What do recruiters look for in CVs these days?
The answer to this question includes some significant changes that have had an increasing influence over the entire personnel placement process, over the last 7+ years. These variations have been predominantly influenced by the impact of the wide and ever growing digital communications landscape and the AI capabilities of most Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software used by the majority of top Recruiter Service companies.
So what are these things I hear you say? Well let’s first provide some context:
For a Recruiter, it’s not unusual to receive in excess of 200 expressions of interest and/or direct applications for, as an example, a COO career appointment opportunity. The only way a Recruiter can deal with this is using the key word search capability of the ATS he/she uses, or if they’re more diligent and don’t want to miss out on a rare gem in the field, they’ll likely look for a combination of key technical criteria including education, the general feel and career progress reflected in the CV, including some experience aspects, which we’ll pick up on in a little more detail below.
For the old school Recruiter who holds more faith in his/her hard earned experience to wheedle out that special one, more so than in the ATS available to him/her, you need to catch them on page one of the CV, not as a “so what now” statement on the last page. In fact, the ATS user wants the same, once they’ve collated a long list from the word search, they still need to effect a short-list. So if you remember nothing else, remember this, Recruiters don’t screen CVs out, they screen CVs in. If they don’t find what they are looking for very quickly and easily, they’ll simply move past your CV. With over 200 CVs to scan through, even the most die-hard Recruiter won’t give more than a few seconds to screen the content of the first few pages of your CV.
Get the Recruiter’s attention on Page 1 of your CV!
Treat page 1 of your CV like it’s a taster to the rest of your story, providing enough information to secure the reader’s interest. Here’s where most Recruiters decide whether they are going to look any further at your CV so make sure there is enough there to ensure that they screen your CV in for a closer review.
Information that is essential to page one of your CV includes the following:
- Full Name;
- Contact details (mobile and email – hyperlink active);
- Residential area;
- Citizenship/Residence status;
- Highest level of education (Institution and year attained);
- Most significant Professional Qualification (Certifying body and year attained);
- Personal Profile: The personal profile is a simple statement of fact that describes:
- The position that you are most experienced in, e.g. I am a General Manager with BSc Mech Eng and an MBA. I have 15 years’ automotive component manufacturing experience including full oversight of •high volume CNC machined component production, •sales and contract price negotiations, •contract administration, •financial and personnel management.
- What you most enjoy doing, e.g. My activities are varied across all aspects of the business, but I most enjoy contract price negotiations and formulation of the contract terms. I also enjoy the challenge of coming up with creative solutions to product design and production challenges.
- What you know you are very good at, e.g. My writing skills are well developed and, coupled with sharp perception skills, have proven very useful in the contract pricing and terms negotiation and formulation processes.
- What values underpin all that you do, e.g. I hold to a fundamental belief that Respect for all, Honesty, Openness and Trust are essential values both for me and for the businesses I manage.
NB: This Personal Profile information is not a whole page of laborious detail, rather a collection of to the point statements presenting facts on what you are, who you are and what you have to offer. This information should convey not so much about what you’ve done for employers 8 years ago, but more specifically what you have to offer today. Be careful not to kill off the CV by starting off telling the Recruiter the sort of job and company you are looking for, remember Recruiters search out people for jobs not the other way around, they are not going to go out searching for the job/company that is a fit with your requirements.
What you should focus on when building your CV:
So now that your CV has been included for closer review here’s a heads up on what detail the Recruiters will likely be looking for:
1. Orderly construct, look and feel
Recruiters want to see that your CV has an orderly flow, is easy to follow, reflects your career progression accurately and the timelines make sense. They want to see that you’ve taken the trouble to think about the content and to set it out correctly. Always start with your most recent appointment and work backwards. Remember that providing some detail on what your role was about is more important as it applies to the last 5 years than for the roles you held 6-10 years ago. Earlier positions can usually be covered with brief information on Company; Period of Employment and Positions held.
2. Short employment periods and gaps
If you have a good CV for a particular role, a Recruiter may choose to engage you in discussion irrespective of the gaps and short employment periods reflected in the CV. However, they will undoubtedly expect you to be able to provide very objective reasons for these short periods of employment and/or periods of unemployment. Frequent periods of employment of less than two years are usually seen as a red flag to most Recruiters and being able to provide an acceptable reason for these will be important.
3. Spelling and grammar
It may seem trite, but a CV littered with spelling errors or the poor use of language can be a big turn off for some Recruiters. Remember the CV is the first impression the Recruiters will have of you, so let it be as good a reflection of you as you can attain. No harm in asking a friend, wife, fiancé or boyfriend to check the details.
4. Size and substance
No Recruiter has the time to read through an 8+ page CV, so whatever you do focus on getting the CV down to a maximum of 4 pages containing the most important and relevant information. As stated earlier, what you did 6+ years ago is less important than what you’ve done in the past 5 years. Nevertheless, your CV should include details of all the positions you’ve held with all of the companies you have worked for and the periods of such employment. Just because your CV extends beyond 15 years, don’t assume that there is no interest in who you worked for, the position/s you held and for how long in the period preceding the last 15 years. A good idea would be to also provide a brief description of the type of company you were employed by in each case over the past 5-8 years, this is of much less interest in respect of those employers 8+ years ago.
5. Interest and content
Most Recruiters will be interested to note the schools you went to, the universities you studied at and the companies you worked for. Big brand companies and institutions do have some appeal, but they won’t detract from the quality of a CV that reflects a steady upward progression throughout your career. Similarly, no amount of big brand presence is going to save a shoddy CV.
6. Critical content for ATS software
In the current digital age Recruiter databases have grown to become in excess of 100,000 profiles, not to mention the size of the subscription portal databases that they also have access to. The ATS software enables the Recruiter to specify and search out CV profiles that contain keywords content that they hope will lead them to CVs of candidate prospects with the specific experience they are looking for. These keywords differ depending on the Industry and/or job profile and they are important to accordingly reflect in your CV. E.g. Project Managers in the IT sector may want to reflect the enterprise software they have most of their experience in and the business sector they are most familiar with. Reference to career-specific qualifications and/or methodologies would also be useful in this context. Similarly, Design Engineers might want to mention the types of machine design or construction design projects they have been involved in and the CAD systems used. Whether you are a Marketing Manager with responsibility for putting an entire digital marketing strategy together or a Chemical Engineer overseeing the operations of a pharmaceutical production plant it’s important to include job and related system and/or software specific experience you have gained. A few key words can be used as filters and the ATS will trawl through every page of literally thousands of CVs to reveal the ones that have these keywords. By labelling the specific skills that you need to fulfil your current role, you give the recruiter a better chance of coming across your CV for evaluation
7. Potential and initiative
Our grandparents probably worked at the same job for 40 years and retired with a company watch. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The most recent data shows the average person stays at a job just under 5 years before moving to better prospects. Moving jobs is not necessarily a bad thing. There might be a better opportunity with more responsibility, growth options and higher salary. However, there needs to be a good reason that you would be proud to share when asked. Recruiters are looking for people that are growing in their career. Career moves that don’t show increase in responsibility might trigger a “gold digger” alarm and may signal to the recruiter that you are probably overpriced.