CV Best Practices.

Tech, and indeed AI, continues to improve at exponential rates, but behind all great brands, businesses, products, and teams, are talented people.

CV Best Practices.

It's the dynamic, creative people that drive forward ideation and fuel projects with insight and passion. However, employers have to wade through an ocean of applications and endure meticulous interviewing processes to try and cherrypick the ideal individuals for their mission(s)- whilst top talent has to both battle for highly competitive job roles and dig deeper into prospective company cultures to ensure they align. Practising practises for practice practise,

As most career advisors will agree, your CV is of the utmost importance. Without strong networking in place, your CV will likely be the first introduction to prospective employers. Therefore, spending quality time and focus on this document is key to your success.

However, frightening statistics continually show that recruiting managers spend as little as two seconds (on average) looking at each CV they receive.  

This causes a demoralising realisation that potentially weeks of work, tailoring a bespoke application, may be thrown aside within a couple of seconds.

With that in mind, we decided to explore the topic both from a candidate and recruiter point of view. Also worth exploring, is our insight on hiring the right people from earlier this quarter:

How to Hire The Right People.
Brilliant resources are available for impressive CV and cover letter formats, and copywriting tips - so how can hiring managers see past the ‘fluff’ and spot genuine talent?

The Wrong Approach.

Commonly, applicants will open up Microsoft Word and search for a CV template. They'll then slowly go through each section as is, populating their data with the given layout.

Two major flaws here:

  1. Shoehorning data into sections to fit the layout will mean you sacrifice quality for aesthetics. Simply put, the layout should fit your content, not the other way round.
  2. Using common templates and styles makes your CV bland. There's a lot of merit in following predictable styles to make it easier for recruiters to find the data they want- as many will throw CVs away if they're too confusing or unconventional. However, if you're trying to stand out, these dull, overused templates will reflect poorly on you. Simply put, ensure you put your stamp on the style.

Step 1: Research.

Once finding a job you want to apply for, take a step back.

Rushing applications means poorer quality. Don't just send off your default CV as is, with a generic one-size-fits-all cover letter. Recruiters often have particular types of people in mind when they write their job adverts, so your application should reflect the role as tightly as possible to heighten your success chances.

So firstly, dive deeper into the advertised role. Ensure you read every word of the advertisement. Then, comb through the company website and social media platforms; If you're applying for a position, you should have at least a foundational understanding of the company- this will also likely lead to intelligent questions for your interview as you'll potentially find information gaps or insightful topics you wish to explore.

Looking at employee profiles on LinkedIn can help identify various personality styles and clues about the work culture. Furthermore, you can use transparency websites such as 'glassdoor' to find employee (past and present) testimonials that may help you decide whether the position will be a good fit for your future.

Armed with knowledge about the position, the company, and potentially the culture of the team, you'll be ready to start your application.

Note: If the role is advertised with a contact for any questions, make use of this opportunity. Touching base before you apply will get you on the employers radar and can help you get unique information that other candidates may not have asked about. Spend time considering intelligent questions to ask about the role, and if you can't find any information online to answer the questions, definitely reach out.

Step 2.1: Planning.

It is understandable that many people would excitedly steam forward, wanting to get their application ready at speed. However, planning is key to greater success. Before putting pen to paper for your CV and cover letter, you should have mapped out all the areas and ideas you wish to cover.

From researching the position, you should have a strong idea of the expectations the recruiter will have. You should be looking to tailor your application to highlight the most important criteria on first glance, and with grace and in a succinct fashion.

Prioritise your skills, experience, and academic results- baring in mind that your most impressive achievements may not be directly applicable to the role you're applying for. I.e. having a PHD in Philosophy is all well and good, but if you're applying to be a PPC Advertiser, then your years of proven experience for clients and companies should be given the most optimum positioning on your CV/Cover letter.

Remember, you don't want your CV to only get viewed for 2 seconds so ensure that intrigue is created within the first 2 seconds!

Next, you should decide on suitable lengths and layouts for your content. More than 3 pages is almost certainly an outright no- but knowing when one page is ideal, or whether content is king (extra pages) can really help your application.

To help you with your layout, write out the content you want to include in an unformatted manner. This will give you an indication of how much space each section will need; but do follow content best practises to keep things concise.

Step 2.2: Content Best Practises.

We appreciate that copy-writing is a highly competitive field, and not everyone will possess wordsmith prowess, but following some general rules of thumb will undoubtably help your success.

  1. Less is more. Cut out unnecessary words and sentences that don't add value. The more concise you can be, the better.
  2. Avoid redundant phrases. Especially applicable to the cover letter, you need not say 'I believe', 'Honestly', or 'In my opinion'- The reader will assume these things, and adding additional words for no reason gives no benefit.
  3. Be confident. Mirroring point 2, don't say 'I think I would be great', assert your confidence and don't give any hesitancy: It's I will, not I might.
  4. Avoid flowery language. Unless you wish to show off your writing skills, often it's worth trimming additional descriptive words to keep the content tight, direct, and to the point. For example, in that last sentence it would be just as effective to say 'to keep content to the point'.
  5. Don't be afraid of Jargon. If you're applying for a complex position in a particular industry, you need not dumb down your writing. It could be the case that the hiring manager doesn't actually have the technical knowledge about the position - for example the HR department is unlikely to have key coding knowledge that developers might. However, you'll be expected to be an expert in the field, so don't waste word-count over explaining. Be confident mentioning KPIs, MSAs, PPC rates, SEO and SEM optimisations.

Step 2.3: Wire-framing.

Once you've decided on what needs put in your CV, and how long it should be, you'll be able to start mapping out your layout.

This is an additional step most people won't take, making it highly advantageous for you to consider.

Your layout should serve more of a purpose than simply looking aesthetically pleasing. Previously we looked at Menu Engineering, to explore how some psychological knowledge can strengthen business strategy.

Menu Engineering and the Business World Adaptions
Despite being complex creatures, we often overlook simple habits and ignore intriguing aspects of human nature. Understanding decision making processes is undeniably valuable for any business wishing to influence consumers favorably towards their product or service.

Make your content work harder for you by knowing exactly what the function of it is. Are your academic qualifications there to convey meaningful wisdom on a chosen subject, or are they to display a thirst for knowledge, or a commitment to long-term study? Each piece of information should have relevance and intelligent placing - if the content doesn't fit in with the message you're trying to convey, then don't be afraid to ditch it or severely condense it.

For example, in the wireframe displayed below, some previous positions are listed at the bottom without additional stats or information- this uses space more efficiently, and is purely final content (placed at the end) to cause final intrigue. It is likely that this information will only be reached if you've successfully captured the readers attention - so again, placement is key.

An example of critical thinking to create a tailored layout for an ideal job role.

Step 3: Drafting.

Now, armed with knowledge, content, and an intelligent layout - it's time to put together your CV.

Once your content matches your layout, step back and try to view your first draft as a neutral.

Ask key questions:

  1. Would this application suit multiple positions?
    If yes, it's likely you've not targeted your application enough towards the position in question. The CV should be unmistakably tailored directly to the position.
  2. Do the aesthetics make sense?
    Graphic designers with dull CVs will seem uninspiring. Senior level managers with playful fonts will strike a discord. Colourful CVs for 'serious' industries, such as banking, will seem unaligned. Look objectively at your style and optimise it for the role.
    Tip: Marry up your scheme with the branding of the company you're applying for. It'll help give feelings of immediate association, helping prospective employers imagine that you're already part of the team!
  3. Are all spelling, and grammar, mistakes removed?
    So many applicants claim to be 'meticulous', yet have applications riddled with typos. Nothing will make you look unprofessional faster than easily fixable mistakes that have been carelessly submitted- it'd be like turning up to a job interview without your shoes on, or a stained shirt.

Step 4: Submitting.

With a finished application, the final consideration we have is on how to submit your application.

There can be gravitas attached to the chosen avenue for how you choose to apply. For example, applying through general job listing forums may suggest you're generally in the market and actively looking - and perhaps applying to multiple jobs or unhappy with your current position. Applying directly to an individual in the company (or via them!) may make the application stronger and given stronger consideration. Finding the role through professional platforms like LinkedIn may indicate you have had interest in their team members/CEO/Company for a long time.

Consider whether supporting documentation may strengthen your application, like a portfolio pdf or links to live examples or case studies of previous work.

Unconventional means of applying might also help you stand out, for example:

  1. If you're applying to be an advertiser - then perhaps tailor Ads directly targeted at the prospective employer, with your bespoke CV attached. You could then simply contact the hiring team to prompt them to look out for your Ad, or screenshot the examples of your campaign to attached to your application.  
  2. If you're applying to be a webdesigner - then build a website! Showcase your skills with a genuine demonstration related to the work they are looking for.
  3. If you're applying to be a graphic designer - include samples of your work that suit the expected tone and direction of the employer.
  4. If you're applying to be a marketing professional - try a truly creative method of delivering your CV to show how you can make impact with flair. For example, if you're applying to a street-wear clothing company, why not package your CV up in a custom-made tote bag, maybe even with a scannable QR code on your bespoke label leading to your portfolio.

Final Thoughts.

Our careers take up the majority of our adult lives, the standard Monday to Friday takes up 9-5, with commuting added, evenings can often be low energy midweek leaving only the weekend to truly commit to non-professional activity.

Therefore, with so much time driven towards work, we should ensure we have carefully thought about our ideal position(s), our next moves, and have dutifully poured the necessary commitment into any applications for a better life and future.

Don't let the dream job pass by. And if you're not at the required ability level, figure out what path of jobs/learning you need to take to get there.