Mastering your CV


During my 25 years of recruiting I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said…”I could write a book on the mistakes I’ve seen in CVs”. Believe me – it would be a very large book! My associates in the recruitment industry will share my pain I’m sure. However, let’s get down to work – if you’re looking for a new job and you have a CV – stop and read this article.

Firstly, let’s get real. If you’re a candidate at any level, you have approximately 60 seconds to catch the eye of a recruiter (and by recruiter I mean either a professional or someone who has been put in charge of filling a role). Our attention span has become shorter and shorter in this modern, need it now world, and therefore what you say and how you position yourself in your CV has to be succinct. Succinct is not 20 pages in depth. These short novels are not given the attention their authors think they deserve – if anything they have a negative and adverse impact.

Your CV must make logical sense – by that we mean… the dates must match up, you need to be able to explain career gaps and highlight what you’re good at. Show me your strengths up front – make this part of your opening statement in your CV. Tell me where you’ve worked, how long you were employed there and some of your accomplishments (note the use of “some” – it should not be a recount of your life). Yes, tell me about your qualifications, the training you’ve attended but again make it succinct and relevant to the role you’ve applied for. Please don’t tell me what you were doing in 1972 (unless you’ve mastered time travel and we need that information to help us shortlist you for a job in time travel). Focus on the last 10-15 years and summarise the rest if it has no relevance. As much as it’s lovely to learn you’re married with three beautiful girls and a labrador called Spot that you walk every weekend, it’s not likely to help with shortlisting. In fact for some recruiters it may create a negative bias in their minds (especially if they don’t like married people who have labradors.)

Whether we like it or not, recruitment is all about discrimination. I don’t mean in the legal sense, but the fact we have to get 30 applicants down to three or four means we have to select for match. With that in mind try to remove factors that will speed up your de-selection. Photos are not required unless you are applying for a role where your physical features are part of the selection process – e.g. a model. Please use an email address that is professional. is not going to cut the mustard I’m afraid.

Think about all the “other” information you add to your CV that is not relevant. If it’s not relevant, get it out.

Lots of people ask me about whether a cover letter is necessary. For me I do find these useful for several reasons. One, I can find out about some of the “extra” information that doesn’t necessarily fit in your CV – your willingness to relocate and your motivation for applying for the role for example. Telling me that you’re only interested in the job because it suits your lifestyle and your personal circumstances, may not help your cause. I want to hear from candidates who are connected with what our employers stand for and want to be part of that environment. Make me want to hire you based on the compelling reasons in your cover letter.

Lastly, check, check and double check the accuracy of your cover letter and CV – remove mistakes and grammatical errors. Please don’t tell me one of your strengths is attention to detail and then submit a CV that is full of mistakes. It’s one of the fastest ways to an unsuccessful letter! So remember the CARS acronym – Compelling, Accurate, Relevant and Succinct for a winning CV.


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