A recruiter can be your short cut into a new job. With a good understanding of industry trends – and insider knowledge of that particular employer’s preferences and needs – a recruiter will be briefed to find exactly the right candidate with a specific set of skills, experience and qualities. To even be considered for the role, you need to make sure that your CV hits the right notes with them.
Recruiters can be generalists working in a number of sectors or headhunters specialising in one, but there are a few pet hates they all share. Avoid these and you’ll be giving yourself a better chance of getting into the yes pile each time.
Functional or quirky formats
Functional (or skills-format CVs) are often recommended for career changers, or those who have taken a break in their careers. These layouts typically have an enhanced skills section at the beginning of the CV, with a brief work history following.
But recruiters generally hate these layouts. Roseanne Stockton of Nu-Recruit and Chester Businesswoman of the Year 2013, says: “Unless you’re going for a quirky/design led job, use a traditional style as it makes the task of sifting so much easier.”
Think about layout from a recruiter’s point of view. A recruiter will be looking for similar experience or a solid employment record to prove your ability to do the job. This is most easily achieved in a traditional chronological format, where job titles and employer details are prominent, and achievements and career progression are in context.
Lack of relevance
Zena Everett, director and career coach at Second Careers and career guru at Mumsnet, has researched how headhunters, recruiters, employers and HR professionals screen CVs. She found that they all – without exception – looked first at the most recent work experience and job title. These must be relevant for the CV to get a second look in a competitive job market.
For recruiters to put you forward to an employer, they need to see that your background matches the role. A simple way to ensure that you’re giving your CV the best possible chance is to search the job description for key criteria, then make sure you include relevant details on your CV that show you’re a good match. Remember to quantify your achievements and be specific about how and where you added value to an employer.
Relevancy also means using the right keywords. This is especially important if you’re applying online, where your CV might be automatically filtered at the initial stage of the recruitment process. Check that you’re using appropriate terminology for job titles, skills, responsibilities and achievements. If the job description is short on keywords, look at a range of similar roles to get an idea of what’s commonly required.
If you’re aiming to change career, make sure your CV supports your new goals. Learn to extract the most relevant details from previous experience, minimising what’s not relevant. You may also need to tweak job titles to more closely reflect the job you aspire to. Don’t just rely on recruiters in your job search: networking, voluntary work or side projects are other good strategies for career changers.
An unclear focus
At the higher end of the job market, it’s essential to have a clear career goal, advises Zena. Headhunters are interested in people who know what they want next in their career, but who aren’t desperate to move at all costs. She says: “If you want to be headhunted, position yourself as a passive candidate. You will move for the right role, but aren’t actively on the market.”
A weak profile
Cliche and fluff (phrases such as “innovative problem-solver”, “dynamic individual”, etc) can detract from an otherwise strong CV, says Zena, while a strong initial statement can improve a weak one: “A personal statement should summarise what the candidate has done in the past, what they want to do next and the skills/knowledge/experience that bridges the two.” Aim for a brief, factual snapshot, backing it up with examples in the rest of your CV.
Missing, inaccurate or hard-to-find information
When recruiters are dealing with hundreds of CVs, the time they can allot to each is severely limited. Don’t imagine that they will be settling down to study yours in order to work out where to place you. Instead, they’re briefed to find candidates for a particular role, so make the key details clear and easy to find. Check before you submit your CV that it can pass a “five-second” test: is it obvious from a quick scan what role you’re applying for? Have you included relevant keywords and factual evidence to support your application?
Don’t make a recruiter have to work to piece together information. Roseanne says that dates are often forgotten, but are essential. Give the months and year of employment – not just the year.
It sounds obvious, but spelling and grammar errors can also get your CV discounted, she says. Keep your CV to two pages and clarify any unusual jargon or terminology.
Generic cover letters
“More candidates get knocked back by having generic cover notes than CVs, as they show you haven’t read the job spec,” warns Roseanne. Make sure yours is relevant and brief, showing how you match the role requirements. Make it the body of the email, attaching your CV as a Word document.