Sunday, 24 February 2013

CV Do's and Dont's - a shortlister's perspective

I've already spent an improbable amount of my life reading CVs as part of recruitment processes. From my perspective on the recruitment side of the process, the first phases from application through to shortlisting are all about finding out who can do the job to the level you need. As an applicant, your number one objective should be to make sure the shortlister has good evidence to conclude that you can do the job. Here are my tips on how to make sure your CV helps you do this the next time you apply for something.

Tailor: Tweak your CV for the post you're applying for. If your CV comes across as a piece from a completely different jigsaw puzzle you're already in trouble.

Give evidence and demonstrate ability: If the job asks for experience of managing large teams, please don't just put 'I have managed large teams'. It might allow the shortlister to say you meet the criteria but you'll certainly be up against others who've given some insight into what makes them good at this, or shown enthusiasm for it. Space is always an issue but you can do clever things to get a nuanced picture of yourself across. For example:

I co-ordinated the work of a large team
I was responsible for appraising, directing and motivating a team that included a range of roles

Both take one precious line on your piece of paper, but the second is so much more informative.

Avoid excessive personal details: This can be really counter-productive as it can seem over-familiar and undermine an otherwise professional CV. The biggest crime for me is putting your date of birth. I can honestly say that I've never taken any notice of seeing this on a CV. Experience and ability is what counts. A colleague recently told me how having put '10 years experience' on an application she was asked if she had 10 years experience of doing different things or 10 years experience of doing the same thing over and over again for 10 years.

I've also seen people put their picture at the top of a CV. It partly feels old fashioned to say this in the age of LinkedIn, but if an employer is asking to see your CV then the black and white facts are going to be your main selling point, and a CV with your picture on it does not tell me that you've got the skills and abilities to do a job and it won't make your CV any more likely to get nearer the top of the pile.

The same goes for whether you are married, have kids, have a dog or have hobbies. Employers are likely to be searching your CV for demonstrated evidence that you have a customer-focussed attitude or something similar, and taking up space on this sort of personal information can just get in the way.  Keep if short and put it at the end if you really want to include it.

Typos: It will really undermine your application if on one hand you express your dedication to attention to detail whilst on the same page you leave glaring typos, unfinished notes like "[insert more here]", or my personal favourite, you copy-and-paste in a reference number and/or job title from a completely different job.

Don't linger on past glories: Your GCSE grades may be exemplary but if you're applying for a professional post it's probably your degree and postgraduate experience that matters. Include them if space allows but keep it brief.


Many posts do not require a detailed application form and your CV might carry a lot of the weight in demonstrating that you're worth calling to interview. Shortlisting is in my experience a surprisingly mechanical process, driven by a list of criteria that the shortlister is going to be measuring your application by. If you bear this in mind and present to them the right information - ideally demonstrated evidence that you can do the job - then you'll maximise your chances of your application making the impact you want it to.