First impressions really do count, so make sure that the layout is clear and easy to follow. Get the key details on the first page of the document, perhaps in the form of a series of bullet points to make them easier to read. As a rule, never let your CV run to more than 2-sides of A4 paper. You do not want to bore your potential boss before you have even met them.
Start planning the application you might send if you have not had time to get your best points across – or if something they have told you reminds you of your hidden depths.
“I did this then that” can be clumsy. Use bullet points, starting with a verb instead. For example, “Achieved 100% of my sales targets”, sounds more dynamic. Explain any career gaps (for family, studying or travelling) in your CV but not if you were made redundant. Plus, add relevant voluntary work or refresher courses that show you have kept your skills up to date.
Do a thorough Google search and get as much information on the company as possible. You will probably be asked how much you know about the company and vacancy you are applying for.
Read a good book on body language, so you can strengthen your good signals, and curb your weaker ones.
Are you well dressed? Does your outfit follow the conventions in this job sector, whilst at the conservative end of your own range? Ask the consultancy what the client’s dress code is.
Decorative patterns and eccentric formatting can often detract from your message. Keep your CV uncluttered with short sentences, big margins around your text, and key points emphasised. Bullet points can be useful in moderation.
Which consultancy, local or specialist, is likely to understand your needs? Recruitment consultancies have access to vacancies that have not been advertised, will market your skills widely and give you accurate advice on job-finding techniques and/or improving your CV.
Tell the consultancy how the interview went and get feedback from them, including when they expect the client to make a decision. If there is something else you want to mention, send a brief email or phone the agency.
When it comes to detailing your job history, do not simply list your job description. This only tells employers what you should have been doing, but not how well you did it. List your achievements in each position, adding figures if possible. For example: ‘handled 200 calls each week’ or ‘increased profits by 15%’. Also be prepared to talk about these achievements in an interview.
Any spelling or grammatical mistakes in your CV are going to create a negative perception in the mind of the interviewer – why would they want to employ someone slapdash? Whilst spell-checkers can be useful, they don’t catch everything and can often end up erroneously altering words to American spelling conventions. Get as many people as possible (who can spell) to go over your CV for typos and grammatical errors.
You are not an obvious candidate for a job if you currently work in a different sector, so you need to grab the employer’s attention early. List all relevant skills and achievements on the first page. Include any relevant outside-work activities and training you are taking or are about to embark on. Then list your employment dates and job titles on the second page. Consider tweaking your job title to fit an employer’s jargon. If they are advertising for a ‘personnel specialist’ and your previous role was a HR adviser, call yourself a ‘personnel specialist’. There is no difference in roles but you are gaining an edge by aligning yourself with that position.
Remember – less is more. The interviewer is trying to find out: ‘does this person fit this job’? The more succinctly you get that message across the better. Only include skills and experience that fit the job description.
Be truthful and factual. Making up qualifications and previous jobs is a dangerous route to take. If your future employer checks your references and catches you out in a lie, you could lose your job or even face prosecution. But do not just treat your CV as a list of responsibilities – use it to spell out your achievements.
The most important information – usually your skills and recent experience – should be clearly laid out at the very beginning of your CV, as it’s this that will get you long-listed for an interview. Don’t assume the interviewer will search through reams of information to find out if you’re qualified for a position – they won’t!
Make it clear what you can offer the company.
Any unexplained gap in your employment history will be regarded with suspicion by the interviewer, so make sure to plug those holes. Even times of unemployment can be adequately justified if you focus on the development of soft skills such as project management, communication or teamwork.
Never, ever embellish the truth in your job application, no matter how well you think you can cover it up. It only takes a quick phone call for the interviewer to discover that your First in Biochemistry from Oxford is actually a NVQ in Food Science from your local community college. Highlight the positives in your CV, and don’t include blatant lies – even in the section on your leisure activities.
Everything is negotiable. If the final offer is not what you had hoped for, ask the consultancy to talk to the client. Say that you like the job but the package is not up to your expectations. Can they flex at all, now or after the probationary period?
First impressions count. Are you well groomed with tidy hair, shoes and clothing? Practice a good positive handshake – not too firm, not too weak.
Try not to monopolise the meeting – let your interviewer talk. If they do not tell you, find out what are the key parts of the candidate specification so you can show how you meet them.
Definitely switch off your mobile phone. Try to really focus on what the interviewer is saying or asking, but if you do not understand the question – ask!
If there is time, ask them if there is anything more they need to know about you.
Ask how the job contributes to the success, efficiency and profitability of the organisation. Try to show, without being contrived, that you have done some research.
Be prepared for the unexpected. It often happens that there is an aspect of the job you had not considered. If you are asked about this, admit you had not considered it in depth – offer it back to the interviewer by asking questions about the subject. As soon as you can, turn the emphasis onto another aspect of the role that you feel positive about.
Plan a reliable way of getting there which allows you to be a few minutes early (not too late or too early, and not on time because this may cause you to be late if you’ve been delayed in reception, or walking around their buildings).
Recheck your paperwork and your ‘script’ – i.e. the smile, the first words (greeting and your name). Be polite to support staff you meet, including those at the consultancy. They count too and may influence a decision in your favour.
Keep your replies simple. Offer positive information – do not give bad news unasked. Do not harp on about problems or criticise previous employers. Make sure the employer knows the benefits of employing you.
Perhaps one of your previous roles enabled you to lead a team, whereas another enhanced your IT skills. It is useful to see what you have taken from various jobs, and to demonstrate how they have helped you to develop.
Wrapping your CV around a bottle of champagne may make your application stand out, but you could just antagonise or irritate the recruiter. Do not forget, it is your work experience and eligibility for the role that will get you a job in the end.
Unless specifically asked to provide a photo of yourself, leave it out. The skills, achievements and experience you describe should carry weight with the interviewer, not your hairstyle. In the same way, you should not provide the interviewer with age, weight, height, religion or marital status unless strictly relevant to your application.
Your CV should not become a confessional, a list of mishaps or a series of excuses. Exorcise any references to failure – whether that’s examination, marital or business. Write positively and present your best face to the world, concentrating on the experience and achievement that equips you for a bright future.
Beware of silence. Some interviewers will use silence to force you into saying too much. Always be positive. Never offer information about your weaknesses merely for something to say. Answer questions about them if you are asked but leave the subject to the interviewer.
A CV is essentially a selling tool, so make active references to your work. Explaining what you have enjoyed about your job gives everything a sense of ownership and shows that you are passionate about what you have done. But be careful not to wander from the point. Ensure your CV provides information that relates to the role you are applying for.
Interviewers are not always confident. In smaller companies where there are not many newcomers, your interviewer may be as nervous as you. Have all your information ready and some questions you can drop in if necessary. If there is a lull in the interview, be prepared to come in with some background information or a question about the working procedure. If the interviewer is comfortable with you and feels no awkwardness, you are in with a chance.
A sure-fire way to boost your chances of getting an interview is to tweak your CV for each application you make. Do your research on the business or organisation – what type of language do they use on their website to describe their staff and their outlook? Can you mirror this in your CV? Go through the job spec with a fine tooth comb, making sure to include examples proving relevant experience for all requirements of the role.
The golden rule for job applications is not to rush. Give yourself ample time to collate the information for your CV. If you dash something off the night before a deadline and it leads to your application being discounted, all your experience and hard work will be wasted.
A CV does not have to be a bland list of professional successes. If you enjoy doing magic tricks, running marathons or like cooking Chinese food in your spare time, get those interests across to show that you have a life outside work. Unusual hobbies can also raise your application above the herd but do not claim to like things that you have never tried just to sound impressive. If you get caught out, you will be the first person out of the door.
Whilst there’s no hard and fast rule for the length of a CV, a couple of pages are usually regarded as the norm, unless you’ve had a very long career or the interviewer specifically asks for a more detailed CV. Keep it punchy, get your foot in the door and save the more involved explanations for your interview.
Ideally you would talk about what you hope to gain from the role, your main qualities and skills, and how you see yourself fitting into the role for which you have applied.