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CV Secrets: What Recruiters are Really Looking For

Written by Andrew Arkley


Your CV is your first opportunity to impress recruiters. And, as careers websites are only too fond of telling us, recruiters spend on average only a minute or two looking at a CV before deciding whether to progress the candidate’s application.

If you want to avoid being relegated to the ‘no’ pile, it’s vital to make sure your CV hits all the right buttons and includes the stuff that’s going to get you noticed.

A quick Google search will yield an overwhelming amount of information about what’s important on a CV. But don’t worry – we’ve done the hard work for you. Here we reveal what recruiters are really looking for when they glance over your CV.

Excellent presentation and a logical layout

In a survey of over 300 UK employers by jobs website Reed, 50% of recruiters said their most important consideration when looking at a CV is whether it’s laid out coherently.

This means listing your current role at the top of your career history, making relevant experience and qualifications prominent and dividing your CV into logical sections.

They also highlighted good formatting and an appropriate length as key deciding factors, with 91% agreeing that a two to three page Word document is the ideal format.

Perfect grammar and spelling

Unsurprisingly, a CV full of typos and grammatical errors isn’t going to score you points with recruiters.
In a recent poll by vocational higher education provider GSM London, poor spelling and grammar came out top of a list of recruiters’ CV bugbears.

A massive 87% of employers surveyed said that spelling and grammar mistakes are the most annoying thing to see on a CV.

Be sure to spell check and proofread your CV rigorously, and get a friend or family member to check it too.

Informed use of industry terms

Your CV is an opportunity to show that you’re knowledgeable and well-informed about the industry you work in, and a good way to do this is by using key industry terms.

In a quick scan of your CV recruiters want to see that you know your stuff, so be liberal with industry keywords.

Many employers now use CV reading software to filter out unsuitable candidates. Using job-specific terms will increase your chances of making it past this stage and getting your CV seen by human eyes.

A professional tone

Don’t make the mistake of thinking an informal or ‘matey’ tone will ingratiate you with recruiters.
Failure to use a professional tone is up near the top of the list of CV habits that get on recruiters’ nerves.

Avoid using the first person, don’t include too much personal information and stick to facts and figures.

This also extends to email correspondence. Referring to employers as ‘you guys’ and signing off with ‘cheers’ will likely earn your CV a one-way ticket to the bin.

A detailed list of achievements and responsibilities

Whilst many jobseekers think it’s important to list soft skills like being a good team player and communication skills, but employers disagree.

A survey by recruitment specialist Michael Page reveals that recruiters favour CVs that give details of candidates’ responsibilities and achievements in previous roles.

Recruiters want to know if you’re the right fit for the job, and specific details of what you’ve done in previous roles are the best way to demonstrate this.

Include figures to back up your achievements where possible, and highlight responsibilities which align with the job you’re applying for.

Use of job advert keywords

A generic CV won’t cut it in today’s competitive job market. Recruiters want to see that you’ve read the job description and are responding directly to it.

Your CV needs to show that you fulfil the requirements of the job. Demonstrate this by using keywords from the job advert and relating them to your experience and skills.

The more specific you can be the better, so back up your claims with real-life examples. It’s all about showing that your experience makes you exactly right for the job you’re applying for.

Give recruiters what they’re really looking for…

…and you’ll drastically improve your chances of making it to interview. Good luck!

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