8 ways to bullet-proof your CV
Published: 04 May 2014 By Rebecca Gray
In today’s challenging job market, making your CV stand out among hundreds or even thousands of others can be a real challenge.
How do you make your CV noteworthy without going overboard and being garish, arrogant or just plain ridiculous? The trick is in learning to tell your story in a compelling way that is at once congruent with the standards of your industry and yet is just different enough from the others to make a recruiter or HR pro take notice. That can be a delicate balance, but it’s doable.
Here are 8 ways to tell your story and ensure your CV gets the nod from HR and hiring managers:
1. Summarise, specify, be succinct…
In other words, get to the point right away. If you’re answering a specific job posting you can integrate the job title into your objective. Or if you’re open to other positions within the company you can indicate this as well, but don’t just throw out some lofty, generalized drivel about how you are an accomplished professional who wants a challenging position with a dynamic company.
Describe yourself and your applicable qualifications, as well as your objective(s) in brief, punchy, dynamic – but not overly dramatic – terms.
2. Integrate keywords from the job advert
This is important for online CVs because many are tracked via keyword searches. In fact CNN has reported that more than 50% of all online CVs are processed with a tracking system, which work by detecting keywords based on what the recruiters are looking for in candidates. These keywords are generally found in the actual job ad. Because online submission of CVs has become so common it makes sense to use keyword tracking to screen out candidates.
Be careful, though. Overuse of keywords looks ill-considered and ugly.
3. Avoid cliché words and terms…
…but don’t make your CV read as if you’ve been combing a thesaurus. Pity the recruiter reading the same cliché ridden self-descriptions over and over again. Forget over-used words and phrases; try to be a little original. But don’t go out of your way to inject big words when a short, simple one will do.
4. Customize your CV for the intended audience
Today’s job seeker has to be flexible and versatile. Every company and position is a little different, so if you have a lot of feelers out you may need several different versions of your CV, stressing different aspects of your career objectives and achievements. Study your target individual or web site so you can determine if the CV you’re sending to that person or site is appropriate. Just make sure that one version of your CV doesn’t actually contradict another.
Everything you put out there will come back to haunt you – or reward you, if you’re doing it right.
5. Use subtle design elements – but don’t go overboard
Whether you’re formatting an online CV or a print CV (yes, some employers still request the latter), you want to strive for visual appeal and distinctiveness, but not visual distraction. Some ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) – deployed by recruitment team to track the progress of job applications – reject CVs with ‘abnormal’ quirks.
Use only one or two fonts and a minimum of fussy details. Same goes with colors – stick to one or two.
6. Be concise but specific
The rule of thumb with a CV is to keep it to one or, at most two, printed pages.
Don’t go on and on and on about each topic; hiring professionals are busy and generally overworked as it is. Yet at the same time you want to be as specific as possible about your accomplishments and achievements. Don’t use abstractions such as, “vastly improved click-through in a key department.” Quantify whenever possible, e.g., “I increased click-through rates within the regional events department by 32.7% within 6 months.” If you really can’t quantify – or at least qualify – consider leaving out that particular “achievement.” Otherwise you might get into an awkward conversation during the interview, should you get that far.
If the position you’re shooting for requires a portfolio, send your best stuff – but only if requested (usually the portfolio show-and-tell is reserved for the interview.) Of course if you have an online link to your portfolio you can and should include that in your CV.
7. Use spin but don’t lie
Recruiters expect a CV to reflect an element of spin but overt embellishments and lies will do you no favours. Yes, you’re expected to put yourself and your achievements in the most favorable light possible. However, extravagant embellishments and lies will always catch up to you, sooner or later – probably sooner, as decent recruiters professionals are wise to job seekers’ tricks.
8. Proofread, proofread, proofread…
…and then proofread again. It’s accepted that social activities often involve misspells words or ungrammatical phrases. But it is wholly unacceptable for mistakes to be strewn across your CV – this is a sure way to ensure your application ends up in the bin. It is important that every communication you send out on behalf of your job search is as close to perfect as you can make it. And it’s just as crucial to proofread a CV sent by email, or posted on a web site, as it is to vet a printed CV.
Now here’s the biggest secret of all: there really is no one magic key to influencing a recruiter or HR professional to decide that you are the one. Hiring and recruitment personnel are as individual as the jobseekers. The truth is that for many, if not most, jobseekers, sending out CVs is a matter of trial and error; you may just have to keep on sending them out, perhaps experimenting with different formats and approaches until something works. However, with a little bit of effort and creativity – as well as realistic expectations – you can create a terrific CV that will represent the very best of what you have to offer.
Rebecca Gray is a freelance writer and blogger, who writes about criminal background check for Backgroundchecks.org. She welcomes your comments at her email id: GrayRebecca14@gmail.com.