The Curriculum Vitae: What are the most important aspects of your CV?

Some jobs will attract hundreds of applications. Recruitment expert Mike McDonagh has some great tips.


How important is your CV?

In most sectors, it’s vital. Some organisations are moving to use more creative or digital platforms rather than a traditional CV, but these organisations are still in the (relative) minority. 

So, work on your CV and make sure it’s the best possible representation of who you are. I would always recommend that people hold a “master copy” of their CV somewhere.  This CV should never see the light of day, but have ALL the experience, education and training and competencies you can think of in it. You can then pick and choose which parts of your CV relate best to the job you’re applying for.  Note, you should not be sending the same CV to every employer!

What are the most important aspects of your CV?
Customising your CV is essential. Recruiters can tell when a CV is standard and hasn’t been customised, as it will include information that is redundant for the job in question. It can be very difficult at times to say all that you would like to say in your CV, so wasting space will harm your application.

It’s also important to add in a personal statement directly beneath your contact details on your CV. This gives employers a snapshot of your key skills and work ambitions and should catch their attention if it matches up with what they are looking for
Do not leave gaps in your CV. If you took a year out, carried out an interim assignment, or travelled for six months, say so. If you do include gaps, potential employers can suspect the worst. In this case, highlight any relevant skills that you gained during you travels, interim assignment etc.

Try to stand out from the crowd. Showing any evidence of work experience and skills developed through extracurricular activities will always give you an extra edge in a pile of CVs from similarly qualified applicants.
Ensure your CV has no spelling errors. More than likely it will be put in the bin straight away.

What value are internships on your CV?
Again, depending on the field you’re looking to get into, but generally I would say that internships are only going to add value to your application.  Ideally these internships will be directly related to the job you’re looking to get into, but don’t despair if not. Some internships are really hard to get (I’m sure everyone wants to go and do an internship at Google or Facebook but places are hard to come by), so if you can translate the experience you get in other intern roles to the permanent job you’re applying for, it should still add value.

How do I highlight my strengths?
 A key factor. Too many people talk about their strenghts (i.e. communication skills, team work) but don’t back these up with any examples or evidence. There is a tendency from many organisations to use competencies to score applications or candidates in an interview. You should use these competencies to highlight your strengths, but crucially you should support your claim (“I have great communication skills”) with evidence (“I made a speech to 100 students at my old school about choosing the right course at College”). Ideally, within reason, try and make this evidence/example as vivid as possible – you need to paint a picture that the reader can see. For example you could also say you have “effective communication skills developed through regular presentations, written reports, case studies etc during college, resulting in first-class grades.” Just remember that employers are interested in the outcome or impact of your actions, not just a list of the tasks themselves. 
Don’t over-do this though – there is no point making up evidence or experience that you don’t have. You will run the risk of getting picked apart at the interview and it will be embarrassing.  Focus on the strengths you do have, make them as applicable to the job you’re going for.  If you’ve got enough evidence then you’ll get an interview – if you don’t, then maybe it’s back to the drawing board to get more experience for next time around.

Should you apply for every job that’s going? What if you get no replies?

Again, if you are applying for lots of jobs, please try and tailor your CV to the job you’re applying for. It’s obvious when the generic CV comes through.  If you don’t get a reply, call the company. Sometimes companies like to see the tenacity and confidence that this shows. Even better, before you apply, see if you know someone in the company you’re applying to and see if they’ll introduce you to someone involved in the recruitment process – then you have a direct line in if you don’t get a response.


Mike McDonagh is a director with HAYS Recruiting experts worldwide