Does your curriculum vitae (CV) pass the six-second test?
When they look at applicants’ resumes, recruiters and hiring managers will spend six seconds on average looking at each. If your CV doesn’t set you apart in that brief moment, you are likely out of luck.
So how can you craft a resume that aces that test?
Victoria McLean, “The CV Queen,” founder and CEO of the leading international career consultancy City CV, shared her insights in a presentation at the 72nd CFA Institute Annual Conference, in 2019.
She opened with a question: “If you looked at your CV, would you hire yourself?”
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It turns out there is a considerable difference of opinion between applicants rating their own resumes and the recruiters who sift through them.
“Eighty percent of job seekers think their CV sells them well,” McLean said. “Hiring managers think more than 80% of CVs are not fit for purpose.”
With this in mind, have another look at your CV and consider the following 11 pointers from McLean:
1. It’s marketing
Your CV is an advertisement for yourself, McLean observed. You are the product. The hiring organization is the buyer.
Think about the need they’re looking to address and how you can convince them that you are the best solution. Obviously, individual employers don’t all want the same things, so you may have to tailor your messaging to each. That means having multiple CVs.
“If you go for more than one role, more than one function, more than one sector, have more than one version,” McLean said. “You will need to highlight different things for different target companies.”
She recommends spending 10 hours overall on your CV and believes that starting from scratch is often the best path.
Two pages are the norm for much of the world in terms of length, according to McLean. Sometimes, for private equity and hedge funds, you can get away with one page. If you’re an IT professional or project manager or have done a lot of contract work, the CV can sometimes stretch to three pages.
2. Beat the bots
Don’t assume human eyes will ever see your CV. You first have to get past the resume bots. The vast majority of recruiters use an application tracking system (ATS) to filter submitted CVs.
“They use them for all candidates, from the most junior to the most senior,” McLean said. “Eighty percent of jobs you see online are built with an ATS.”
These bots are scanning for specific terms associated with the job requirements and the knowledge and expertise that the recruiter is searching for. Be sure that your CV has a key skills and expertise section that includes the terms repeatedly used in the job description.
“It’s all about your audience,” McLean said. “It’s all about your target.”
She recommends using databases and testing for keywords. For example, the skills section on LinkedIn is a good place to determine what words surface in a firm’s search query database. But it’s not enough just to include those terms; you should back them up with data.
In terms of software, Microsoft Word is the preferred program of the bots, according to McLean, so have a Word version of your resume. Avoid borders, hyperlinks, photos, and tables that can interfere with an ATS.
3. Prepare your pitch
When it comes to outlining your value proposition for a potential employer, it’s critical to have a precise, targeted, and well-constructed pitch to advance beyond the bots and the six-second test.
Of course, selling yourself isn’t always easy. “We’re all good at focusing on what we can’t do rather than what we can,” McLean said.
Put yourself in your future employer’s shoes. What are they trying to accomplish? What is their pain point? How can you address it? Think about the skills you have that can deliver what they’re looking for.
“What differentiates you from the competition?” McLean asked. “What’s your unique selling point?”
Integrate the answers to those questions into your pitch.
“What we’re trying to do is emblazon on their memory Brand You,” McLean said.
4. Right headline
The headline is absolutely essential. Some recruiters won’t look beyond the name and title. Make sure that they sell you.
“Titles are important to include,” McLean said. So select one or several that immediately establishes who you are professionally and that you’re a fit for the position. Whatever you put should align with the target role, and you should think very carefully about keywords.
For example, she observed, “Accounting Ninja” may be catchy, but chances are the CV bots aren’t going to be on the lookout for one.
Finally, make sure your contact information is correct. More recruiters than you’d expect report receiving resumes with missing or incorrect email addresses or with the track changes function still on. It’s a safe bet that those applicants didn’t land an interview.
5. Start with a bang
“It’s always about the commercial impact. What can you do for them?” McLean said. “Get that out in the summary.”
The executive summary is the paragraph or several bullet-point intros that kicks off your resume. It can be hard to encapsulate your professional experience in such an abbreviated space, but it is a vital component.
“We really want to make an impact,” she said. “Sum up all the best bits of you, and sum it up for your target role.”
Watch out for too many pronouns, and be as succinct and direct as you can. You only have so many words to make your case. Make sure to use the right ones.
6. Context, context, context
For your past jobs, include the company name, title, and dates for each entry, with the dates on the right side of the page.
You need to provide an overview of the role as well as the company, if it isn’t especially well-known. Also include details on the size of the projects you worked on in each role, their time frames, budgets, and overall reach.
Stay away from listing out your responsibilities. That can be boring. And only include the important things. Too much superfluous detail won’t help your case.
“Tell a story,” McLean said. “You’ve got to prove you’ll deliver in the future and you’ve got to prove you delivered in the past.”
And don’t underestimate the power of simple marketing tricks. Strategically underlining or bolding critical words can provide you with a little extra differentiation.
“Try and hook the reader in at the very beginning,” she said. “Be relevant and keep the target role in sight.”
7. Show, don’t tell
“What value did you bring to that role?” McLean asked.
That’s what you need to demonstrate for each entry in your CV. That means achievements, bullet points, and quantified results when possible.
“Everything has to be tangible,” she said. “It has to tell people about you, not the job you did.”
8. Lean and clean
“Keep it simple,” McLean said. “Don’t waste space.”
Only include impressive grades, and remember that education becomes less important as your career progresses. And be mindful of what sort of educational achievements and certifications are worthy of mention. Advanced degrees warrant inclusion. Two-day communications workshops probably don’t.
Also, keep your dates really short. Since space is at a premium, you don’t need to spell out the months. The same is true for your professional development. You don’t need to include all your accomplishments.
“The more white space, the better,” she said.
9. The icing on the cake
Stand out and make yourself memorable. This may mean revealing personal details.
“Hobbies are important,” McLean said. “I personally love it.”
Of course, don’t go overboard. But if you have relevant volunteer or extracurricular activities that demonstrate something about who you are and what motivates you, they are worth including. If you’ve completed an ultramarathon, for example, why would you leave it out?
“Avoid anything too passive,” she said. “We’re looking for active achievements.”
10. Look and feel
A CV with two typos will be rejected by 97% of hiring managers, according to McLean, and 68% will reject on the basis of one error.
So accuracy is key. Also avoid tables, ornate logos, and other potential distractions, and be consistent with style, formatting, language, and grammar. Don’t alternate between ands and &s, for example.
Most of the time, a “conservative, professional, and corporate” presentation is the best course.
11. Don’t stress. Get help
Patience is key. A perfect CV takes time, thought and feedback to produce. Look at resumes online, be sure to get advice from people whose judgment you trust, and seek help from professionals if you need it.
“It’s worth starting with a blank canvas,” McLean said.
While the task can be challenging, it is one well worth the effort: It can not only help you land your next job, but also give you insights into your long-term goals and career direction.
“It’s really, really empowering rewriting your CV,” McLean said. “It gives you clarity and focus. Be ruthless with the content.”
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
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