Move your CV from looking like a first-time job hunter

The Muse, in 2017, notes that there are “185 Powerful Verbs That Will Make Your Resume Awesome” (https://www.themuse.com/advice/185-powerful-verbs-that-will-make-your-resume-awesome). Of course, it’s a nonsense. Even if any of us had time to wade through 85 let alone 185, how are we meant to choose which is best, given that they group them with anything up to 25 words per (sic) “lead a project” or “achieved something”. RedStarResume does exactly the same thing.

If I went through this process, I’d spend 8 hours writing a CV that should take me 4. However, as we all know, keywords are crucial.

Your CV is your shopfront. It is your “here I am, you need to take a look”. It needs to be the difference between a Coca-Cola global advert, or the John Lewis Christmas ad, and a low budget PPI shout. You need to make a good first impression; otherwise, no one will bother to stop and look. If you’re not entry level anymore—i.e., you have a few years’ experience under your belt—you need to make a few crucial changes to your CV.

The most obvious difference between a starter, or student / starter, CV and that of someone with more experience is precisely that: experience. There will be elements contained in a starter CV that are, at that stage, important – largely because they are “all” a candidate has to offer; they have no career – this doesn’t apply to a CV of someone more experienced. An employee with 5 years’ experience has no need to detail club activities or the specifics of the gap year in Kenya. If those were mentioned at all, a one-line summary will suffice.

Your first CV is a bit different because you won’t normally have as much work experience to put in there. Instead it’s mainly a space to list your skills, interests, education and achievements. With multiple CVs to choose from, the starter needs to make sure recruitment teams see the most important bits first. But those starters also need to appreciate that their CV at this stage will not be what they use going forward; and that, despite having no experience, the professionalism of the CV construct is as important as that of the middle manager. I have dealt with many starters who believe that, simply because they are at school or university, it’s acceptable to throw together a badly produced document. They seem to feel that they’ll be “forgiven” because they’re “only starting out”. Oh dear. All that approach actually flags is that they are unprofessional, period.

Once people have been working for a while, they might use a “chronological” CV, which lists the places they have worked in order of date, along with their main responsibilities. They don’t need to spend as much time highlighting skills as their work experience and responsibilities show this. It would be taken as read that a candidate has the skills to fulfil the accountabilities; if he doesn’t, how does he achieve the accountabilities? If one definitively reflects the other, there is no need – indeed it is damaging – to bloat the CV with what is superfluous. It would be like Neil Armstrong saying he was a skilled pilot.

When you make your first student CV, what you need to do is show you have what it takes to do the job without the work experience. Of course, there is a danger in this. If the writer doesn’t think ahead – what does the reader need from the CV – the CV can go from soft skills to adjectives’-driven waffle. I accept it’s a fine line but it’s one that’s important to bear in mind at each stage.

For this reason, a first CV should be skills / qualifications based rather than chronological. We looked at ‘soft skills’ in an earlier article, well this is the place to talk about them.

CV companies and recruiters will usually categorise CV types as they see best. There isn’t a market-must but there are market norms, in the round, that at certain stages of a career, any jobseeker will have a particular “type” of CV. The categories may be, for example, are entry level and new graduate (in chronological, functional and combined formats); management and middle career (in chronological, functional and combined formats); and senior management and executive (in chronological, functional and combined formats). Or similar variant.

Whilst there is no market template, no “you must have X section in at Y level, to leave it out would be fatal”, it is wise to assess what takes the CV from what is evidently that of a starter to someone who is junior or middle management.

I’d suggest making these four changes to your CV if you’re finally past the “entry level” mark:

Add Your LinkedIn Profile

CareerBuilder (https://www.careerbuilder.com/) has previously reported that around 40% of all employers might not interview a candidate if they can’t find them online; and that about 60% of recruiters use social networking sites to research candidates, and almost 60% of recruiters use search engines to look up candidates (not to mention that around 40% of employers say they research current employees on social media, with one-third of them using search engines). Plus, the 2016 Recruiting Benchmark Survey NACE suggests that about half of all recruiters say social media has changed their recruiting results (http://www.naceweb.org/store/2016/recruiting-benchmarks-survey-2016/).

Craft a Perfect Elevator Pitch (excuse the Americanism!)

You need to outline, briefly and persuasively, a spark of interest in what you do, who you are, why you’re good for the particular job. CRUCIAL here is to avoid, for instance, “I wish to secure a long-term role in a renowned organisation”. I would throw that CV in the bin. All it says to the recruiter that you haven’t researched their job or jobs. Instead of launching into a bullet-point list of your current job skills, write a snappy blurb that summarises your qualifications and highlights your most marketable and relevant skills. This will reframe your experience and set the tone for the rest of the CV.

Don’t Mention the Internship

If you’re no longer an entry-level professional, forget mentioning internships of yore. This is debatable, I accept that – you may have received an award or done something highly unusual. But many recruiters take the view that your internships, while valuable, will only serve you during your first year or two after graduation. After that, it’s often felt, employers will look to your most recent work experience to gauge your fit for their position.

Forget Fancy Layouts

My pet hate. Some clients think they’re helping themselves by using colours, graphics, fonts, tables, etc. While it’s tempting to create a cool design for your CV, keep it simple. The less time a recruiter spends hunting for information on your CV, the more likely you are to make it to the next stage of the hiring process. Applicant-tracking systems (ATS) are essentially bots that scan your CV and decide if you’re a good fit for the position. They tend to have trouble reading your CV when it doesn’t follow a traditional layout. With clearer headings and more organised content, it will also play well with the ATS software.

Nigel Benson (9 Posts)

Nigel Benson is a professional career sector specialist with over 12 years' experience writing executive level CVs and expertise in recruitment, job interviews and training.


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