Throughout my career I’ve always felt for candidates trying to navigate their way through all the conflicting advice out there on how to write a CV.
‘Write a skills-based CV rather than a chronological one’
‘Don’t bother listing your responsibilities – achievements are what people really want to see’
‘Make your CV as broad as possible so it appeals to lots of different jobs’
These are just a few of the terrible tips I’ve heard over the years. Usually given out by inexperienced recruiters or mentors – both with well-meaning intentions.
The only opinion that really matters however is the hiring manager’s for the job you’re applying to. I could write a book on how to construct a CV but in this article I’ll start by shedding some light on the mindset the vast majority of those hiring staff have. Understanding the reality of their situation and what a successful hire means to them, gives any job seeker a helpful steer on how to present themselves.
Line managers are extremely busy and that’s without being one person down in their team. They don’t have the time to read CVs properly, they scan them at best and that’s because they’ll have a pile of them to go through alongside their day job. It’s worth remembering that to a hiring manager, finding the right person could mean anything from getting a promotion, not taking the laptop on holiday or spending more time with the kids.
When reviewing CVs they are not thinking ‘COULD my job be within this candidate’s potential?’ because if they did, they’d end up interviewing the whole pile – so no bedtime stories this month. Instead they’re thinking ‘Was this candidate BUILT for my job?’. That’s the CV which makes them feel like their own lives might get a little easier over the next few months.
Your audience has a very low attention span, multiple distractions and time pressure. Their primary motivations, quite rightly, are personal. So one of the most important guiding principles I can offer is to make your relevance to the job impossible to miss and it all starts with your first sentence.
Business owners will call me and say something along the lines of ‘Dave I need an FC with retail experience, ideally qualified, practice trained would be great. And someone who knows what it’s like to support a business owner – that’s essential’.
That’s the kind of language they use. That’s the person they’re looking out for.
So why not mirror that language in your first sentence (the one they are most likely to read) to broadcast your relevance in the clearest way possible?
‘Practice trained ACA qualified Financial Controller with 10 years experience in owner managed SMEs in FMCG & Retail.
One line and you’ve captured their attention as a relevant candidate – you’re half way to the yes pile already. It doesn’t require any in depth analysis or thorough enquiry which would result in the reader quickly moving onto the next CV as the short, sharp text from their spouse pings on their phone asking if they are actually coming home this evening.
It is a brutally efficient, clearly stated, fact-based summary of you in commoditised form and it works.
A lot of you will be thinking ‘but I’ve worked in lots of different businesses doing different things and I don’t want to close off any opportunities in new industries’. I regularly receive CVs which start with ‘Senior Finance Professional with a range of commercial skills in various industries’. Speak to anyone in marketing and they’ll tell you that instead of speaking to everyone, the truth is that by not being specific, you won’t stand out to anyone. Think of any car advert you’ve ever seen – none are pitched generically as vehicles able to get anyone from a to b. They’re pitched to specific groups of people wanting specific features. So it’s time to decide whether you’re an all-terrain 4×4 or a nippy inner-city compact and gear everything you write to that audience.
This will involve re-jigging your CV to every role you apply for but investing your time here will mean more interview requests and surely that’s the aim of the game?
Ask yourself; have I made my application immediately recognisable as a suitable candidate? Have I mirrored the language in the advert or brief? Have I been specific? Have I been concise?
This approach, particularly at the start of your CV, will result in more hiring managers simply thinking ‘I want to meet this person’.