Navigating the CV application minefield

Writing a CV is hard enough without having to even consider all the different requirements of each employer. Some requests are quite standard, whilst others are easy to miss or forget. Twenty years ago things were much simpler and all you would need to do is supply a CV with your entire career history – but now things have changed and are much more competitive.

To help you get more interviews, here’s how to navigate the CV application minefield and what to look out for.

Use an ATS friendly CV template

ATS stands for applicant tracking system and is mainly used by larger companies to filter through applications. Due to the large volume of applications they will receive it makes sense to have some kind of filtering system to quickly narrow down the search.

The ATS will be able to quickly sort out the spam and the underqualified or irrelevant applications so the hiring manager can focus upon worthy candidates. The problem with this process however is that it’s possible for eligible candidates to be ignored and filtered onto the ‘no’ pile.

To ensure this doesn’t happen you will need to take note of all the keywords from the advert. The more you match the right keywords and phrases, the more likely you are to make it to the hiring manager. You should also avoid using graphics and images as these can confuse the software. Putting text inside image boxes will also make it unreadable, so write an application that uses the standard CV format – no frills and no fuss!

Click here for our free ATS-friendly CV template.

Submit the correct file format

The most commonly used word processing software to write a CV is Microsoft Word. This ‘doc’ or ‘docx’ format is usually what the employer will expect to receive, so it makes sense to stick with the most popular.

Other file formats are sometimes acceptable like pdf, but we would recommend only choosing that one if it has been specifically requested. You could however consider sending both docx and pdf if you are emailing the manager directly. But you may be sending this through a website job board, so take care to see what they request.

Download a CV template

Writing a CV from scratch allows for the possibility of missing an important section. Not only that, but there could be a section that’s not mandatory but would add more value to your application – like an ‘Achievement and Awards’ section.

To ensure you don’t miss anything vital that an employer would expect to see, consider downloading a CV template. There are hundreds of free CV templates to choose and download online, and all you need to do is insert your details.

Unless you are a graphic designer it’s important to recognise your own shortcomings. Creating an amazing looking CV is not easy, so it could be much easier to let the professionals take care of that for us. You will then have more time to spend on the content of your CV, and to even tailor it – read on to find out more.

Tailor your CV to the role

How do you write a CV that attracts the attention of the employer and stands out above the rest? This is a very open ended question and not that easy to answer – but there is potentially a way.

If you’ve been writing and updating your CV for many years now you may be wondering what else you can do to make a more impressive application. You could gain another qualification or learn new skills, or maybe you could add a splash of colour to make it stand out. Both of these things could make a difference, but there is one that sits head and shoulders above them all.

Tailoring or customising your CV to the role, the company and the industry is the single greatest thing you can do when writing your application. Although you might automatically assume that your CV is already customised to suit the industry you are in, we want you to consider going one step further.

Take a closer look at the job advert and see what kind of keywords the employer is using. Match as many of those words and phrases as you can on your own application and you are instantly going to make a good impression. You should also apply this tailored approach to every single section of your CV – especially your work experience.

The most common approach to writing the work history section is to simply list all of the past jobs along with the tasks and responsibilities. However, this isn’t going to get you noticed, but what will is if you chop, edit and highlight the most relevant aspects. The employer is not interested in reading about what you did 15 years ago as a waiter or waitress if you are now applying for the role of Accounts manager.

The applications which stand the best chance of getting an interview are the ones that provide as much relevant information as possible. It makes the hiring manager’s job much easier and puts your application ahead of the other generic CVs.

Use reverse chronological

Your work history has to have a timeline so the employer can track your career progression. Every hiring manager prefers to see your most recent job as this is more relevant. Use a reverse chronological order so that your very early and usually irrelevant positions are at the back.

This doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of a relevant position from many years ago, but it does usually mean that your last 2-3 jobs are the most important. This is where you should focus most of your attention and leave out all of the tasks and responsibilities for anything much older.

Check for a cover letter

Writing a cover letter is not mandatory, but we would still recommend you do so. It can add value to your CV, create a more personal touch, and make your application stand out. Most people don’t write cover letters so you are already providing something unique.

In some instances you may find that the employer has specifically requested one on the job advert. So be careful not to miss this as you could instantly be rejected for not following instructions.

Check the requirements

Employers are constantly inundated with applications from underqualified candidates. Some job seekers like to try their luck and click the ‘apply’ button on anything and everything they see. This is understandable as you want to create as many opportunities as possible, but it does mean you are likely to receive a lot of rejections.

You need to avoid this approach and take more time in your search. There is nothing wrong with applying for something you have little or no experience in as you can always show transferable skills. However, pay close attention to any specific and mandatory requests. If you don’t have these then you probably shouldn’t apply. But if you do and you fail to show this on your application, then you are missing out on opportunities which you are qualified for.

A specific driving license (heavy goods) or DBS check could be required, so make sure you highlight that information right at the top of your application. The most important skills and requirements should always be on the very first page so the employer doesn’t miss them.

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