I was recently asked the following question by a very senior person, and it highlights conversations which I have all the time.

Question

I’ve had conflicting advice about what to put in my CV. Currently, it is three pages long, as I’ve had a long career. Some people have told me to keep it to one page, and to say only what is needed. But how do you know what is needed?

My reply

My flippant response would be to read the job specification and write a CV which highlights the key skills you have and overtly match them to the job specification. e.g. the job specification says “must have experience in managing large multi million pound IT projects within a pensions environment” therefore the CV should say something along the lines of “I recently led a multi million pound project implementing a new pensions IT system which will save the company £20million over 5 years”. In this one sentence the CV has responded to the job specification and shown how the individual can add value to the business.

However, the longer and more considered response to the question is as follows:

The purpose of a CV is not to recite your entire work history but to show potential employers that you can do the role they are looking to recruit for and add value. Yes, we need to know facts i.e. companies you worked for and specific dates but usually at least 30% of any CV is nothing but jargon. So cut it out.

Most people’s “personal statement,” for example, is purely wasted space. Look at most CV’s, and you will see similar nonsense about the person wanting a job with a growth-oriented company, that has good prospects for career development, and a progressive work environment, where you can make a positive contribution as a team player or by working on your own.

Think about it. Does this actually mean anything to a hiring employer? Your CV should not explain why you want the job. It should provide the facts that demonstrate you can do the role and add value. If I advertise a position, on average I will get an average of 25 responses per role. Most hiring managers do not have time to read 25 CV’s. Therefore, those CV’s that do not clearly state that you can do the role and what value you will bring to it in a clear and concise manner will make it into the NO pile.
Another 30% of a CV is past history that is repeated, in one way or another, from one job description to the next. Cut it out or shorten it down. The hiring manager doesn’t need to see all the repetitive functions you did as a Pensions Administrator, a Senior Pensions Administrator, a Pensions Administration Manager, a Pensions Manager, and a Pensions Director. The work you did overlapped and the words do too, so don’t waste the reader’s time by repeating them. Yes, you need to state thatyou did the job and the dates you did them but there is no need for masses of detail.

The next CV faux pas that people make is using overly detailed job jargon. Acronyms and terminology that only your current employer understands should not be in your CV. All this does is make your CV complicated to understand and unclear. If you can’t explain it so that your 12 year old would understand it, then it’s too complicated.

Usually 10% of a CV is made up of credentials. Unless a qualification is specifically needed to perform a job then do no more than list the qualification. If the qualification is essential for the performance of the role then fell free to expand a little but no more than is absolutely necessary – here is a little tip, in 99% of cases it is unnecessary to expand beyond stating you have the qualification!

So now that we have cut out a lot of the CV you really need to show the potential employer how you’re going to apply the skills in your toolkit to help them. Remember the purpose of a CV is not to tell the potential employer everything that you have done in the past but to show them you can do the role they are looking to recruit for and add value.

That’s what everyrecruiting manager wants. Most hiring managers, recruiters and HR professionals are bad at figuring this out from CV’s which is why you have to spoon feed them and explain it quickly. Most managers spend about 30 seconds reading a CV. So make sure yours lands in the Yes pile.