I offer you an insight based on my own experience and that of my co-workers. I was struck by a perennial problem amongst job-seekers, who are looking for that little “extra” that gets them noticed, when everyone else is getting sifted out. So, how do you impress a potential employer, in order to get an interview?

First, if you can, get someone skilled to write your CV: PiPs has an excellent service, but if you are determined to go it alone, at the very least get someone to read it before you submit it – if only for spelling, grammar and typesetting….

So, you are a “self-motivated, results-focused team player with a proven track record  of success in a fast-paced environment due to your strong work ethic” ? Yes? Then you are probably also a bipedal humanoid looking for a job, like all the other bipedal humanoids looking for a job out there… EXACTLY like ALL who put that in their CV…. Not exactly an outstanding start to your job-hunt…

If you want to do your CV yourself, then make sure it makes sense, and that it is going to stand out.

Rule #1: Make sure you adapt your CV to reflect the job. I don’t mean claim to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, or the Pulitzer, when all you have is a third-grade swimming certificate (unless you actually have won the prizes, in which case they should be right at the top!).I mean READ the job description and systematically match your skills to those required. You might think that this is obvious, (in which case, good for you), but trust me, I still read CV’s that have been banged off in MSWord and dressed up with pretty spirals and WordArt but don’t actually have any relevance to the job itself.

Pick out the key words and use them in your CV. For example, the job requires a person “committed to personal development”, so make sure you say something along those lines: “committed to personal development – recently self funded an accountancy / macramé / renaissance history / quantum physics course – passed with distinction / a medal / a knighthood / a mention in dispatches”.

Rule #2: Don’t make your CV look like a High School ICT exercise. People are not interested in how clever you can be with clip art, WordArt, or formatting. Keep it simple, but not bland; use a font which is easily read (at least 10pt or 12pt): commonly, one like Times New Roman, Arial (NOT “Arial Narrow” or “Arial Black”) or Cambria. Do not use “fancy” fonts like Algerian or Bradley Hand.

Rule #3: Forget fancy graphics, images or weird colour paper – unless the job is in a cutting edge design company or a graphic arts role, because then your skills will need to be obvious.

So, if you’re going for the job of “Health and Safety Coordinator” at your local swimming pool, you don’t want to do the equivalent of a Hieronymus Bosch Triptych, just to get attention (masterpieces they may be, but they’re a bit weird).

A really good way to get attention is for your first line to be a summary of what you are and what you bring….

Rule #4: Keep your details to the top of the page and ensure you place the relevant “catchy” first line in plain sight. One I saw recently started with: “A highly experienced Business Development professional, with an excellent track record in developing and managing business strategy and business processes”. The applicant then went on to justify each of those statements in turn, using examples, and highlighting skills required in the job description. She got the job.

Another thing to avoid is using terms that, on their own, have no meaning in “real life”. Think about it: so what if you have “transferable skills”? What exactly are they? This, again, may seem patently obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many people submit that phrase without actually qualifying what it means to the employer.

Ask yourself how the fact you have “transferable skills” adds value to the employer’s requirements? How are they transferable? How are they relevant? What precisely are they? Some more “deadly” phrases – when used without qualification – are: “Results-Oriented Professional” (means what? Is that like “water oriented boat” or “space oriented astronaut” or “food oriented chef”?); “Visionary, Strategic thinker” (you’re a mystic?), try to avoid them, or at least avoid just filling your CV with them without concentrating on the specifics.

Once your CV is complete, the work really begins, because, for most applications, you need to research all about the employer and the job. What does this mean? Again, I can only answer for myself and my colleagues, but, for us, our experiences with the last few recent recruitment exercises have provided food for thought.

Amongst the applications for the advertised job, one candidate stood above the others, because that candidate not only hit all the CV points, but they made not-too-discreet enquiries about the employer. Requests were made for strategic plans and for background information. Contacts and networks were mined for data. The applicant clearly went on the webpage, but they also telephoned the person shown on the advertisement as a contact and had loooooong chats. By the time all these activities came to light, we all wanted to meet this person, because they seem to be committed to getting the job. The mere act of showing more interest had raised their profile above everyone else who didn’t make the same enquiries; and all we had seen until then was the CV. One of the questions subsequently asked at the interview (of every interviewee) was a fellow interviewer’s favourite question: “…What have you done to prepare for this interview?”… Ask yourself, have you prepared…? Think about it – as long as you don’t make a pain of yourself, people will begin to hear your name more than somebody else’s. At least you will seem “interested” – which is entirely the point, at the end of the day….

For those of you who have got to the end of this post, thank you; I wish you the best of luck in your efforts. However, if you take just one thing away from reading this, please, please, please, get somebody else to read your CV before you submit it…. a little independent feedback – or just an apostrophe in the right place – could be the difference between getting the interview and the Death Star unemployment queue…..

Carl Mason
Organisational Review and Development Manager