What makes a good CV, great!
In this RECSMARTS article, we wanted to cover something that would be deemed vital as we head into a era of mass redundancies, furlough and unemployment. While there is a plethora of advice and CV writing tips out there, our take on this will attack this subject from a slightly different angle; getting you to think about the WHY, rather than the WHAT.
Why you should/shouldn’t include things in your CV, why you should/shouldn’t present information in a particular way, why there should/shouldn’t be parts missed out. The WHY is critical in understanding the purpose of your CV.
SO let’s begin with Why; why do you need a strong CV? Why does your CV need to stand out?
Your CV is your gateway; it’s your brochure, your profile introduction, your pamphlet, your “about me” that will open the door to the role/business you’ve applied for. It’s your first impression, your first shot, your initial contact; you must make it count.
Did you know there are people out there who haven’t reviewed their CV for several years? Just keep adding onto the old stuff. Of course, you knew that, you’ve probably done the same.
Let’s break it down to simple terms; where does your CV go?
It’s important to understand the potential routes your CV takes, so you can understand the Why. Why is it important to include certain parts or areas (to be discussed) and why is it less important to cover certain things.
In either scenario above, it’s key to remember that your CV needs to have cross appeal to all routes; after all there are some people who will tell your “always tailor your CV to each application”, which is correct to some level, but what you cannot always do is tailor your CV for the route it will take.
Understanding the varying routes to line manager, helps understand the readers’ perspective and what they will be looking out for.
For example, a line manager will likely be the subject matter expert in your field. So will likely be looking for certain elements in your CV that stand you out against the rest of the applicants. They will be focussed on the detail in your CV of what you can do and what you have achieved. Contrast this with an External agency recruiter, who is certainly not going to be a subject matter expert (recruiting in the same field for a number of years, does not make one an expert. I’ll argue this with whoever, whenever. Recruiting for Finance Directors does not make you a Finance Director). They will be reacting to a brief that has been provided, which will include a wishlist of experience, education, industry experience etc. Remember, the business will pay a premium for the external agency and as such will expect the best candidate who ticks all the boxes in their wishlist. And then there’s the difficult “happy medium” of internal resourcing, or HR. Our friends in talent acquisition have a tough job as they are experts in the business they work for, not necessarily the field of recruitment. They too will have a brief to work from, of the ideal candidate to the flexibilities available. They will need detail. There’s no room for assumptions as they usually have a plethora of jobs to be recruiting for, all of which will be multidiscipline, which makes focussing on just the engineering role difficult.
Make sense, so far? Now we’ll jump into the content, which is probably the reason you’re here.
There’s several ways of presenting your CV, some of which work well, others not so much. But the content is key. All CVs tend to follow the same pattern, but should certainly include the following (in our humble opinion);
Personal statement / Profile
This is your starting block and your first impression. So obviously you want to include that you’re a team player who can work well individually also. That you’re career driven, progressive, motivated, diligent, focussed etc. Oh and summarise your CV by telling the reader what you’ve done, where you’ve done it and provide them no reason to read the remainder of the CV. That’s obviously sarcasm.
This is the part where you really get to set the tone. Stand out from the rest of the CVs the reader has reviewed and give them a taste of what you’re really after. There’s going to be things in your CV that may raise some questions. There’s going to be elements of your career that might suggest something different. This is where you get to “objection handle” before that’s even an issue.
Let’s take two examples here, the first being a former Finance Director, who is in a fortunate position that she no longer has to worry about paying a mortgage, her children are all grown up and moved out and she has a strong 10 years left in her before she can retire. The other, is an ambitious Management Accountant who has recently qualified and been working in some low level roles but has clear progression visible on the CV and is motivated by upward progression and higher earnings. Both candidates have applied for and are going for the same role.
Regardless of who the reader of the CV is (think back to the routes your CV takes), they will all want to know the person behind the CV and skills. This is where your profile is so important.
One may put;
“A highly qualified senior finance professional, who has operated at Finance Director level in previous roles, but is now looking for stability and longevity within a role that makes use of her skills, but requires less travel and increases work-life balance.”
The other may state;
“A newly qualified finance professional, with a progressive nature, as demonstrated by career history to date, driven by progression opportunities, seeking a nurturing environment in which to continue professional growth. Has ambitions to become a Finance Director within the foreseeable five years. “
Thinking about the idea of tailoring your CV, this is why I don’t think it’s actually that possible. As a candidate, we know very little about what the line manager is actually looking for, regardless of the medium of which your CV has been presented.
We don’t know if there is progression. The agency recruiter might tell you there is, but what does it look like? We don’t know if the line manager would be threatened by a former Finance Director. The internal recruiter or HR might tell you otherwise. We don’t know if the line manager is looking for a future replacement for his/her role. We don’t know if they’re driven by a steady pair of hands who can hit the ground running. We know nothing about the team size, the people within the team, who the progressive individuals within this team are, or if they even exist.
This is why it’s vital to be honest about what you’re looking for here. If you’re the progressive Management Accountant, then you really don’t want to be interviewing with a business who simply have no progression for you. Equally if you’re the former Finance Director looking for a change of pace, then perhaps the business who are seeking a long term replacement for the current incumbent isn’t the right role to entertain either.
Education / Qualifications
It’s important to set out how qualified or educated you are for the position you have applied for. Many of us who have been through additional training, qualifications and/or University are proud of our achievements and want to boast, but try to keep it relevant. It’s important to try to not get carried away here in terms of detail or what you include.
For example, it’s important to acknowledge your degree, but we don’t necessarily want to know the detail within the course as to which modules you completed and to what grade. Equally many of us who have been to University are extremely proud of our dissertation but try not to delve into too much detail on this. Equally, there are areas where you do want to place emphasis and detail. All too often we come across CVs that state “ACCA” with no further information. Sometimes this is an oversight, but sometimes it’s to try to trick the reader. If the role requires you to be qualified and have some significant post qualification experience, trying to trick the system by just putting “ACCA” isn’t going to get your CV further, especially if you’re not actually qualified yet! Something along the lines of;
“Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Qualified, 2016 – 2019, First time passes”
Covers in enough detail what you’ve achieved, when and to what level; and doesn’t use up too much space.
“BSc (Hons) Management Studies, Birmingham City University, 2008 – 2011, Upper Second Class Honours (2:1)”
Covers the detail needed without leaving too much room for assumptions. There is a key element yet to be mentioned in the presentation of the information above which is important to consider and be aware of; key words.
Key words are a little bit like SEO in that it’s important to ensure you cover all (if possible) bases to be picked out. Some of our internal recruitment partners and external agency friends like to use the Ctl+F function to seek out the key parts that the line manager has requested. But remember, not everyone is a specialist in what you do, so you might need to make it simpler. For example, ACCA or Association of Chartered Certified Accountants could be two different searches; if you’ve chosen one over the other, then this could prevent your qualification being seen and thus your CV falls out of the shortlist. There is some extremely intelligent CV sifting software available that most business utilise, however always try to cover all bases, because as we know, the artificial intelligence within a machine is only as strong as it’s input.
Final point on this is to be aware of looking under qualified, or scraping the barrel. You may very well be extremely proud of the internal qualification you earned at your business, but it holds little value outside, in truth. Equally, having completed an MS Excel training course isn’t really going to be picked out as desirable, much like the old RSA bookkeeping qualification in years gone by. Some of the best talent I’ve worked with don’t have University degrees and are not qualified professionals. And that’s OK. You have the rest of your CV to showcase your skills and selling points. If you don’t possess qualifications and education that is worth mentioning, don’t. Just move onto what you can offer. Remember, there are some businesses out there who absolutely will not consider candidates without a degree, or without a professional qualification. No matter what you put on your CV, this will not change. So accept it and move onto the next opportunity.
There are some sectors this won’t be relevant for, but in the ever-increasing technological age we’re in, this is becoming less and less the case. Most businesses have specific systems they use and your ability to use these, or not, might be the success of failure of your application at this stage. No longer is it acceptable to be “proficient in the use of Microsoft Office”. Anytime we see this on a CV, our immediate thought is that this CV has not been updated since the mid-2000s.
Adding some detail here will really help you out. Listing the systems in an order will also make it easier for the reader. For example, separate the ERPs, Accounting systems, data systems, coding systems and/or analysis systems if you can. Whether it’s internal or external recruiters, we are usually given a list of systems that are essential and then nice to have. Make our lives easier by making these visible to us and extend the information if you can. For example;
Microsoft Office, SAP & SAGE
Advanced MS Excel (including pivot tables, look ups, macros and VBA), Intermediate MS Word, MS Outlook, MS Powerpoint, SAP (HRM, MM, FSCM, PS, FICO, BW, BI) & SAGE 50, SAGE 100 AND SAGE PAYROLL
Remember – key words! Think about what might be useful for businesses to be aware of and put them in. It might be the difference maker at this stage for you and your application.
It’s also totally acceptable at this stage if you want to get creative and use icons or graphs to showcase your skills level within certain systems, like the images above. Numerous examples of these exist, so Google away for inspiration.
Often this is the most forgotten part of a CV but rest assured, this section is the single, most important part of your CV. No exceptions.
This section tells the reader who you really are and what value you can and will add to them. Why you should be selected for the next round. Why you are better than the others.
This section is your Why.
Taking the original two candidates as examples, here the lesser experienced Management Accountant will have an opportunity to put forth a strong case as to his suitability against the more experienced counter-part.
The key achievements will usually be one of three sections; where you have;
- Saved or made Time
- Saved or made Money
- Delivered a project or piece of work/process/change
These need to be tangible in terms of measurable units; £’s, %’s, hours, days, weeks etc.
Some examples for this would be:
“12% growth year on year through successful translation of strategic plans to hard outcomes; identification and capitalisation of emerging enterprises to propel company to new heights”
“Saved £30,000 by offshoring creative production of global compliance programme to India”
“Created the finance newsletter circulated to over 8,000 employees beating the benchmark readership rate of 48% achieving 57%”
“Developed global change communications for the EVO (SAP HANA), which have prevented the 10% increase in helpline calls for 2 years consecutively”
“Secured the business’ largest client with a finance exposure of £350K – AV. £50K
“Converted 75% of warm leads into recurring finance clients and achieved 711% increase in revenue growth between 2014 and 2016 which equated to 60% of the entire business revenue”
“Instrumental in the company wide systems implementation of SAP delivery, controlling a project estimated at £10m, delivered under budget and on time”
As is evident, these are the things that only you have done and only you can deliver. It’s not important for the reader to know where you’ve been or what you’ve done (job title wise) this early into your CV; it’s more about setting the scene about who you are. The rest will follow.
And follow it does. It’s easy to just make a list of your day to day duties and list some dates and job titles. What sets apart great CVs is the presentation of data. Here your aim is simple; easy to read, digest and understand your career journey. How have you ended up where you are, doing what you’re doing and where are you aiming to go next. This has got to line up with your profile/personal statement too. There’s little point in calling yourself ambitious and progressive if your career history implies you have remained in the same role for over five years, with little to no progression of duties.
There is, however, another side to this where too much information is provided, making for some awkward reading. It’s not important, nor relevant to list things like your reason for leaving (RFL) or your salary including bonuses and overall package. Sometimes keeping these cards back is a better stance.
Presentation is key as is the data included. We recommend something like;
Cadent Gas, Coventry, UK
Cadent Gas are the UK’s largest gas distribution network. We manage a network of more than 80,000 miles of pipes, most of them underground – which transport gas to 11 million customers across the UK. Turnover £1.82bn
June 2017 – Present
Use limited number of bullet points
To explain what you do on a daily basis
Keeping it relevant and to the point
And if possible, in line with the job spec requirements
With the data presented as above, it makes it clear, concise and relevant to the reader. It also provides the line manager some background on the business you have worked for, without having to Google or assume things about them.
Hobbies and Interests
In all honesty, some like this, some don’t, some use it as a final “Paint a picture about me”. I’m impartial to this section, but it’s a very good way to bring out your personality, especially if there’s a cool/fun fact about you that your CV otherwise eludes to. For example, Nitin Sharma of Michael Sharma Group is a trained and experienced Pro Wrestler, active from 2007 – 2011. Won’t find that in the career section though.
Oh and a final note? References are always available upon request. You don’t need to add that. If they weren’t, we would worry.
I sincerely hope you find this article of RECSMARTS of use and as always, we’re happy to take any questions you might have. We do offer a free CV support service, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
Stay Safe. Stay Home. #ASmarterWayToRecruit