Corinne Mills: "Include keywords in your CV that recruiters are likely to use"

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It is important to target your CV to a particular role to stand out from the competition. Making your CV appear too generic will give the impression that you have made little effort in the application process.

How can I customise my CV to specific jobs?

The job advert or description normally tells you what the employer wants, but also talk to people who know the organisation, to pick up additional clues about who they like to recruit. It is vital to remember the following points.

Reflect their priorities rather than what you think are most important. For instance, if business development is a key requirement, then put your experience of this at the top of your list of your skills, even if this is a relatively small part of what you currently do.

Include content that reflects the organisational culture. For example if a company is target-driven, then mention where you have met or exceeded goals. If innovation is important then include examples of where you have used initiative and creativity. Take keywords from their job details and include these in your CV to reinforce the match. Be careful not to include jargon which may be commonly used in your industry but alien in others.

What do I need to add in my personal statement?

Busy recruiters will quickly scan your personal statement to decide whether it is worth reading the rest of your CV. You have got between three to five sentences to convince them that you are a worthy candidate and hook their interest.

Firstly label yourself appropriately. If they are looking for a project manager, then describe yourself as this in your statement even if your current job title is something slightly different. It is fine to do this as long as the content of the jobs are similar.

State that you have the key experience and expertise they are seeking, for example, “MBA qualified”. If you have similar sector experience, mention this too, such as “retail background”. If you do not have direct experience in the sector you are interested in, then find some parallels to convince them of your compatibility, for example, “used to working in fast-paced, high-growth organisations”.

Where the role is at management or executive level, then show the size of the teams and budgets you have managed as well as your input. This helps the recruiter gauge your seniority level e.g. “Responsible for £500k annual marketing spend and leading a team of six.”

Include relevant personal qualities but always substantiate these with some detail rather than just saying “dynamic leader” or similar. For instance, you could write: “Trusted leader who has built loyal customer relationships despite difficult market conditions.”

How do I optimise my CV for recruitment software screening processes?

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) extract data from your uploaded CV onto a database that is then searchable by recruiters.

Use a standard font, like Arial, and remove boxes, tables and graphics as they can interfere with the software’s ability to recognise and upload text. Do not use PDF unless you have double-checked that it will work on their system.

Include keywords in your CV that recruiters are likely to use when they are searching the database for candidates so you will appear in search results.

Describe your expertise in different ways if possible. For example, if you need to highlight your training experience, then use keyword variations like “learning and development” as recruiters will use different terms in their search.

Always include a home location on your CV even if you do not put the full address as recruiters often use location as a filter in their searches. If you leave it blank you may not come up in search results at all. If you are looking for a new role in a different country, then state the particular country or countries after your contact details so that this will be picked up in the search. Also, if applicable, state your rights to work in a different country or joint-citizenship if this is unclear.

How else can I stand out from the competition?

Rather than listing your duties, you should feature your recent work achievements, including any promotions, awards and improvements you made for your employer(s).

Remember, your CV is a marketing document rather than your life history so keep it succinct, no more than two pages and 1,000 words, using font size 11 or 12.

Sometimes a more creative approach can pay off. Printing a condensed version of your CV on a t-shirt for a fashion company or a poster for a film production company, you are targetting, can work well. However, if you choose this route, then make sure the print is readable enough to show your capabilities, and ensure that recruiters have a copy of your full CV.

Finally, leave modesty to one side. You have to talk positively about yourself to prove to the recruiter that you are a capable high-performer and to win a place on the shortlist.

Corinne Mills, @corinnemills, is managing director of Personal Career Management which specialises in outplacement services and career coaching. Ms Mills is a career coach and author of ‘You’re Hired! How to write a brilliant CV’.

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