London Career & Life Coach Hans Schumann shares tips from recruiters on how to make sure your CV doesn’t end up in the bin.
Job markets worldwide have been undergoing significant changes in the recent years, triggered by major events such as Brexit, the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Many of us have lost their jobs and others have taken this opportunity to revisit what they want from their career. We have seen a stark increase in career coaching clients who are considering a career change. If you too are looking for new opportunities, standing out in the job market will become increasingly difficult.
In this article, I will take you through the basics of getting over the first hurdle in your job hunt: How to create a CV that avoids the recruiters’ bin.
Don’t use fancy templates
Websites like canva.com offer beautiful templates for CVs that use neat graphic elements to structure content and will definitely make yours stand out from the crowd, like the ones in the image below:
However, DON’T use them!
Being a fan of graphic design, I love those templates – but the advice I hear from recruiters over and over is to stay away from them. Apparently, those fancy layouts make it more difficult for recruiters to find relevant information quickly. Barry Collins of Collins Property Recruitment also explains that your CV needs to be easy to review on digital screens of all sizes as printing is often only a last resort these days.
Even more importantly, many CVs are screened by automated Application Tracking Systems (ATS) these days and they may not be able to recognise the text in the design elements. So pick an ATS friendly CV format.
The only exception where it might make sense to use graphic design elements is if you are applying for a graphic design job. In that case your CV could showcase your design skills. But even then, you might want to check whether the hirer uses an ATS system.
Make your CV easy to read
First impressions are important. Ben de Grouchy, founder of recruitment agency ecruit, explains that recruiters only take between 7 and 20 seconds to scan a CV before making a decision on whether to bin it. Put yourself in their shoes: If a recruiter receives a CV that is cramped, like the one in image 1 below, they will immediately be turned off. It’s simply too hard to read.
Compare this with the same CV in different formatting in image 2 above.
A few simple formatting changes have made the same CV much easier to read:
- The use of plenty of white space by creating bigger borders and wider line spacing
- Larger paragraph fonts
- Headings are larger than the paragraph text
- The text is justified
Remember that the CV is your business card. It does not only convey information about your career, it also shows whether you are able to prioritise and present data in a concise and reader-friendly way. For many office jobs that’s an important skill. For example, if you applied for a job as a lawyer and you presented me with a CV similar to the one in image 1, I would draw the conclusion that your legal advice notes would probably look similar. I would bin your CV straightaway.
Make it bespoke
I strongly advise against using the same CV for each job you apply for, unless the job descriptions match completely. I am afraid this means a lot of extra work, but here is why I think this is important:
You only have a few seconds
Recruiters have to work their way through dozens, sometimes hundreds of CVs for a single vacancy. As we learned from Ben de Grouchy, they will only spend seconds to check whether your CV matches the job description. You will increase your chances of catching their attention if you make it easier for recruiters to find relevant information quickly. You do this by ensuring that your CV clearly displays the exact key words from the job description.
For example, if the job description for a lawyer asks for experience in outsourcing and procurement contracts, do mention those exact terms in your personal statement, maybe in a bullet list of skills. If your CV uses other terms, like “commercial contracts” and “IT supply agreements” this may still match the job description, but it’s more difficult for the recruiter to see that. This becomes even more important if the hirer uses an automated Applicant Tracking System (ATS) which will screen your CV for certain keywords. If you don’t use the exact same keywords in your CV, the ATS may not select your CV for the next round.
Your examples need to be relevant
Staying with the example of a commercial contract lawyer, you may have advised clients from a wide range of industries. Whilst this may be evidence of your broad experience, I recommend that your CV focuses on examples that are relevant to either the industry for which you apply or the particular responsibilities mentioned in the job specification.
Create a captivating personal statement
The personal statement is a concise summary at the top of your CV, which details what you can bring to a job or company. It’s an excellent opportunity to help you stand out from the crowd. Ben de Grouchy explains that the personal statement is one of the key items in CVs that he focused on during the first seconds of a review. The personal statement gives him a “feel for the type of person you are”.
Here are my thoughts on how to craft a personal statement:
- Start with a sentence that sums up who you are professionally
- Add a bullet list of your key specialisations or achievements
- State what you will bring to the company
- Describe what drives you to perform
- Explain what you are looking for and why; for example, why you want to move industries
You should not have more than one sentence for each of the above items.
Although I usually recommend the above approach, there are no set rules. Advice across the recruitment industry differs depending on who you speak to. Take Barry Collins, for example, who explains that he would like to read a clear career objective in the personal statement: “I’d much rather know early on what the person is hoping/looking to achieve by sending their CV than reading them describe themselves in their own words.”
For more tips on personal statements, read my article: “How to write a personal statement for your CV”.
Keep it short
Your CV should not be more than two pages long. Barry Colin advises: “You just want to give them enough so that they want to meet and find out more.”
In exceptional circumstances, three pages may be justified; for example, if you apply for a CEO role and you have 10 relevant previous CEO roles to mention.
At the same time, be careful not to cramp too much content onto a page so that it becomes hard to read (see tip 2 above). Spend time on deciding what’s really important and relevant, and find a way to summarise in a concise way so that you can stick to the two pages without overcrowding the CV. Less is more.
This can be tricky, but if you do it well it will reflect positively on you.
This should be an obvious step, but I have heard many recruiters mentioning how common typos in CVs are. I recommend that you not only proofread your CV yourself, but also ask at least one other person to do the same. I know from my own experience that I often don’t spot my own typos. For important texts, I always ask a professional proofreader to check them. You can hire them for very little money on sites such as upwork.com. It’s a small investment which could have a massive impact on your career.
Arguably, this is the most difficult part of any CV. Ideally, a CV should not just talk about responsibilities you had in previous jobs, or projects you worked on. It should also identify specific and measurable results you achieved.
Barry Collins comments: “As soon as I know your job title, I know within reason what your day-to-day duties and responsibilities are, but what I do not know is what you have personally achieved in that role. I’m far more interested in the reading the figures and the facts than the same old boring duties that you’ve copied from Google or from the job description that you received when you started.”
Here are a few examples of specific achievements you could stated in your work experience section:
- Increased sales by division by 10%
- Negotiated the successful £5mill purchase of telecommunications provider Easy Target Limited by Big PLC
- Won “Entrepreneur of the Year” award
- Sourced and implemented an industry-leading CRM System for Good Company plc
Sometimes you need to be a bit creative in how you position your contributions to projects and team achievements, but be careful not to misrepresent your involvement. Don’t lie on your CV! Sometimes that’s a fine line.
You may be able to bluff your way through the initial round of CV reviews, but when you attend an interview you may be asked to elaborate on your achievements, which could become embarrassing if you stretched the truth too far.
I once interviewed a coach who described himself as “award winning”. When I asked him to tell me more about the award, it turned out that he was referring to a badge that coaches receive automatically when they complete a profile on an online coaching directory. My conclusion was: this guy is a bluffer. I can’t trust him.
Don’t be like that guy!
Link to evidence
If you have evidence of your professional qualifications or experience, you can link to them in your CV as supporting evidence. Examples could be:
- Professional certifications
- Professional publications
- Professional awards
- Your LinkedIn profile with endorsements
- A portfolio of work examples
Don’t overdo this, though, and only link to items that show objective evidence and are relevant to the job specification.
Make it consistent with your LinkedIn profile
Any recruiter who considers inviting you to an interview will probably also check you out on LinkedIn and cross check it with your CV. Make sure that the information they will find on your LinkedIn profile does not differ from that on your CV. Inconsistencies may raise unnecessary questions. It’s OK if your summaries of achievements differ on LinkedIn, as your CV will be made bespoke for a specific job application, but key information such as dates, job titles, employers and education should be identical.
Barry Collins also recommends that you remove any old and potentially inappropriate photos or post from your social media profiles, or ensure that they are not accessible by anyone other than your friends and approved followers.
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