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What are we looking at when we look at CVs
Want to improve your CV? Know your audience first.
“Can you take a look at my CV?”
It’s been almost a year since I started coaching jobseekers, and the above question was asked by every single person. There’s no shortage of resources on CV templates and CV checkers on the interwebs, and having read thousands of CVs I’ve seen every kind of CV succeed, ranging from LinkedIn PDFs, black and white with size 12 Times New Roman, beautifully designed pages with unique icons… It doesn’t matter what shape of form they come in, what matters is having the right information that is easy to understand.
As long as you understand CVs are read, you can write an effective CV in whatever format you wish. Let’s start by understanding your audience — the recruiter*.
(*Not the ATS. ATS are simply there to manage information and interview processes, not make decisions. I hired for 5 companies and spoke to my recruiter network in Europe & North America, so far I’ve not heard of a company that uses a software to select candidates. If a company does, you might want to avoid it. Don’t believe me? You can literally watch demos and try out common ATS like Lever, Greenhouse, Workable. In a nutshell: don’t trust anything that tells you they can “get past the ATS” cus, that’s not a thing.)
What motivates a recruiter?
A recruiter’s job is to hire capable people that do their jobs well. If the recruiter hires someone who’s a great fit, in a short amount of time, then the recruiter is doing a good job. As you probably know, interview processes can take a very long time, especially this time of the year since so many people are going on holiday. Therefore, we recruiters are motivated to get the right people through the process as fast as possible.
How does that translate to how you read CVs?
On average, we only spend about 10-30 seconds skimming a CV. This is because:
1) there are a lot of applications to go through. I once received 560 applications for one role, and if I spent one minute on each application, it would have cost me more than 9 hours to go through them all. And reading applications is only a small portion of my job, alongside interviewing, scheduling, creating job descriptions… you get the gist.
2) the CV only needs to help us decide whether to have a first interview, it does not need to help us decide whether to hire this person, so we don’t need all the information.
3) when you get used to reading in a specific format, you read faster.
Ok, what are you actually looking for in CVs?
A senior or leading member of the team says, we need to hire someone to do these tasks. This senior team member is the hiring manager. A recruiter then sits down with the hiring manager to discuss what the role is, creating the job description, and what an ideal candidate should look like, creating the guidelines for application review. Therefore, first thing to keep in mind, is that different jobs at different companies will require the recruiter to focus on different things on the CV.
I always look at the Experiences section first. Most positions (except junior positions) require relevant experiences. They don’t always have to be the exact same as what the open position requires, but the closer the experiences, the easier the decision.
Then, if there’s a Bio section or a Motivation Statement, I look at it second. The Bio section is a good opportunity to help me make sense of your career story and share your motivation. Companies believe that if you are ambitious and motivated, you can learn faster and achieve more, and even if you have less experiences, your profile is more likely to be looked at favorably. Make sure to avoid writing a generic bio. What does generic look like? “I’m a highly motivated team player who’s ready to contribute to the company’s mission.” Throw away these buzzwords and be specific (some examples in the previous issue).
Thirdly, I look at the Skills section. Ideally I could find all the skills I was looking for in the Experiences section, but sometimes requirements like certain languages aren’t written in Experiences. Avoid using these progress-bar like graphics to show your skills. What does it mean if it’s 100% or 60%? Who’s ever finished learning about “Lead Qualification & Prospecting”? Those graphics make more sense in the Languages section below, paired with certifications of each level.
Although, wouldn’t you expect “Basic” to be at the beginning of this bar?? This looks like someone speaks a good amount of Italian…
If I have time and still need more information to make a decision, I would check out the other sections, like Education, Projects, or Interests. Education (specifically year of graduation) helps me estimate the total professional experiences of the person. Projects might be relevant for the positions. Interests — just interesting to look at (and helps with making small talk in interviews later on).
So how can I write my CV effectively?
Recruiters spending 10-30 seconds on each CV means
If you have less than 5 years of experiences in the field, keep your CV to 1 page.
If you struggle to keep it to 1 page, cut down on less relevant information like Interests, make your profile picture smaller or take it out. If it still doesn’t work, use a CV template that has tighter formatting and less white space.
Your Experiences and Bio section should be in the first half, or even first third of the page.
Don’t hesitate to try out highlighting keywords, work with bold and italics, and make sure a human can read it quickly.
Want to see if your CV works? Show it to a friend, set a timer for 15 seconds, see what information they can extract. You can and should always iterate your CV, and track which CV versions can better convert, landing you first interviews.
Which part of the job search do you find most challenging? What would you like to read about in future newsletters? Comment, reply, or tweet @ me, I’m ready to spill aaaallll the recruiter secrets.