Blog: Updating your CV? Look at what’s new in CV land

A well-written curriculum vitae (“CV”) – Latin, meaning “course of one's life” - could change the course of your life!

This week I am looking at the curriculum vitae (“CV”) or résumé – the story of you - and how this selling tool can get you further along the recruitment journey. Today's recruitment websites now provide lots of guidance on the world of work, from job search and CV writing to interview technique, as well as surveys and questionnaires to assist you in finding the right career. These are mainly focused on you, the jobseeker. They are well worth a visit. But I've been looking at recruitment from the perspective of the recruiters and corporate HR teams, and what tips they are using to help them sift through and shortlist the volume of applicants. What are they looking for? How have things changed in recent years? And if you haven’t updated your CV for a while, what should you be doing to ensure that your CV doesn’t let you down when it enters the hiring zone?

There are hundreds of articles out there on how to write a CV – check out,heeful templates at the UK’s Jobsite, including one for returners after a career break. But how do you distinguish yours from the rest, regardless of whether a human or robot is reading it? There is no doubt that many large organisations use some form of electronic selection in this digital age, not only to be cost effective, and to identify plagiarism, but also to discourage bias or subjectivity in the hiring process.

First thing is to assume that the poster of the opportunity will get several responses, maybe dozens or even hundreds. They may also be recruiting for various roles at the same time. So make their job easy! They – or their machine-based software - will be looking to file your CV in one of three folders – YES, NO or MAYBE. Before even submitting your CV, read it through and answer the question yourself – what folder would you put yourself in? Here are some tips from my trawl through the recruitment industry sites; have these in mind when you click “submit” and you are putting your best foot forward in a competitive world.

  • The cover letter

This is an opportunity to write a brief upfront “executive summary” explaining exactly why they should hire you for this specific role. Don’t overlook the immense value in preparing this “call to action”.  If you don’t do a cover letter, it can look plain lazy, inexperienced, or like you have done a mass application to every vacancy available, without tailoring your approach in any way to the individual vacancy in question.

  • The heading

Don't just put your name, also put the description of the role you wish to perform. If nothing else, these are “keywords” that a human or machine reader will pick up on straightaway, earning you valuable points. Companies using machines to read a high volume of CVs recommend that you use keywords for the role and industry at the start of your CV. Don’t forget to add your contact details and links to any social media profiles.

  • Relevant experience upfront

The temptation is to dazzle them with something interesting about yourself immediately, but before you do that, is it relevant to the job in question? If not, it's worth keeping the upfront content strictly relevant to the role/industry, leaving your "wow" fact as an interesting aside at the end of your CV which will leave a good impression. Relevant experience can include familiarity, for example, with accounting packages such as NetSuite or Oracle – name these specifically where applicable, as these will be recognised, rather than generic terms such as “accounting software”.

  • Does it all hang together?

Whether it’s style, chronology, format or font, make sure your CV is consistent as a document and doesn’t look like a Frankenstein’s monster you’ve cut/pasted/updated in a hurry or piecemeal over the years. Make sure the dates stack up and explain any gaps, You are telling the story of you, and you wouldn’t dream of leaving out a page or chapter of a story. Gaps can look like carelessness, an honest mistake, or a lie. Don’t leave them guessing. Especially in the case of machine-based applicant tracking systems, a clear layout is essential – the more complicated your CV is, the harder it is for the technology to process. So no diagrams, boxes, fancy fonts or colour schemes, and keep it to two pages.

  • The all-important skills

For each job experience you list, mention the skill or skills obtained. Ensure that they align with the skill requirements highlighted in the job advert, person spec and/or on the company's website.

  • Show me the evidence!

As you can imagine, it’s one thing telling people you are “driven”, but much more compelling to give a brief recent example which you can expand on at interview. Stats and percentages are good if you can provide these – for example, the size in turnover of companies you have worked for, the budgets you were responsible for, the number of people who reported to you, or the percentage increase in sales under your watch.

  • Soft skills – obtained in or outside of work

The reader will be looking to see you meet the minimum qualifications threshold as indicated in the job advert or person spec. But don’t forget to include examples of complementary skills, such as communication or leadership skills. These can be drawn from your work experience or from activities you do in your own spare time, like being treasurer of a sports club. Look back at the last six months of your calendar – you may have overlooked achievements that demonstrate transferable skills. These also add a dash of personality to your CV and pique the reader’s curiosity to meet you. Be careful to keep your interests to a few, handpicked words – you don’t want to give the impression of someone who is going to struggle to maintain a work/life balance due to the sheer number of outside commitments.

  • Avoid the clichés, and watch your grammar

Ask a friend to run their eye over your CV and suggest some refreshing alternatives to the usual "hard-working", "reliable" and "team player", which are too generic and over-used There is no excuse for typos and poor grammar with tools like Grammarly available – I’ve used Grammarly today and it’s free.

  • Recent references

It’s worrying if these are not recent, or not from credible sources – Hotmail addresses are definitely to be avoided. If you have changed jobs frequently, are changing career, or have moved countries, choose your referees carefully to put yourself in the best possible light. Cultivate your referees beforehand to ensure they are aware that they will be contacted about the specific vacancy in question, and provide them with all the info they need to know about you, your motives, and your applicable skills and experience for this opportunity.

  • Engage with the process, however machine-based

The recruitment process is increasingly automated and innovative, with the advent of social media, gamification and online interviews. It is not uncommon, especially for graduate recruitment, to come across simulations designed to carry out some preliminary testing to check that a candidate is a suitable fit for an organisation’s culture. Companies are also using YouTube to promote themselves as employers by using a mixture of advertising and employee testimonials – see the collection curated here However, if it all sounds a bit “Big Brother”, there are huge upsides to the process becoming automated, so embrace it! If your CV is machine read, it ends up on a database so that it is searchable by the organisation and could match a future job opportunity, instead of ending up buried in a filing cabinet. 

If you are wondering where this leaves the traditional face to face meeting, these will continue to be needed at some point in most if not all industries. I am pretty sure we are a long way from having robots who can screen candidates for soft skills like relationship building and rapport. It’s unlikely many companies will progress to the actual hire without having had someone physically meet a candidate.

Finally, what else are potential hirers looking at, as well as your CV? Certainly, your LinkedIn profile, so you absolutely need to keep that up to date and professional. But do look at what else you post on social media. Your reputation precedes you in terms of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc., all accessible across the world and potentially uneditable. If you are in the creative industries, this is also an excellent shop window to display your talents. Either way, make sure there’s nothing on there that you would not want your current colleagues to see, never mind future ones. Think about how you can keep your “brand” consistent across the various platforms you use whilst recognising that the different platforms serve different purposes. If you can get your story to “hang together” in this way, you will look authentic, and not like someone who leads a double life!  According to a social recruiting survey carried out by Jobvite in 2016, based on 1,600 HR professionals:

  • 43% of recruiters have used Facebook to find new talent
  • 22% have used Twitter
  • 87% use LinkedIn.

The report makes really interesting reading, whether you are job hunting or hiring in the near future.

It’s good practice to keep your CV up to date, so even if you are not looking, dig out your latest CV and take a look at it alongside some recent examples and templates. Forewarned is forearmed!

Next week I’ll be looking at mentors, and the benefits of a mentoring relationship, for both parties.

Until next week!