How To Write a CV That Will Get You The Interview

With the knowledge that 3 in 5 of us intend to make a career change as a result of the pandemic, the next move might be on our minds. One of the first steps to finding a new role is writing or updating your Curriculum Vitae or CV for short (or Resume for my readers over the pond). It’s something many of us don’t do very often and when we do, it can feel burdensome.

I will be the first to say that there are plenty of articles on the internet on how to write a ‘killer’ CV. Loads. I debated whether to add another article but most don’t talk about this through the eyes of an experienced hiring manager. You have to pitch your CV knowing what the hiring manager is looking for. Their perspective matters most.

For 26 years, I hired people into teams. I have spent many hours locked in rooms or on video conferences interviewing 100’s of candidates and have reviewed over 1000 CVs in the process. I know what hiring managers are looking for.

A massive amount of investment and energy goes into hiring candidates in organisations because hiring managers always want unicorns. Every hiring manager is hoping that they will find a standout candidate during the interview process. One that will knock their socks off. One that will make their life easier and take their problems away.

It is important that you write a good CV to maximise your chances of getting an interview. An interview that will allow you to show them that you are the unicorn they have been searching for.

Here are my 5 tips PLUS the inside knowledge on why these are so important to the hiring manager:       

  1. Avoid cliches and be specific. 

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the statement ‘I am a highly effective leader’ as an opener to an introductory statement at the top of a CV. Please don’t use cliches or vagaries. It is a waste of space on your CV.

Be specific and original. If you think you are a highly effective leader or have been told you are highly effective, why is that? What did you do to be a highly effective leader? What difference did it make to the business or function you worked in? Get into the habit of using facts and figures to illustrate the point.

Why does this matter to a hiring manager?

Everyone says they are a highly effective leader. The hiring manager will have seen resume’s similar to yours a million times over with the same opener.

How would I know you are a highly effective leader? Where’s the evidence? Where are the specifics? You and a million other people think you are all highly effective leaders. How do I know it is really true when it comes to you? Make the evidence the key and not benign or non-specific statements. Using facts, figures and specifics is an effective way to do this and gives credence to your CV.

  1. It must be short. 

Yes, I know you have been told this before but there are good reasons why.  

If you aren’t a new entrant to the market you will have to do prune your CV. Be ruthless. Hiring managers only look at your current and previous role on your CV in detail. They skim read everything else.

You must limit any roles that were 10+ years ago to 1 or 2 lines. A job you did 10 years ago will not give you a greater chance of getting an interview. It will be considered out of date. It’s simply there to show the trajectory of your career.

Why does this matter to a hiring manager?

Hiring managers’ time is precious. They will resent spending their time reading superfluous information because you can’t be succinct. They don’t want to have to visually sort through the wheat from the chaff. In CV terms, more is not better. It’s just more.  

Your CV reflects your ability to prioritise. This is not about your articulation it’s about your judgement. If you don’t know what is important enough to prioritise on your CV, how can you be expected to understand what is important enough to prioritise in a role?  

Also, remember that the more there is in your CV, the more there is to cover in the interview. Whilst this may seem like a good thing, it often isn’t. I have had candidates who, when asked to summarise their career history in an interview have then gone through every page of their career history in detail thus taking half of their interview time.

The amount of time you take to walk through your career history is directly proportional to the amount of time you lose in answering competency-based questions.  The latter is what the interviewer cares most about. Your CV got you the interview, the competency-based questions in the interview is where you get to demonstrate you’re the best person for the job.

  1. Take the time to tailor your CV for each role you apply for.

Emphasise the experience that plays to the role requirements more than the experience that doesn’t. I know it sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised at the number of times I have seen candidates apply for multiple roles, and very different roles, with exactly the same CV. Written in exactly the same way. Don’t ‘bulk upload’ your CV. Don’t lie or make stuff up but tailor accordingly role to role. Highlight the experience you bring that is most relevant to that opportunity.

Why does this matter to a hiring manager?

Remember that in larger organisations the hiring manager is unlikely to be the first person to review the CV. It will likely be a central recruitment team who will have a checklist of skills, capabilities or experience they must look for. They won’t necessarily have the eye or experience to pick out or interpret relevant content. It’s your job to make it easy for them. If you don’t get this right, your CV won’t make it on to the hiring manager’s desk.  

  1. Don’t be shy.

Boast about your achievements. I use the word boast deliberately because a lot of women are over inclined toward modesty. If you were rated as a top performer in your organisation, say so. If you consistently exceeded your objectives or targets, say so. If you outperformed your peer group on sales figures, then say so. Your CV is not the place to be bashful.  

Why does this matter to a hiring manager?

When I am going through the candidate selection process and am on CV number 12, I can no longer remember which CV is which. They become a blur.

As a candidate, your CV gets discussed based on outstanding or distinctive features. I have sat in candidate selection meetings where CVs were referred to as ‘the CV of the guy who climbed Machu Picchu (or ‘Machu Picchu guy’ as we called him). Or ‘where’s the CV of the lady who won the top talent award?’ These are real stories; I am not making them up by the way.

When a hiring manager skim reads a CV, they are looking for what is outside of the norm. What is different or outstanding about you that’s different to the 30 other people whose CV is sitting in their inbox unread?

If you killed it in a previous role or did something amazing, make it known.  

  1. Proofread your CV. Then do it a second time. 

Make sure you use the correct punctuation and grammar. Mistakes like this happen more than you think. I estimate around 50% of the CVs I looked at had some form of punctuation, grammar, or incorrect sentence construction in them. When I spoke to a number of hiring managers, they quoted similar numbers.

Why does this matter to a hiring manager?

An ill-formed poorly spelt CV matters because it looks like you don’t care. It looks sloppy. It looks like you haven’t taken the time to get it right and get it right for a hiring manager. There is no excuse for not proofreading your CV. It is a document that is fundamental to your career and it’s a reflection of you and your brand.

Many hiring managers I know will refuse to interview someone who submits a CV with these errors. You will get a red card and your CV will be consigned to the bin. Depending on the severity of the error you may also get ridiculed in the process. Do you want to be the person whose CV gets held up as ‘what not to do’ because you put dairy instead of diary into a sentence?

Use something like ‘Grammarly’ the free online writing assistant as a start but always proofread your CV. Several times. Then get someone else to proofread it. You have already given yourself a competitive advantage over many others on this tip alone.