From education to employment

How do I write the perfect CV?

Benn Carson, Carson Recruitment

As the owner and lead recruiter at Carson Recruitment, there’s one question in particular I get asked a lot:

How do I write the perfect CV?

There’s plenty of school of thought out there, and at the end of the day, there is no one correct answer. Creating the ‘right’ CV depends on many variables, some of which are out of your control. Regardless, you can gear your CV towards a specific job all you want – but if you can’t connect with the person reading it, whether that’s your potential future boss or somebody in HR (or even, sadly, in some cases, a machine), then your application has already failed.

Now, picture this. You’ve been looking at your next career step. A job role comes up that fits the bill. You have the qualifications and core competencies; it’s perfect for you! That’s all good and well, but the job is not about you – the role is available because of a gap in the employer’s team, and with it a shortage of skills. This lack of skills will eventually cause a problem for the hiring manager, and his or her number one personal goal is to plug that gap.

Let me repeat – this is not about you needing a job. This is about the hiring manager solving their staffing headache.

Once you see it from their perspective, it will change the way you approach job applications, and write your CV, forever.

As somebody who reads applications from job seekers regularly, here’s a few pointers on how to improve yours.

1.    Research The Job

This may sound obvious, but you’d be amazed how many applications come in that don’t mention the job they are applying for, focusing instead on the core skills and competencies of the person applying. Now your perspective has changed and you’re approaching CV-writing from the employer’s perspective, you’ll never do this again.

You can gain some quick wins that will allow you to address the hiring manager’s recruitment headache through a simple search on Linkedin: find out more about them and their team – how long have they been in their role? Are they new or established? What is their skillset, and what are they missing? If you’ve got Linkedin Premium, find out if the company is growing or downsizing – this will affect how you frame how you can solve their “problem”.

If you’re applying through a recruiter, like myself, sometimes you won’t know who the hiring company is. Use this as an opportunity – the pressure to address the company’s needs in your CV is off, and you can focus on yourself and what you have achieved. When you get to interview, that’s when the research on the company begins.

2. Talk About What You’ve Delivered, Not Just Your Skills

Sure, there’s a place on a CV to list your skills and qualities – indeed, they are essential. But they tend to be written in cookie-cutter language like everybody else, aimed directly at answering a line on the Core Competencies or Skills Required section of a job listing.

Pssst. Everybody applying for the job has that skill. It’s a given. 

Try and stand out by telling us what you used that skill to achieve. Got those Compliance qualifications we asked for? Great. Now tell us about the Grade 1 Observation score you were given by OFSTED in your last inspection as a result of them. Competent in driving a team of apprentices? Give us the figures that prove the progress your team made. Actions speak louder than words.

4.  Keep Your Cover Letter Short

It’s tempting, and sometimes feels necessary, to stuff every last skill, quality, and achievement into a cover letter. You look at the job description, and try and ensure you’ve got at least one keyword from each line of it into your application opener, in a bid to be noticed by CV-scanning software. True, this may work every now and again, but if your cover letter is being read by a human (and you’d hope it is), whether it’s a hiring manager or a recruiter, you want to be succinct, giving the reader the key takeaways they need in a few sentences.

CV guru Liz Ryan, of Human Workplace, offers great advice in her legendary article on writing what she calls a “Pain Letter” when applying directly to a company. As mentioned earlier, your application is about your solving a staffing headache. In particular, you’re solving your future manager’s headache (hence, “pain”).

Use your cover letter to acknowledge the issues they must be facing, called a Pain Hypothesis, a knockout achievement that shows you could help them with their pain points, and wrap it up from there. Don’t recount everything that’s on your CV…. that’s what your CV is for.

4. Don’t Try And Cheat Your Word Processor

It’s the holy grail of CV rules: don’t let it be longer than two pages. Just a single line longer and the reader will switch off, and perhaps discard the whole thing. It seems harsh, but there’s a psychological barrier there that is hard to get past for us recruiters. Quite simply, we read enough CVs, and appreciate the respect shown by keeping to the two-page rule.

Whatever you do though, don’t try and game the system by playing around with the formatting in Microsoft Word to fit your 2.5 page-long CV onto two pages. We’ve all done it – narrow typeface, small font size, tiny margins… these are all just band-aid solutions, masking the issue at hand. What’s worse, it actually makes it more difficult to read. Stick to Arial, in font size 11 or 12, and your reader will thank you for it.

5. Re-write Your CV

I know, I know, this one seems extreme. But before you write it off, just consider it for a moment. 

If you’re like most people, your CV is the culmination of years of jobs, experience, applications, all layered on top of each other. Each time you update it, the older stuff gets pushed down, lines purged to ensure you meet the “2-page max.” criteria. Chances are, you haven’t even re-read what you wrote about that job you had 9 years ago in a now loosely-related field. Everybody is in the same boat, because the idea of re-writing a CV from scratch is daunting, and dull

But let’s go back to our employer’s recruitment headache. They’re looking for somebody with the right skills and, more importantly, achievements that are going to solve their recruitment puzzle. Does your whole CV address their needs? 

Does your summary of an old job even reflect who you are now, professionally? Go back and re-write it from the perspective you have of your career now. There isn’t one single bigger trick to landing the job of your dreams than a current, relevant, tailored CV for the job you desire. Do this, and you’re already well ahead of the pack.

So there it is – five hot tips on writing the perfect CV. These are just a few from me – watch out for a follow-up article in the near future. And good luck with your job hunt!

Benn Carson, Carson Recruitment

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