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Put your best CV forward

Written by: Karishma VaktaSmith is business support adviser at Solace in Business
Published on: 6 Feb 2020

When you consider that research conducted by the likes of PeopleCert shows that over half of Brits are considering a job change in 2020 (up 8% from last year), as well as research that suggests there is a year-on-year rise in job dissatisfaction, it is important that people put their best foot forward when applying for new opportunities.

In previous articles, we focused on subjects like how to remain authentic in a recruitment process and, in comparison, the subject of creating a good CV could seem a little pedestrian. However, an effective CV is a critical part of the recruitment process.

What does a good CV look like? Ask 10 different recruiters and there’s a distinct possibility you may get 10 different answers. The fact is, this is a very subjective topic. Let’s unpick some of the considerations.

In executive level recruitment, candidates will often have decades of experience under their belt.

How should they present that considerable amount of career information in a way which the audience – and let’s remember that audience can be recruiters, officers, elected members and board members – can quickly assess suitability for a particular opportunity?

It is easy to get lost in the crowd of candidates who respond to a job advertisement.

The Ladders Inc career site conducted its Eye-Tracking Study in 2018 and found the average time spent initially screening a CV is a mere 7.4 seconds. While this is an improvement from the 6-second average an earlier study revealed, it is still a very short window of opportunity in which to grab a hiring manager’s attention. What can you do to stand out?

In our experience, senior managers struggle to find the time to focus on their own personal development and career progression and are not always well versed in how to market themselves effectively, despite having had successful careers.

Personal modesty can play a part, as well as a lack of time to reflect and consider what career achievements and responsibilities to focus on.

The reality is that there is no such thing as the perfect CV. That said, there is a wealth of opinion on what a good CV should look like, as well as some scientific study on the topic.

The Ladders Inc study was able to find a clear delineation between the best and worst- performing CVs.

The top performing CVs were likely to have a number of key elements: a simple layout that takes advantage of F-pattern and E-pattern reading tendencies, which refers to the pattern in which readers tend to scan blocks of text, when reading fast.

In addition, effective CVs will often use clear fonts and plainly marked sections. The worst-performing ones were cluttered, with poor layouts that made little use of sections and job headers.

Rita Chowdhry, a specialist in recruitment and coaching, spent five years creating what has been hailed by some, as the world’s best CV.

She created a template that combines the most effective components of over 1,500 professional CVs. She makes many points about the ‘perfect’ content, but perhaps most interestingly, her template takes into account the different types of personality a CV may be read by. Ms Chowdhry uses the ‘DISC’ psychometric category system that identifies four main personality types and details how best to appeal to each.

For example she advocates the use of numerical statistics and factual evidence to engage result-oriented ‘Dominant’ personality types and data-focused ‘Compliants’, while people-oriented ‘Steady’ personality types and motivational ‘Influencers’ can be impressed by highlighting interpersonal work relationships with colleagues, managers and clients and referring to at least one of the company’s values within past accomplishments.

She recommends that all superfluous details such as sexual orientation, religious beliefs, date of birth, photo, etc, should be left out to avoid any unconscious bias within a recruitment panel.

‘Personality-proofing’ your CV is a good way to ensure there is something appealing in your CV for everyone involved in the hiring process and that your accomplishments take precedence.

Collective advice on CVs from sector leaders in recruitment and coaching revolves around some basic principles, including, but not limited to: using bold fonts for job titles and providing supportive evidence of accomplishments with listed bullet points (including metrics to illustrate scope and scale), listing work in chronological order, starting from the most recent, using space wisely, to avoid clutter, as well as avoiding huge empty spaces and sticking to facts and statistics in order to back up career accomplishments. 

In the end, you are seeking to make a ‘business case’ in why you should be brought forward for an interview. Treat it with that level of seriousness.

In this digital age, it would be remiss to not also touch upon the role a candidates’ LinkedIn profile plays in the hiring process. US-based organisation The Society for Human Resource Management conducted a survey that found businesses are increasingly using social networks for recruiting across the pond.

A survey by Bullhorn found that 97.3% of the respondents said they used LinkedIn as a recruiting tool in 2012. Since then, the platform has only increased in size, year-on-year.

Therefore, it is good practice to ensure your CV mirrors your LinkedIn profile, as often recruiters and hiring managers will look  at both, and any discrepancies will be glaringly obvious, leaving a negative impression from the start. Keeping your LinkedIn page updated is just as crucial as maintaining a good CV. The number one job of a CV is to land you that face-to-face interview. 

Not investing time in thorough CV preparation could do a disservice to all the experience and skills accumulated over a successful career. Indeed, as recruiters, we often ponder if there is a better candidate hiding behind a poorly-written application.

Taking charge of your CV presentation and following a few key principles of best practice is a solid way to ensure you are putting your best foot forward. 

There can be no such thing as a ‘perfect’ CV, but there’s nothing wrong with having that objective in your sights. In the words of US football coach, business guru and author, Vince Lombardi: ‘Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence!’ And excellence is worth striving for.

Karishma VaktaSmith is business support adviser at Solace in Business

R&R author