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Five things to focus on in your CV

Young woman looking for work

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You need to make sure your CV stands out – for the right reasons

Looking for work can be a daunting experience, especially amid an economy grappling with the effects of Covid-19. But there are things you can do to maximise your chances of gaining a job interview by paying attention to your CV.

Let’s start with the basics: your CV should include your name and contact details, skills, work and volunteer experience, qualifications, education and referees who can vouch for you. Beyond this, you should pay attention to the following tips from the experts.

1. Tailor your CV for each job

Recruiters face hundreds of applications for every job, so you need to make sure yours stands out. You may be applying for several jobs at the same time, but do not send out the same CV to everybody. Make sure you write it with a particular job in mind.

A CV can seem like it should be easy to do, says Corinne Mills of Personal Career Management: “But it’s far from straightforward. If it’s irrelevant to the role being applied for, the employer will assume that you have not understood the job.”

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Identify the skills the recruiter wants

Research is the key, she says: “Get the job details, talk to employers who hire for these roles, recruitment agencies and people who work in these roles. You need to have a really good understanding of what they’re looking for. Then you can start to write your CV.”

Identify the skills the recruiter wants and make sure you list them first. Doing this helps make sure your CV goes to the top of the pile. And don’t forget to make sure your CV and LinkedIn profile match – because recruiters will check.

Darain Faraz, careers expert at LinkedIn, says you should make sure your online profile reflects your personality, while still being professional. “If you don’t wear a suit for work, don’t wear a suit in your profile photo. Share articles that align to your interests as well as your industry, and include any volunteering or passion points that are important to you.”

2. Be concise

Recruiters have lots of CVs to read through, so keep it to two pages of A4. “If your CV is hard to read then your potential employer won’t bother,” says career coach Sarah Archer, of CareerTree.

“You don’t have to tell them about everything you’ve done, just what is relevant. Remember less is more – make sure it’s not text-dense, and allow plenty of white space around the text to make it easy to read.”

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Explain any career gaps, as unexplained gaps will only make recruiters wonder

Rather than writing long paragraphs about previous jobs, put key information in bullet points. Remember that your CV is only the first step. Save detailed explanations for your job interview. And don’t just list past roles, explain what you did in them. The point is to illustrate your capabilities and any lessons you learned.

3. Explain any career gaps

List any gaps with a suitable explanation. Unexplained gaps will make prospective employers wonder what you were doing that you don’t want to talk about.

“If you have a significant period of time when you were out of work, then there may be a better place to address this than in your CV,” advises Michael Cheary, of jobs site Reed.co.uk.

“A cover letter is a perfect place to explain your gap and show why you are ready to get back into the working world. If you are currently out of work then remember to be proactive, look to do online courses or volunteer,” he says. The idea here being it shows that you are willing to learn.

4. Check for spelling

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Get somebody else to proof read your CV

One of the main reasons for a CV being rejected is spelling mistakes. So always check. Get somebody else to read your CV as they are more likely to spot things you’ll miss. Another trick is to read it once for content – does what you’ve written make sense – and again for spelling and grammar. Doing both together means you are more likely to miss something.

“People do make really rocky errors,” says Corinne Mills. “90% of CVs have errors on them. If you say your skills include ‘paying attention to detail’ and you misspell ‘detail’, it undercuts you.”

Sarah Archer says you should pay attention to language as well: “Be aware of when you are using passive language and aim to describe your achievements using active words to increase the impact of your CV.”

Avoid clichés. Recruiters regularly read lines such as “I enjoy socialising with friends” or “I’m a good team player”, which do not add much value. “You want to catch the recruiter’s eye – but make sure it’s not for all the wrong reasons,” says Michael Cheary.

5. Don’t invent skills you don’t have

Always tell the truth about your skills and experience because if you don’t, you will be caught out at some point.

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Don’t lie on your CV, you are likely to get found out and you’ll lose all credibility

“If you make something up on your CV you are likely to come unstuck at interview,” says Sarah Archer. “If there is a skill required for the job that you feel you don’t have, show how you can transfer a similar experience or how you are a quick learner.”

You cannot lie “because you will lose all credibility”, agrees Corinne Mills, but “that is not most people’s problem”, she adds.

“Often they under-sell themselves. For instance, if you are an 18-year-old first time job hunter and all you’ve had is a work experience day, then include it and show what you were able to draw from your experience. Companies are looking for people who can see the value in all their experiences.”

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