Recently, I was speaking with someone in my network about her recruitment process. She can’t believe the dreadful standard of CVs from applicants. The messages about avoiding basic errors are not getting through. Surveys suggest this is not an isolated scenario. What’s going on? Is it carelessness, inconvenience, laziness, ignorance or desperation? Any of these are likely to rule you out. Consequently, you miss the opportunity to show the best of you at an interview and the employer misses out on potential talent. Here are some basics to get right with CVs.

The purpose of CVs

Employers want to know three things:

  1. Can you do this job?
  2. Why should we choose you?
  3. Will you fit in with us?

Spend time tapping into your self-awareness – data (facts about you), information (who you are as a person), and wisdom (how you see the world). Gather knowledge about the job, the company, and its culture. Be visible to the employer in advance so you are on their radar.

Now you are better prepared to complete your CV. The CV is one of your tickets to play the game and it has to be right. If not, recruiters and hiring managers will rule you out. Once you are ruled in, then you have to stand out above all the other applicants who are ruled in.

The purpose of a CV is to get you an interview. It won’t get you the job on its own. What does an employer need to know to gain enough interest to find out more? Your aim is to get the employer to think ‘I want to meet this person’. It’s your promise of value to an employer.

Don’t rule yourself out through preventable errors and by not putting the necessary effort in.

Selecting the information

What do you include and exclude in the content? Above all, tailor your CV to match the specific job requirements every single time! Generic CVs do not work because they suggest you don’t care enough and lack interest in the role or employer. Imagine employing someone like that! Use relevant information about yourself tailored to the job specification, description, and advert. You are more likely to get interviewed if you show a workplace mindset rather than just skills on your CV. Because some employers hire for attitude and train for skills once you join. Quality is more important than quantity, so make the time to get it right.

Focus on your impact

Employers like to visualise potential employees in the job. Can they see you in this role, team, project, culture? So, make it easier for them by showing how your past successes are transferable. Explain how those same abilities will help this employer. Be specific and focus on results. For example, “I increased sales by 10% in a sluggish market through Facebook marketing. Therefore, you will get someone with a proven track record, social media expertise, drive and who thrives in difficult times.”

Length, layout, and structure

How long should a CV be? 2 pages max, 1 page if you can, never 6 pages.

It’s easy to get hung up on the layout and how your CV looks. Luckily, there are many apps and tools available to help you set out your content automatically and that look smart. Try VisualCV. And if you want something different from traditional text-based CVs, try alternative formats such as Slideshare, Infographic or Video.

What structure works best for specific jobs?

  • Chronoligical = reverse order of jobs, starting with the most recent; shows your progress; best if applying from a job.
  • Skills = more useful if you don’t have much job experience.
  • Hybrid = skills section followed by chronological section or chronology of jobs described in skills format; useful if you have career gaps or out of work.

Language matters

Accuracy: grammar, punctuation, and spelling must be perfect. Remember, spellchecker doesn’t check for sense. Avoid text speak. Proof-read your CV then get someone else to check it. Electronic scanning of keywords happens and will rule you out if keywords are missing and spelling errors occur. If you stand out, then a real person will read your CV. Use sector/industry specific language and keywords/phrases from the job specification/description.

Title and tagline: Don’t bother putting ‘CV’ or ‘Curriculum Vitae’ in the title (it’s obvious!). Just your name – big and bold. To show confidence, a tagline is an optional branding statement for summing up your value. For example: “Data Analyst. Creates reports, reveals the story, and answers questions.” Check out this post on personal branding if you struggle to come up with a tagline.

Summary/profile: why is your opening paragraph so important? Recruiters glance the first time, read the second time;  it’s the key place to hit the sweet spot where your unique offer meets the job in hand; be concise and avoid cliches; write it after writing the rest of your CV; take a WISH approach:

  • Here’s Who I am as a person and the difference I make.
  • This is why I’m genuinely Interested in the role/company/industry.
  • Let me Show you why I can do this job and why I’m a good bet for the future.

Your achievements: what verbs help describe them? For example: lead, managed, organised, evaluated, negotiated, advised, increased, enhanced, improved, exceeded, gained, saved, prevented. Link commercial awareness to your academic qualifications. For example, “fluency in French” is better than “studied French Literature”.

Other resources

Those are some of the basics of getting CVs right. You’ll find plenty more in Lis McGuire’s excellent book, Ace Your CV Elevate Your Career.

And if your CV gets you selected for the next stage, check out my FREE guide on how to show your value to employers at the job interview.

You only get out what you put in. What are you prepared to do for job success?