Business psychologist Peter Storr explains the importance of an excellent CV and covering letter, and how you can get ahead of the rest by focusing on the basics in an excerpt from his new book, Get that Job in 7 Simple Steps, part of the new ‘7 Simple Steps series’ published by Collins and out now.
Anyone who has had to look through countless CVs when shortlisting candidates for a vacancy becomes very quickly aware of one thing: most people don’t take the time to write a truly excellent CV. Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager for a second. If all you have is a CV and covering letter to go on in order to distinguish between scores of candidates, then your first impression of that CV and letter is what makes all the difference. It’s the difference between being shortlisted and invited for interview, and being consigned to the waste bin!
Your CV (curriculum vitae, or ‘course of life’ in Latin) is therefore your first opportunity to market yourself. It tells the employer who you are before they’ve had the chance to meet you. If you don’t get it right then you probably won’t get a second opportunity. There’s no point in having finely tuned interviewing skills if you never get to an interview because of a poor CV.
An excellent CV is organic: it’s a working document that changes as you change and, as we’ll see, should vary according to who you’re sending it to.
Tailor your CV
It used to be common practice to send out a single version of your CV to a number of potential employers. That simply doesn’t work anymore. It is crucial to talk the language a particular organisation uses – often in terms of competencies – so you need to tailor your CV to the company and the specific vacancy you’re applying for. You can certainly have a ‘base’ CV that you then adapt; it would be nonsense to start from scratch every time. It’s the subtle changes in language, skills and achievements that will say to an employer: this person understands us and what we’re looking for. Recruitment consultants and hiring managers are busy people and will make quick decisions (usually in less than a minute) based on the first page of your CV. It not only has to grab their interest in terms of style, presentation and layout, it also has to make the link between the skills, strengths, and sometimes specific experience and what they’re looking for.
Spell it out
You can go one step further: it will really make the difference to them if you can repeat exactly the words they use in the job advert. If they’re asking for excellent administrative skills then don’t assume that mentioning your planning and organising abilities will automatically get that across. Spell it out to them using the exact words they have used so they don’t have to second-guess. And you can only do this if you have a different version of your CV for every job you apply for.
Peter Storr is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with many years experience in helping people to identify their key strengths and in assessing candidates at organisations such as the BBC and King’s College London. His new book, Get that Job in 7 Simple Steps, part of the new ‘7 Simple Steps series’, just out, published by Collins: www.collins.co.uk/7simplesteps