Are your job applications being ignored? Cut the cliches, sum yourself up and keep it brief, say the experts.
Keep it brief
When writing a CV and cover letter, it is important that the recruiter gets a sense of who you are. But this does not mean they need your life story. “Successful applications are all about relevance. You don’t need to tell them about everything you have ever done – it is up to you to highlight the jobs that you feel you can draw the most relevant experience and skills from,” says Hannah Morton-Hedges, a career adviser who runs Momentum Careers Advice.
The cover letter is a way to tempt the time-poor recruiter in, says Jon Gregory, a job application and interview specialist. It should, therefore, be “exceedingly brief”.
“Unless otherwise requested, it’s only purpose is to set the scene for why you’re a great fit and entice the reader to open your CV with a sense of expectation,” he says.
Keeping the word count down on your CV is tricky when you have had many different jobs, and side gigs that you feel are relevant. If this is the case, group jobs together under subheadings, rather than listing everything chronologically, the experts advise.
Ditch the jargon
Are you a motivated, passionate, team player with excellent communication skills? Chances are you are not the only one with this skillset in the pile on the recruiter’s desk. Using cliches and jargon can be off-putting for recruiters, as well as a waste of precious words. “Be human,” advises Lydia Fairman, an HR and resourcing specialist, who owns recruitment consultancy, Fairman Consulting. “Employers want to employ people; don’t overuse business jargon, let them know why you’re choosing them as an employer and show them what you’ll bring to the role,” she says.
While it is important to sell yourself, avoid superlatives and hyperbole, warns Gregory. “Are you ‘excellent’ at this, that or the other? Who says so? Help the selection panel reach that conclusion about you via your experience and achievements,” he says.
Study the job specification carefully and reflect its language and tone in your CV and cover letter. Also, use relevant keywords throughout, in case the hiring company is using an applicant tracking system – a software app that automatically filters candidates’ applications – suggests Victoria McLean, career expert and the founder of CityCV.co.uk.
Sum yourself up
The summary should be factual, objective, snappy, and no more than three lines suggests Fairman. Do not use it to boast, however. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m wonderful and great at stuff, in teams and alone’, it should say, ‘I’ve got a proven background of delivering large-scale projects, collaboratively,’” she says.
Including a summary can be particularly useful for career changers, says McLean. She suggests writing something “short and sweet”, such as: “Following a planned career break, during which I undertook pro bono consultancy work, I am now seeking to return to a fundraising career.”
McLean also recommends creating an additional information section at the end of the CV for any other relevant personal details, such as volunteer work.
Results rather than responsibilities
Too often CVs read like long lists of tasks and duties performed by candidates in each of their roles. Sometimes, candidates even copy and paste the job specs from their roles into their CV, says McLean. “To stand out, the focus now must be on you and what you have delivered.
“The hirer needs to know that you can deliver the results they need; demonstrate this with punchy bullets that illustrate times you have delivered results in the past,” she says.
As well as results, candidates should focus on the skills they acquired from each role; this is particularly useful for career changers. “This will help employers to see you as a much more transferable package,” says Morton-Hedges.
It is worth doing this for your recent roles, as recruiters spend the most time looking at those, says Andrew Fennell, director of CV writing service StandOut CV. “Roles from several years ago will be less relevant and not of much interest to recruiters, so simple one to two-line summaries will suffice for them – just enough to show your career progression,” he says.
Skirt around the CV and cover letter
With the majority of hires made internally, it can still be challenging to get your CV and cover letter noticed, even when you have spent hours perfecting it. “Sometimes there is no easy answer, and it is all about perseverance,” says Sarah Archer, career coach and founder of CareerTree.
If you are not getting interviews, she suggests going for a coffee with someone from the industry to get their advice. “Ask them what they think is missing from your skills or experience to see if there are obvious gaps,” she says.
It is a good idea for job seekers to go directly to recruiters, which will make them more likely to pay attention to your application. “Find any reason you can to chat briefly about an advertised role with HR or the line manager and use the information gained to inform your application and put you ahead of other applicants,” suggests Gregory.
Fairman suggests striking up a rapport with a good recruiter if you know one. “That way you will be top of the pile whenever a suitable opportunity arises”, she says. Networking sites like LinkedIn are a useful way to build a personal profile and get noticed. “Start influencing,” says Fairman. “If you’ve got anything interesting to talk about that’s relevant to your role, then write and share articles. All of those things will make you visible and proactive on their network,” she says.