Hiring Manager Advice: 5 keys to unlock any CV

If you’ve ever been presented with a large pile of CVs and ushered into a darkened room, you’ll be familiar with the often laborious and sometimes arbitrary exercise of producing a shortlist of candidates for interview.

Knowing what to look for in a CV can save you a lot of time and frustration. It’s an important step in ensuring you get the best candidate for the role.

Here are five watchwords to help you tackle that next pile of CVs quickly and effectively.

1. CV Balance between responsibilities and achievements

A weighting between responsibilities and achievements.

A CV which merely lists what the applicant has done in each role will not give an indication of how well these responsibilities were performed. This imbalance may be down to the candidate's inability to present their achievements effectively, or - more worryingly – it may point to an absence of any real accomplishments.

An imbalance in the opposite direction carries its own problems. Applicants who simply list a series of achievements under each role are not supplying sufficient detail of the tasks they carried out on a day-to-day basis, how they executed them and their level of involvement.

This may be an innocuous oversight on the part of the candidate, but they may also be claiming the achievements of others.

2. High Quality CV indicates quality candidate

A high quality CV usually indicates a high quality candidate.

Spelling, grammar, syntax, layout... these are all areas where you can assess the quality of the applicant. It is not an iron rule, but more often than not a candidate's approach to compiling a CV will reflect how they conduct themselves professionally.

If littered with mistakes, you need to ask yourself: how much effort will the candidate put into the job?

This is especially important when the role advertised demands strong written communication skills and/or attention to detail. In such circumstances, even the odd typo raises real concerns.

3. Look for career progression in CV

Evidence of internal advancement.

A CV that charts the rise of an applicant through a single company - whether it's one or more promotions - is a strong indication that they are a high performing individual and can excel further in the right role.

The fact that they have been already recognised for their skills, experience and talent with one company significantly increases the likelihood that they will do well elsewhere. 

4. Is the CV relevant to role and company?

A CV tailored to both the role and your company.

Ideally, the CV should carry a short personal statement by the applicant, outlining suitability for the role, salary expectations and availability.

It should not only highlight areas of particular relevance, it should also acknowledge any gaps in skills or experience and outline how they can be bridged, e.g. with transferable skills or a demonstrable aptitude.

The lack of a testimony can raise questions about the candidate’s suitability, as well as the level of interest in the opportunity.

Throughout the rest of the CV, examples should exist where the candidate has aligned their skills and experience to the role, and ideally the company’s vision, values and purpose. This demonstrates that the applicant has taken time to think about the role, articulating why and how they represent a strong fit.

This tailored approach marks out a strong candidate.

5. Is the candidate on the CV talented?

To identify talent, don’t stop at the skills.

If your goal is to attract talented people to your organisation, you may need to abandon the box-ticking model of reading a CV.

Somewhat paradoxically, if the candidate has the exact skills and experience you’re looking for, they may not be the best person to recruit. Aside from the financial benefits that it may bring, most applicants are attracted to a role because it offers an opportunity for development.

Gaps in either skills or experience – if they are not wide-ranging and the candidate has an aptitude for learning – should therefore be viewed benignly, or even virtuously.

An employee who finds themselves with an opportunity to develop is more likely to remain within your company over the long term. If it’s a permanent role you are recruiting for, your decision should not just occupy the present but also have one eye on the future.

Conversely, if the candidate appears on paper to be over-qualified, resist the temptation to make assumptions about their suitability. Their motivations and perspective may have changed during their career.

As long as the applicant has not been mis-sold the position, they may well excel in the role – even over the long term. If the vacancy is on a contract or interim basis, you need to ask yourself: what do you have to lose?

Conclusion: the ability to assess a CV

The ability to assess a CV quickly and effectively is crucial in identifying strong candidates. Not only does it speed up the process of compiling a shortlist, it also avoids the need to sit through interviews with candidates clearly not suited to the role.

Ultimately, it increases the chance of you finding the ideal candidate. The ability to read a CV well should never be underestimated.


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