In this exclusive extract from her new book, How To Get A Job, Sidekicks founding partner Jessica Williams explains how to make sure your CV will open doors on your behalf.
If you’ve made it this far, you know what you’re worth, and you know what you want. This is a very powerful combination!
Now we’ve got you focused and ready, our next step is a very practical one: we’re going to talk about CVs.
Your CV is designed to be a summary of your experience, skills and education. (I always find it slightly odd that the accepted way of measuring our life achievements is through the jobs we have held, but that’s a discussion for another time!)
There is a school of thought that holds that CVs will be made redundant in a few years’ time, replaced with online profiles. However, despite the current trend for ‘social recruitment’ (essentially, headhunting on LinkedIn and social media) the UK and much of the world is still very CV-led, and your CV is often the only thing prospective employers and recruiters will look at when deciding whether or not to interview you.
In the world of recruitment people often say that employers will only spend a maximum of 30 seconds reviewing a CV. I know from experience that even if an employer gives you a little longer than 30 seconds, chances are they will have a sizeable pile of CVs to get through so it’s not likely to be much more. However, don’t worry! There are several key things we can do to make sure you impress, and trigger the mental ‘yes’ from the person reading your CV.
IT’S YOUR ROUTE TO INTERVIEW
“You want to be extra rigorous about making the best possible thing you can. Find everything that’s wrong with it and fix it. Seek negative feedback, particularly from friends.”
– Elon Musk
Your CV should be written with one purpose in mind: to make somebody want to meet you in person.
The first step when embarking on creating the perfect CV is to look at your current CV, if you have one. You ought to be able to tell immediately whether it’s doing the job or not – are you getting any interviews? If it’s producing results, don’t change it too much. If it’s not, keep changing it until it does!
There is no single ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to present your CV, but the following general rules apply.
TARGET YOUR CV
Avoid the scattergun approach! It’s perfectly acceptable to have several different versions of your CV that highlight different skills depending on the role you are applying for –just keep a record of which CV was sent where.
The first mistake that many people make it to write one CV, and then fire it off for every job they like the look of. This is your one opportunity to impress! So, think: what skills does the job in question specifically ask for? Are these highlighted on your CV? It’s really important that your CV is relevant.
Recruiters and employers might see hundreds of CVs in response to just one job advert, so read that advert extremely carefully and use your CV as your secret weapon to demonstrate why you would be perfect for that particular role.
Another thing that a lot of recruiters won’t tell you is that often – particularly if you work in a specialist field – the person responsible for ‘first line of defence’ CV screening won’t have any experience or knowledge of your industry at all. I know, it’s shocking – but it’s extremely common. Many recruitment companies employ ‘candidate managers’ or ‘resourcers’ to screen CVs and sift out the relevant ones. Never, ever, ever assume anything! If you’re an experienced full stack developer, chances are you won’t have all the programming languages you work in listed on your CV, because some things just go without saying. However, if the person screening your CV is an 18-year-old college student trying their best to sift out the relevant CVs by matching keywords to a list, the fact that you haven’t included ‘Java’ in your CV might make the difference between success and failure.
I once telephoned a recruitment agency I was registered with to enquire about a PA job on their website, which was clearly a great fit for my skills and experience. I was known to this agency and was surprised that they hadn’t called me about the job already.
The resourcer I spoke to explained that he hadn’t called me about the job because I ‘didn’t have the relevant skills’. When I enquired which relevant skill I was missing, he thoughtfully explained that the employer had been very clear about their requirements in the brief they had sent to the agency, and that they were only looking at candidates with experience of ‘gatekeeping’. Now, ‘gatekeeping’ is simply a term for selectively managing other people’s access to your boss. As a PA for nearly a decade I hadn’t bothered to write this on my CV as I assumed it was self-evident that I was a practiced gatekeeper. This little mistake almost cost me a job.
CONSIDER YOUR LAYOUT
Your CV must be clear, logical and easy to read – not cramped or difficult to understand.
Get feedback from a friend, family member or recruiter if you’re not sure. Remember, many jobs call for good formatting skills – there’s no point in telling an employer how good your Word skills are if your CV is a mess of different tabs and unaligned bullet points. Show them the quality of your work.
There are plenty of downloadable templates available on the internet if you need help to get started: for example, there is a free one the Sidekicks website, which can be found here.
KEEP IT CONCISE
As a general rule, don’t go over three pages. Two is perfectly fine, one is ideal, particularly if you’re early on in your career and don’t have too much to squeeze in.
Remember, your CV is just a ‘teaser’ to entice employers to interview you. If you’re struggling with space, ask yourself honestly if everything you’ve included needs to be on here. Your A-Levels or First Aid qualification are relevant, of course – but does your potential employer really need to know about that Advanced Swimming Certificate you won when you were sixteen?
Ask yourself if every item on your CV contributes to painting a better, truer picture of your personality and ability as an employee.
If in doubt, take it out.
AVOID CLICHÉS LIKE THE PLAGUE
I’m sure that you “love working as part of a team” and you’re clearly “dynamic” with “good attention to detail” – but recruiters read these things so often they lose their impact. We want to know more about you!
What makes you different from every other applicant? Your CV is your best – and sometimes only – sales tool. Recruiters and employers want to see that you have really thought about what makes you a brilliant hire. Then tell us what those things are! Don’t just use the same tired old clichés, as you’re selling yourself short.
A good tip, if you’re struggling, is to make friends with an online thesaurus. Type ‘thesaurus’ into Google, and it will give you alternative options for your chosen word or phrase, which will allow you to convey the same meaning whilst avoiding using the same words as every other applicant.
MAKE THE CONTENT DO THE TALKING, NOT THE COLOURS
It might be tempting to try to make sure that your personality comes across in your CV – please resist this particular temptation! Save it for the interview. Avoid anything wacky or over the top. Pink stars all over a CV doesn’t speak as to your individuality, it’s just a relatively lazy way of attempting to make yourself stand out and is, unfortunately, likely to lead to a swift rejection.
Remember, your CV’s goal is to get you an interview. Your CV is a professional document so it should be respectful and reflect the way you would wish to portray yourself in the workplace.
It sounds obvious, but it’s really important that you make sure that your content, spelling and grammar is perfect.
This is so crucial. I advise printing off your CV when you think it’s done and proofreading it on paper, as often you’ll spot so many little things you didn’t notice on a screen. Especially with the perils of autocorrect, it’s incredibly easy to convey a meaning you didn’t intend. (As an example – my computer often autocorrects ‘skillsets’ to ‘skillets’ – I have to be ultra vigilant to ensure that my clients don’t think that Sidekicks is a recruitment agency for chefs!). Ask a friend or relative to read your CV as a final proof as well.
No amount of highlighting your skills will erase a typo from a recruiter’s mind.
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
And finally – hopefully this goes without saying – don’t ever be tempted to lie on your CV. Don’t even embellish. It will generally backfire, everything is checkable, and it’s never, ever a good idea. I learned this the hard way when I was starting out! If there is a gap on your CV, don’t try and cover it up by extending dates with two employers and hoping that nobody will notice. The last thing you want is for a job offer to be withdrawn – or worse – because the referencing process has turned up something you’ve misrepresented.
Be honest and sell yourself on your merits. If you have a gap on your CV, or you were made redundant, acknowledge and explain concisely. A good recruiter will help you with this.
LAYOUT: THE SECTIONS OF A CV
As a guide, arranging your CV into the following sections should help to ensure that your CV is easy to read and logically ordered.
Please bear in mind that this is just a suggestion: different industries will have different norms. However, as a basic template you can’t go wrong with the following.
Your name, address (or just location such as South London if you don’t want to publish your full address), your telephone number and your email address.
Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is up to date (if you don’t have one, create one – it’s free) and add it here (remember your profile must match the information that you’ve given on your CV).
This is totally optional, and a lot of CVs don’t include this. However, at Sidekicks we often find that a very short (two or three line) précis of who you are and what you are looking for is a really helpful entry point into a CV for an employer.
For example; “I am a professional, discreet personal assistant with over 10 years of professional experience within private households. I am seeking a challenging new part-time role in which I am able to fully utilise my skills.” This immediately tells us one very important thing: that the candidate is looking for part-time work only (which will save a lot of time for both you and the client or recruiter, as this can often get overlooked) and gives us an immediate impression of this candidate’s experience level and area of specialisation before we have even begun to read the CV.
If you have any specific requirements such as part-time or a particular industry then here is where you need to highlight it.
Career to Date / Work Experience
Separate each job and include dates worked from / to (in month and year format). Provide a brief description of each role and your responsibilities within it, and any achievements whilst there. Use bullet points to keep role descriptions informative but concise.
Don’t forget to include promotions! If you began a job as receptionist and left as office manager, make sure your CV tells us that. Employers and recruiters often look out for gaps in a CV, so if you had a gap between jobs, don’t ignore it – explain it. A simple line can demonstrate this: for example, “From June 2014 to August 2014 I worked in various temporary roles whilst securing my subsequent permanent position at Google” – this gives us a great impression and shows us that you’ve kept busy. It’s fine to allocate time if you’ve been travelling or working on other projects, too.
Education and Qualifications
Your degree subject if you have one, the grade you achieved (if you don’t put the result of a degree, recruiters will assume the worst) and the name of the university or college you attended, plus A-levels (including subjects and grades) and GCSEs or equivalents if you have them.
Mention grades at GCSE level unless poor, but there’s no need to list GCSE’s in full unless you are a school leaver – for example, writing: ‘9 GCSE’s (grades A*- C)’ is fine.
This section is a great way of showing employers what extra value you can offer them. Languages always go down really well (e.g. “fluent French, conversational German” – just make sure you’re not exaggerating your prowess!) as do computing skills, naming the specific software packages you can use (e.g. “Excellent Microsoft Office Skills; proficient in InDesign and Sage Accounting Software.”)
Include your driving licence if you have one, as you never know when this will be useful to employers.
Include other ‘demonstrable’ skills, such as your typing speed here if you like (as long as it’s good! – 55wpm or above).
Mention specialist skills such as shorthand or audio typing if you have these.
Soft skills to include under a separate bullet point are things like ‘building strong relationships with suppliers’ and ‘excellent written and verbal communication skills ’ – traits that are equally important and worth highlighting.
Interests and Achievements
Keep this section short and to the point. Any interests relevant to the job are worth mentioning, as are interests that show work skills or any evidence of leadership – captain of a sports team, for example. If you can’t think of any interests other than reading and socialising then keep this section to an absolute minimum!
Interests should be used to really highlight who you are as a person. This doesn’t just help your personality shine through the paper, it has a practical application, too – if the person reading your CV also enjoys flower arranging and martial arts they might be subconsciously more likely to say yes.
In addition, if you are applying for a role with, for example, a sports agency or a publisher – here is where you talk about your football season ticket, or how you write a blog about books in your spare time. These things may seem unrelated to you, but they can make a real difference when it comes to that final “yes” or “no”.
Unless the vacancy specifically requests referees it’s absolutely fine to put in a line saying, “References are available on request.” This also protects the data of your referees, particularly if you are sending out multiple job applications. Your referees shouldn’t need to be contacted until you’ve reached the offer stage anyway, and it saves valuable space on your CV.
Do your research
Ask ex-colleagues, friends or family if they wouldn’t mind you taking a look at their CV. This will help you get an idea of what other people’s CV look like and you can often pick up hints and tips.
There are plenty of example CVs available online if you’re starting from scratch and need ideas!
Avoid the piranhas
As a general rule of thumb, avoid like the plague ‘CV Consultants’ or ‘CV Coaches’ who will offer to write or tailor your CV for a fee. A good recruiter will be able to offer you tailored, expert advice on your CV as a first step before they begin putting you forward for jobs – this is part of the service – so there is no need to pay for it! If your recruitment agency isn’t doing this, don’t be scared to ask them for the service – it will help them as much as it will help you.
The only thing you ought to pay for in terms of your CV is access to any software you will need to write it (such as Microsoft Office) but with the advent of excellent open-source alternatives such as Open Office, you really don’t need to part with your money.
Click here to read more about How To Get A Job and the author.
How To Get A Job is available for Sidekicks candidates to download for free through Kindle Unlimited, here.