As I write this, in August 2021, I must have seen well over 40,000 CVs and applications over the years in my recruitment career- and the applicants who have spent time focusing on the specifics of a role to tailor their CV really stand out.
There is no getting away from it. applying for jobs is not easy- I have often spoken with graduates who have applied for dozens or even hundreds of jobs and not been successful, or in some cases even secured an interview. This has understandably had a negative impact on them, and I have a lot of sympathy. However, in many cases a significant factor has been that they have spent too little time on each application- generally just sending the same default CV. This is often due to applying for far too many vacancies, including many that they didn’t really want or were not suitable for.
When updating your CV, the first thing to look at is the advert or job description. It will generally list essential and desirable criteria – if you don’t have the essential skills and knowledge then I would question if it is worth investing the time in applying. I see memes on social media encouraging people to apply for jobs even if they don’t have the skills, but please bear in mind that this will probably only work in exceptional situations, and if you can make a very good case to be considered; more likely it will add to the number of rejections, and take up time that can be more productively invested in applying for roles that are more suitable. That said, if it’s an area you really want to get into then you may be able to do something to develop the skills you are lacking, and then apply (but that’s a story for another blog).
If you do fit the profile, then I would recommend getting to work on updating your CV.
What should you do?
In short, if the advert says that something is essential then the CV needs to cover this; and often the desirable skills can make the difference, so try and cover as many of them as you can too. Don’t assume the person reading the CV will know that you have these skills, even if it’s something as standard as Excel. Go through the advert and tick off each relevant bit once you have covered it, for example through a bullet point summary with examples. And make sure you do some brief research into any terms that you are not familiar with – you may get a call to discuss your application, and there really is no excuse for not knowing what something means, and it can show a lack of commitment.
I have written a separate blog on CVs, but a point to remember is that it’s vital that the required key skills are covered, and also a summary tying everything together, including with relation to the specific job and why you want it. Some do this through a cover letter, and that can be effective, but my own personal preference is that is done on the CV instead- mainly so all the information is together. Thinking about why you want this opportunity, and why you are suitable, will also make it a lot easier to discuss if you do get a call from the recruiter.
It’s best to add this summary towards the top of the first page. In terms of word-count its not exact, but I would say anything from 200-500 words, depending on the role. If there are too many words the key parts can be lost in the text and become less powerful, so I would also recommend trimming anything that doesn’t really need to be on there. A good way of doing it is to check again against the advert, and see if everything is relevant. For example, if you have written something about leadership, and this is not going to be required in the role. Also, make sure you are not repeating things.
And if you say you can do something, make sure what you do backs this up; for example, I have seen many CVs over the years that listed ‘attention to detail’ as a skill, but had at least one spelling mistake; or where an attribute is listed but the applicant not then been able to justify it when asked to expand.
Make sure you also cover why you want the specific role. If you are applying to a recruiter’s advert then the company won’t generally be named. It’s usually not necessary to know this at the outset and I will discuss more about the business with those who are a good match initially, then you will have the opportunity to research the business further (and can then update your CV again before it is sent to the employer; you can find out more about the application process here). There will, though, be bits in there about the industry or business that you can cover. For example, an IT graduate applying for a role dealing with business customers, as opposed to just sitting at a screen with no people contact.
Following these steps will help your applications to be more focused, punchy and to the point. It means you have to tailor the CV for each application you make, but it will really make you stand out. You will be sending less applications, but the ones that you do send will be of a much higher quality. This in itself is not guaranteed to secure an interview, but it will significantly increase your chances.
Director. SME Graduate Employment
SME Graduate Employment is a specialist student and graduate recruitment agency covering permanent jobs, placements, and internships across the UK. Most job types and business sectors are covered.
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