We scour through hundreds of CVs every week hunting for the most qualified candidates to fill the ever-expanding roles we’re recruiting for.
And in terms of CVs, we see everything from outstanding to outlandish.
So we decided to share some of our insider advice to help you upgrade your CV and put you in the running for some of our vacancies.
Most recruiters don’t normally disclose all of this information but – I’ll be honest – there’s a vested interest in this for us too. There’s nothing worse than missing out on an A-player who missed an important detail and didn’t even get a 1st-stage interview.
Before, we kick off, here’s a cautionary note: some of this advice might seem obvious to you but you’d be surprised how often these points come up. Again and again, applicants make the same elementary mistakes. There’s a lot riding on your CV and it can make the difference between securing an interview and not hearing back.
The Problem with CVs
Let’s acknowledge that the CV has its limitations. It’s impossible to fully gauge who you are and what you do from 2 pages of text. But it’s a decent proxy that gives an employer a cursory idea of your skills, experiences, and some other between-the-lines aptitudes.
Your CV has One Job
Your CV’s one job is to get you an interview, not the job. Once you focus on getting from zero to interview, it becomes much easier to build your CV with one goal in mind.
For every element, ask “how will this make sure I get an interview?”
If you don’t have a good answer, re-write it. If you still don’t have a good answer, cut it out.
Stop Trying to Stand Out
Conventional CV advice tells you to stand out but the truth is, it’s more important to fit in first. Your CV is your chance to prove that you’re the right person for the job.
Work on establishing fit first. Use the interview to stand out.
Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You
As a recruiter, it’s impossible to ignore a great CV. Use this article as a checklist and make it impossible to be ignored. Make it easy for somebody to want to hire you. Make it demonstrably obvious that they should.
Customise your CV
Your CV isn’t carved in stone so change it to fit the job you’re applying for. When we write a job description, we include an explicit list of requirements we’re looking for. When you submit a CV, you’re bidding for that work, based on your ability to meet the specifications of the job.
Some aspects of your experience will be more relevant than others. Tailor your CV to highlight the parts that matter most to the vacancy.
Use the bullet-points in the job specification as a checklist and make sure your credentials meet the criteria. Go through each item and identify the part of your CV that proves you can deliver on every point.
You might be capable of doing the job and, because you understand that, it’ll be obvious to you. But unless you spell it out, nobody else will ever know.
Highlight Your Achievements
Chances are, you gained your skills and experiences from different jobs which means they’re scattered throughout your CV.
Add a profile section to the top of your CV to summarise the key elements that highlight your candidate-job fit. Use 2 or 3 sentences to explicitly state what makes you a guaranteed interviewee.
If a role has specific non-negotiables, like fluent German and Mandarin, state that upfront. That way, they can’t ignore you.
When we read your CV, we’re looking for evidence of professional qualifications and experience, gained in the workplace. Highlight your most recent 2-3 jobs first, followed by your academic qualifications.
Now here’s a secret few people will tell you – recruiters look for career momentum. We love to see an upward trajectory, especially in senior or management positions. Internal promotions and taking on roles with increasing responsibility signal ambition and competence.
Don’t Include Your Hobbies
You might think that your extracurricular hobbies tell the story that you’re interesting and well-rounded. Truth is, we don’t care about your interests, at least not in your CV. Sure, competing in an Ironman takes a certain amount of dedication and tenacity, but we want to see your professional track record. Keep your CV relevant and focused on your work. Save your side-projects for the interview.
The same goes for your age. An employer can get a rough idea of your age from the year you graduated and, even then, if you can do the work we’re looking to do, your age doesn’t matter.
Ditto for your photo. Save the valuable space on your CV for valuable details.
ctrl + F
One tool we use as a shortcut to find key skills is the find function in Microsoft Word. It’s especially useful for zooming in on specific non-negotiables in the job spec. If the role requires a specific professional qualification, we’ll use ctrl + f to search for that line-item in your CV. If it’s there, your CV goes into the short-list.
Again, read through the job specification and explicitly include the key requirements in your CV. If they’re not there, you’re relying on somebody else to fill in the gaps.
Don’t be Delusional
This sounds harsh but it’s important. Be self-aware and assess whether you’re truly qualified for a job. Confidence and a can-do attitude are great but over-confidence leads to self-delusion. Yet we still receive applications from candidates without the relevant experience for a role.
The job description is there for a reason and it explicitly lists the requirements. Often these are complex, technical infrastructure projects like building offshore wind farms. Work like this requires specialists with direct experience in offshore wind farms. It’s not the kind of work where you can cut your teeth or figure it out on the job.
Go through the job description and if you’re not already competent at 90% of the items listed, you’re applying for the wrong job. Somebody else with 100% will be the obvious hire.
Ask yourself what else you need to accomplish before you’re ready for a certain role. Find a way to fill your gaps and gather the experience you need to reach your dream role.
Keep it Simple
Probably a mantra that’ll serve you in everything you do – Keep. It. Simple.
On your CV, with the constraints of 1 or 2 sheets of paper, simplicity isn’t a luxury; it’s essential. Include the important elements and eliminate anything that doesn’t drive home your goal. Remember, your one goal is to highlight skills-match that makes you worthy of an interview.
Design & Layout
Simplicity also refers to design and layout too:
- Stick with a basic default font like Arial or Times New Roman. Typefaces like Helvetica look great but won’t show up on some displays so stick to the basics that work across devices. Don’t use stylistic fonts or handwritten fonts.
- Use different font weights to help structure the document. Use bold for titles as a way to highlight key areas.
- Learn to use Tabs to layout different sections and keep everything lined up. Don’t use multiple spaces or tables for layout.
- Use line spacing and paragraph spacing give your text space and make it more readable.
Poor spelling and bad grammar are massive red-flags in a CV. It’s not just the fact that you made a mistake (anybody can do that) but that you didn’t take the time to check and fix it. Your CV is the one thing that you have to represent you. Letting misspelt words through to the final version suggests that you have poor attention to detail or don’t care.
That may or may not be true. If it’s not, don’t under-represent yourself by letting mistakes past your quality filter. Your CV should tell the story of your best self. Make sure it does.
There are some brilliant online tools like Grammarly and Hemingway that help correct your grammar and make your writing clear and pithy.
You are the expert on you so make sure your CV accurately reflects what you can do. When everybody else is carpet-bombing their generic CV to every company they can find, your laser-focused CV will make it impossible for a recruiter to ignore you.
Don’t underestimate the simplicity of some of the points above. When we asked around the office, the same elementary basics kept coming up again and again. Get the basics right and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to upgrade your CV.