afraid to say that Recruitment Consultants will routinely take the reference’s contact information and use them to headhunt and/or to solicit business from.

So to come into land here, in order to maximise the chance of success i.e., being requested for interview; your CV should be laid out in a simple effective format, using consistent fonts and bullets, including professional summary and quantifiable achievements, be truthful and chronological fit for purpose and well-targeted to the audience. (How to win at the interview is the subject for another blog).

However, while presenting your CV is the theme of this blog, let’s finish by putting it in a wider context. You can give yourself a competitive edge by presenting your skills, experience and accomplishments in the best way possible, but there is a limit to the difference this will make. Ultimately the best way to improve your CV is to develop your skills and in doing so enhance your marketability and value to a next employer. As you continue on your career journey always seek self-improvement which as soon as you have documented it IS CV improvement!

If I can give you any more pointers in respect to CV preparation or matters across the recruitment spectrum, feel free to give me a shout at coordinates below:

All the best, Anthony
01275 331307
TW @MacstaffUK