How can I increase the chances of my CV getting shortlisted?

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Firstly, you need to be realistic and apply only for roles where you have everything the employer is asking for, including skills, technical knowledge, experience and sometimes sector background too.   In today’s tough job climate, employers want to hire staff who they feel will be high performers from day one, as they don’t have the time and patience to wait while you get up to speed.  So while you believe you may be capable of doing a job, unless you can meet all of their selection criteria and can provide lots of good examples to prove it, then don’t waste your time in applying as there will be others who will be perceived as a much better fit for the job than you.

It’s also important that any job you apply for is one which you genuinely want.  Half-hearted  applicants are easy to spot as their CVs often lack focus and impact.  Even if they do get to interview, they are rarely offered the job as employers understandably want motivated staff who are likely to bring energy and commitment to their work.

So assuming that you are clear about your target next role, then how are you going to start writing your CV to give yourself a competitive edge.

What should I put in my CV?

Recruiters spend an average of about 10 seconds reading your CV before deciding whether it will be either on the shortlisting or reject pile.  This means that your CV must make it as easy as possible for the employer to see your suitability, as quickly as possible.  It will need to include the following:

  1. Contact Details

Your CV should be headed with your name and contact details.  Do not write “curriculum vitae” at the top as some recruitment software will assume that this is your name.

  1. Profile

This is always read by recruiters and is the earliest opportunity for you to show you have exactly what they are looking for.  Include the key skills and experience you have which are relevant to the job. Avoid talking about your personal qualities or softer skills unless you can back them up with evidence eg instead of “strong interpersonal skills” write “my strong relationship management skills enabled collaborative working with Budget-holders so that we were able to agree plans very quickly”. 

  1. Employment History

Include details of your employment history in reverse chronological order.  The information included under each job heading should not simply be a summary of your job description.  Under each job, highlight activities you were involved in that relate directly to the job you are applying for.  Include achievements, such as how you met or exceeded any targets set and how you added value to the organisation.  This could include additional income you helped to generate, costs you reduced, improvements in quality or the introduction of new ideas.  Wherever possible, try to quantify your achievements eg you saved £5000 by switching stationery suppliers.  No matter what role you worked in, you should find a way to demonstrate that you had a positive impact on your team, organization or customers. 

  1. Relevant Skills and Experience

If your earlier career history or extra-curricular experience is more relevant to the role you are applying for than your current role, then use a heading like “relevant skills and experience” or “career achievements”  to bring together the information and evidence that shows your relevant capabilities.  Make sure that this appears on the first page of your CV, usually before your Employment History.  Recruiters will only bother to read the second page if they are already convinced by the first page that you can do the job.

  1. Additional Information

Other information relevant to the job may include, languages, IT skills, voluntary work etc.  However, only include hobbies if they are directly relevant to the job or highly impressive eg running a marathon.

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Where do CVs go wrong?

In a Personal Career Management survey of 500 CVs ranging from Senior Managers to graduates, 98% of the CVs were clearly heading straight for the reject pile.  These were the most common mistakes.

Lack of Relevant information. Many candidates make misplaced assumptions about what is important to the employer and so fail to provide the relevant information in their CV.  Do your research and show that you have the specific skills, experience and approach required within the first half page of your CV, so the recruiter can quickly see your suitability.

Insufficient evidence.  Unsubstantiated claims won’t work.  You need to prove you have what they need.  So instead of your CV saying you have “good communication skills”, give an example of where you demonstrated this to good effect e.g. “Invited to join the sales bid team because of my ability to cost the technical elements were helpful in the negotiations with customers”. 

Too Generic.  Many candidates write a broad CV because they want to keep their options open.  However, unless it is clear who you are and what you do, then recruiters won’t know what to do with you.

Errors.  9 out of 10 Cvs have errors on them and are often rejected on that basis alone.  Your CV must be impeccably presented if you want to demonstrate your professionalism and attention to detail.  Always ask someone else to check it over for you.

Negative information.  Your CV should include only positive information.  Never criticise a previous employer or refer to difficulties or disappointments unless you were able to turn them around. 

Poor language.  The use of jargon, clumsy expression or clichés can sabotage the chances of even the most capable of candidates. Instead of using the “I” pronoun such as “I did this...I did that....”  use positive action words to lead bullet points e.g. “Initiated this…Created that...” which will seem much more dynamic.   This will give a very energetic feel to your CV and help reinforce the message that you are an upbeat, “can-do” type of candidate

Software issues. When you apply online for a role, your CV is scanned by software before human eyes ever see it.   Formatting options like columns, shading, boxes etc may look nice, but they could interfere with the software’s ability to store the information on your CV.  So make your CV as plain as possible or if you are uploading a pdf file, make sure it is compatible with the software.  Online recruiters will use key words to search for CVs containing particular skills and qualifications, so ensure that your CV includes the relevant key words likely to be used.

Other sources of help. 

Check with someone you trust on whether the impression you are hoping to create with your CV has been achieved.  CV books such as “You’re Hired!  How to write a brilliant CV”  can be very helpful in guiding you through the process of writing your CV with templates to help .  For those who are unsure about their next move or who are just not having the success they want in their job search campaign, then working with a reputable career coach can be of great benefit as they can help you explore your options as well as supporting you through the job search process including uncovering opportunities, devising your CV, interview preparation etc


Corinne Mills is Managing Director of Personal Career Management, the leading specialists in career management and outplacement services who are the official Career Management partners for the ACCA.

As part of ACCA Member benefits, Personal Career Management offer ACCA Members a free career conversation and a 10% discount off any career coaching or outplacement programme. 

If you are looking for help in reaching your career goals, or assistance with a practical job search strategy, then call Personal Career Management on +44 1753 888 995 for a confidential discussion or fill in their online contact form 

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