Having a professional curriculum vitae or a resume, with a clean design and well-ordered relevant information, is essential. However, changes to the ways in which recruiters view these documents mean that almost every part of the former sentence is questionable!
Actually, today, having just one CV or resume is not reasonable. If you have only one then – for the reasons explored below – you will be hampering your job search. The idea of a “clean design” may well be attractive and there are certainly some situations where design will be of considerable value. However, due to the increasing use of applicant tracking systems, which will be discussed later, there are many situation where any kind of design flourish could be real barrier to getting hired! As for the question of the ordering of the various sections of your CV/resume even there the correct answer may take you by surprise. Perhaps the only part of that first sentence that stands scrutiny is the idea that a CV/resume needs to contain relevant information. What is relevant and what is not goes to the heart of the idea that one CV/resume is all you need … and it isn’t!
Many recruiters spend very little time scanning a CV, so it really is essential that yours makes a great first impression. Moreover, an increasing number of large organisations now rely on applicant tracking systems – a form of artificial intelligence – to help pre-filter resumes or CVs. These systems work by scanning CVs/resumes for contextual keywords and key phrases, mathematically scoring them for relevance, and sending only the most qualified ones through for human review.
It has always been true that the best places to highlight your individuality and fit for the role you are applying for are in the covering letter or statement, but the widespread use of applicant tracking systems means that sticking to this rule is now more important than ever.
Applicant tracking systems require simplicity. They do not positively score those extra touches you may have added to your resume, like logos, pictures, symbols, and shadings. Worse than that, these embellishments may actually work to your disadvantage by ‘confusing’ the system. It has now become even more important to stick to conservative resume formatting using one of three common fonts: Arial, Courier, or Times New Roman. Tracking systems have a rather limited facility to make sense of other fonts so they are best avoided.
The increasing use of applicant tracking systems also means that it is essential that a CV or resume must be presented in the form specified. If yours is not, then you do genuinely face the prospect of no living human being reading it! Generally, it is best to supply a Word doc or a rich text format CV/resume instead of a PDF. Though some applicant tracking systems can now ‘read’ PDFs others cannot and yet more have rather limited capabilities. So, unless a PDF format is specifically requested, do not supply your CV/resume in this form.
Words and phrases
Within any profession, there will be words and phrases, responsibilities, skills, licenses and certificates that are strongly associated with performing the job well. Applicant tracking systems will typically have been programmed to look for these words and phrases together with contextual information related to appropriate qualifications. To ensure that the software recognises that you are a good fit for the job, use these tips when writing your CV/resume:
- Look for important phrases and skills written into the job description. If your experience matches these, then include exactly the same phrases and skills in your own CV/resume – but don’t overdo it. This is simply because the hiring manager will have arranged for the applicant tracking system to search your text for these all important phrases and skills.
- Use an online word frequency assessor such as Wordle to help you to work out the most frequently occurring words, phrases, names and qualifications in the job description. Make sure you pay attention to the spelled out version of any phrases and any commonly used acronyms: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, CIPD, C.I.P.D. all count as one.
You should not overegg your CV/Resume with repetitive use of the key words and phrases. There are at least two main reasons for this: First, many applicant tracking systems use algorithms that are clever enough to spot excessive repetition and, second, if a human being does get to read your CV/resume the overuse of these words will look contrived.
The main goal is to stand out from other participants and to let recruiters quickly get an idea of who you are, what your skills are and why you are the right person for the job you are applying for.
You should aim for a CV/resume that contains a working history that makes sense and demonstrates some employment/professional progression if at all possible. The document should include details of relevant qualifications and statements of competences and it should bea brief description of your achievements all within a clean, easily readable format.
Your CV/resume should relate to your LinkedIn profile, through the CV/resume itself may be shorter. In many cases it is now acceptable to include a hyperlink to your LinkedIn profile but only do this if your LinkedIn entry adds value and is thoroughly up to date. Your LinkedIn profile must include a professional photograph that is relatively formal rather than being excessively informal!
There have traditionally been differences between CV expectations in different countries. In general, a German Curriculum Vitae, for example, consists of 1 or 2 pages, no more. There’s always a photograph at the top and the layout follows a strict chronological order (with exact dates, for example 12/93) and uses a clear, professional style. CVs are signed at the bottom.
A CV should include personal information, about studies and working experience, as well as knowledge of foreign languages and other activities.
In Italy brief texts are preferred and photographs aren’t usually included. A good CV should consist of, in chronological order, personal information (including telephone numbers), as well as information related to studies, and working experience. Hobbies aren’t mentioned but candidates should clearly mention if they have served in the military.
A British CV should be no more than two pages long and there should be a strong emphasis on facts and numbers. The reasons for applying and the candidate’s related experience and demonstrated skills are highlighted in the covering email or letter. Typically, the following information is expected in the CV:
- Personal information.
- Studies (mentioning centres, dates and places, and grades).
- Languages spoken.
- Work experience (with dates, starting with the most recent job).
- Hobbies and personal achievements.
Almost all UK employers will follow up references so it is important that the two referees have given their permission to act in this way. The typical CV will mention the names, position, addresses and contact details of at least 2 people.
Whilst many British enterprises prefer a CV with an American-style resume format (elevating the work experience section above the studies and languages spoken sections), the document should always be formatted to print on A4 paper and not the North American equivalent.
Partly as a response to the variety of CV forms in use throughout Europe, in December 2012the European Union launched a new CV template and online editor. The “Europass CV” is a part of the European Skills Passport (ESP), a user-friendly electronic folder to help students, workers or job-seekers build up a personal, modular inventory of personal skills and qualifications acquired throughout life.
The ESP can contain a range of documents (language skills evidence, copies of degrees, attestations of employment, etc.). When attached to a Europass CV, the European Skills Passport will reinforce the CV by adding to it evidence of the skills and qualifications listed.
The European Union recommend that people use their online editor (https://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/editors/en/cv/compose) to create a CV:
- Concentrate on the essentials
- Employers generally spend less than one minute reading a CV before deciding to reject it.
- If applying for an advertised vacancy, always ensure that you comply with any application process entirely.
- Be brief: two A4 pages are usually more than enough, irrespective of your education or experience.
- Is your work experience limited? Describe your education and training first; highlight volunteering activities and placements or traineeships.
- Be clear and concise
- Use short sentences. Avoid clichés. Concentrate on the relevant aspects of your training and work experience.
- Give specific examples. Quantify your achievements.
- Update your CV as your experience develops.
- Always adapt your CV to suit the post you are applying for
- Highlight your strengths according to the needs of the employer and focus on the skills that match the job.
- Explain any breaks in your studies or career giving examples of any transferable skills you might have learned during your break.
- Before sending your CV to an employer, check again that it corresponds to the required profile.
- Do not artificially inflate your CV; if you do, you are likely to be found out at the interview
- Pay attention to the presentation of your CV
- Present your skills and competences clearly and logically, so that your advantages stand out.
- Put the most relevant information first.
- Pay attention to spelling and punctuation.
- Retain the suggested font and layout.
- Check your CV once you have filled it in
- Do not forget to write a cover letter.
- Correct any spelling mistakes, and ensure the layout is clear and logical.
- Have someone else re-read your CV so that you are sure the content is clear and easy to understand.
As the guidance above states, it is really important, when applying for any advertised vacancy, to always ensure that you comply with the requirements of the application process entirely.
For example, The United Nation’s Office of HR Management have published, online (at: http://www.un.org/Depts/OHRM/guidenew.htm, accessed on 27 September 2018), very specific guidance about CVs and it would be seriously unwise to not follow this type of employer guidance, which is intended to be helpful to applicants.
Clearly, any specific alternative employer guidance posted with a vacancy notice should always be followed.