Why a generalised CV does not get you hired

Do you only have one version of your CV? Then you are not maximising your chances of landing your dream job. In this guide you will learn why a one-size-fits-all approach to CV writing isn't helping you, and what you should be doing to increase your chances of getting to more interviews.

A good CV will get you to an interview and ultimately a great job. A bad CV will leave you in the bin with all the other bad CVs regardless of how good you are.

Who gets hired and why?

A CV is the most important document you will write during your job search. Consider this fact:

There may be others who applied for the position who could have done the job better than you. But it is true today, and will ever be true: the person who gets hired is not necessarily the one who can do the job best; but, the one who knows the most about how to get hired.

You probably know people who excel at their work (perhaps it's you!) but who struggle to get interviews for new positions or contracts. Chances are they have terrible CVs.

Likewise there are people with great CVs who are average at what they do, but yet they seem to secure contract after contract and are never left on the bench. They probably know better than others how to play the job search game and get themselves in front of people - i.e. they have great CVs that sell themselves.

What is a CV for? How are they used?

Let’s look at a few basics regarding how to get hired. Assuming you have done all the usual research regarding job opportunities, location, industry, the channels you will use (agencies, direct employers, networking etc) you are poised to approach the market. You will almost certainly need a CV to do this.

Let’s now consider what the CV is (and what it isn’t).

The purpose of a CV is to generate an interview and nothing else. Your CV is a brochure and should be designed to market your skills and expertise in a fast and appropriate manner.

Your CV is not an opportunity to detail your life story across many pages - almost like conducting an interview on paper. This approach is referred to as the generalised CV. This would be like sending out a large sweet jar containing a whole variety of moderately interesting goodies which the recipient is invited to search through with the hope that they are bound to find something they like.

The long boring include-everything-since-I-was-born CV is not going to get you an interview. There could be hundreds of CVs to look at, and they are scan read. Your CV needs to scream to the reader "I am ideal" within 20 seconds.

The bad features of a generalised CV

Take a look at your current CV and ask yourself if it features any of the following:

  • Written with no specific target in mind (hello anybody out there - I really am a nice person and I hope you like me after you have read my life story)
  • Front page lacks impact and CV is often far too many pages in length
  • Starts with name and address and moves forward chronologically from date of birth via every last detail of education (including addresses of schools and even the year in which the GCSE in metalwork was obtained)
  • Uses the one single (same) CV to apply for all opportunities
  • Doesn’t contain buzzwords/jargon associated with the job target

Unfortunately, this style of CV rarely generates interviews (unless you have already got the job anyway and the employer is just going through the motions of a recruitment process).

Many surveys have confirmed that you have 10-20 seconds to make an impact on the reader with your CV (not too dissimilar to the ‘first impressions’ element of an interview).

So, you need to tell them very rapidly indeed exactly what they want to hear and you can do this by using a different approach. We call this a high impact targeted CV.

Key features of the high impact targeted CV

  • Two A4 pages in length (unless vitally relevant job experience/expertise is essential so can stretch to three A4 pages)
  • Front page contains profile, expertise list and achievements
  • Profile contains a banner headline of the targeted job title and includes the key requirements as specified in the job advertisement (‘Experienced and successful TEAM LEADER with 3 years recent experience of back office banking applications with global blue chip clients’)
  • Expertise section is about 10 bulleted items listing knowledge and personal skills (‘Reliably meets demanding project deadlines and targets working under pressure’)
  • Achievements section is about 3 bulleted points describing in powerful language what you did, what skills you used and what benefits there were (‘Using expert C++ development skills automated manual reconciliation of system data with market data resulting in task completion in 1 minute compared to 3 hours - with 100% accuracy’)

The above CV approach tells them what they want to hear in less than 20 seconds (no telling porkies by the way!) and the remaining content follows a similar vein – targeted and punchy. You can read more in our guide called ‘Writing the Killer CV’

After you have read all of our CV guides you can also download the CV templates and starting writing your awesome CV - one that will get you to your next interview and secure you the dream contract!

Updated: Monday, September 19, 2016

© 2017 All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. Please see our copyright notice.

Contractors handbook