Top Tips for a Punchy CV

December 27th, 2018
Top Tips for a Punchy CV

It’s late on a Friday afternoon and the HR Manager still has a stack of CV’s to review before heading home for the weekend. She’s tired and distracted by other looming deadlines. The CVs are starting to look the same and she’s screaming inside for one to just jump out at her.

Do you know that despite the hours of effort you invest into this precious document, it is worth about 20 seconds – 30 if you’re lucky. That’s the make or break time where the HR Manager will decide whether to keep reading or throw your CV in the ‘no’ pile.

In my career I have reviewed tens of thousands of CVs, at times I have received up to 400 applications for one role. And between my professional integrity and understanding that each individual person took the time to consider the position and apply, it’s only right that I read and consider each and every one of them. But… when you have 400 CVs in your pile, even the smallest oversight or error will send the candidate straight to that ‘no’ pile.

Top 10 tips for making sure your CV sits in the ‘yes’ pile!

  1. Review it and review again. Get a family member or trusted friend to review it too. There are no excuses for errors, typos or inaccuracy in a CV.
  2. Pay attention to the formatting. I don’t mean fancy borders and cursive font, but try for a balanced, easy to read lay-out. Make sure you don’t carry important information over to the next page. Keep it professional and clear. 
  3. Keep it to two pages, three at an absolute stretch but for a third page I’d expect some impressive and essential additional information.
  4. Keep it relevant. Watching funny cat videos on Youtube might be a hobby, but it probably isn’t necessary for the employer to know. Perhaps they’ll see it as a sign of humour (which we all need a bit of in the workplace), but more likely they’ll see you as a potential time-waster and worry your hobbies may encroach on work time. 
  5. Address your gaps. A week here and there in between study or work is no big issue, but what about that unexplained 8 months 2 years ago? HR Managers worry you’re omitting a past job that didn’t turn out so well. We’re savvy to the gaps so account for your time.
  6. Include referee details. Unless you’re currently employed in a top secret position or are applying for a senior executive role, list your referees by name, position, company and contact details. Personally, I can’t stand ‘Referee’s on request’. It just increases my work load in having to ask. 
  7. And on that note… inform your referees! Ask them if they are happy to be a referee first, then let them know when you are applying for jobs so they are not taken by surprise. Trust me, the HR Manager knows when a referee is surprised and it doesn’t reflect well on the candidate.
  8. Adapt to your audience. Make changes and adjustments to your CV to suit the job and industry you are applying for. If you are going for a leadership role, highlight your leadership experience (formal or informal), if you are going for a creative role, it might be worthwhile including that summer art class you took last year. 
  9. Include a professional statement. This need only be just a couple of lines – a very short paragraph stating your passion for the job/industry and your career aspirations and ambition. Make sure it’s relevant for the job you’re applying for; ‘I’ve always dreamed of being a Chef’ is not appropriate if you are applying to become a Pilot!  
  10. Always attach a cover letter. A CV tells us what you’ve done, a cover letter shows us who you are. It’s your chance to share your personality, motivation and commitment.

Remember, you may be the best candidate, but the HR Manager has to make a decision based off your two pages, just two pages in a stack of many. Spend the time, get it right and your effort will show. Because all you need those two pages to do, is make them pick up the phone and invite you for an interview.

KATE HARDEN is the Co-Founder of International Alumni Job Network. With over 10 years experience in Human Resources in the for profit and non-profit sectors, Kate has achieved success through her contemporary style and business acumen across the Asia Pacific Region. Kate is passionate about learning, mentoring and working together to make a difference.