What your CV is REALLY for & how to boost its performance

Successful job interview

CVs are frequently misunderstood by job seekers. Most candidates labour under the misconception that employers read CVs to find someone to interview and hire. This idea is completely false.

In today’s competitive job market employers screen CVs for one purpose only … to screen out job seekers. For particularly well sought after positions an employer may literally receive hundreds of CVs for one open position.

CVs and screening tools

In order to assist them in wading through stacks of CVs, many employers utilize a screening tool (or ‘Applicant Tracking System‘). This tool is used as an aide in the process of determining who will be called for interviews and who will not.

The CVs that are left after the unworthy CVs are trashed are the ones that receive interview calls.

In order to win an interview, the real purpose of a CV, the savvy job seeker must think like the employer when writing CVs. They must keep the employer’s objectives in mind and make it past the screening tool.

Use an ATS friendly CV template as a starting point. See e.g. cvtemplatemaster.com’s collection of machine-readable CVs.

Employers’ objectives – what they look for

Obviously, there are a few CV basics employers look for. Neatness, spelling and grammar, work experience and skills; are certainly important. A messy, wrinkled CV containing a host of typos, spelling and grammar errors will always end up in the trash.

Above and beyond these CV basics, however; employers look for education and requisite job experience; often in terms of a minimum number of years. Employers also look for an indication that the prospective employee has an ability to get the job done better than anyone else.

Screening tools also serve one other very important purpose, particularly in middle management.

Managers are usually just like everyone else; they report to someone. When screening prospective employees, the thought that they must be able to justify who they interview and ultimately hire is always in the back of their minds.

Your goal as a job seeker is to make sure you don’t give them a reason to screen out your CV. One mistake on your CV, no matter how small, will accomplish just the opposite of what you hope to gain. Beat the trap by getting the basics right.

The X second review

All of the above must be accomplished in the CV and it must be conveyed in a very short amount of time.

Many job seekers believe that employers read every word of the CV they toiled over. This is also quite wrong.

Perhaps the most frequently cited research is a study by TheLadders, which claimed recruiters peruse your resume for just six seconds before deciding whether or not you fit the position.

A similar survey from the National Citizen Service found employers read CVs for less than nine seconds. A small improvement, although it’s doubtful jobseekers will be happy to hear their application is evaluated in about the same time as it takes to tie your shoelaces!

Canadian job site Workopolis claims 60 per cent of employers using its service view a CV for 11 seconds or less before shortlisting it or moving on to the next person. Only 14 per cent spent more than a minute before making their decision.

Barclay Simpson

At most, employers spend a few seconds scanning a CV. Many job seekers waste valuable time and space on lengthy paragraphs in a CV, waxing on about every detail of their past jobs.

When facing a stack of hundreds of CVs, the weary employer does not want to strain their eyes on paragraphs of text.

The winning CV is the one that grabs the employer’s attention and is concise.

Unfortunately, many people believe their CVs cannot be both attention grabbing and concise. True, accomplishing the combination of the two is a bit of a trick to master; but when an interview is on the line, the rewards are well worth the effort.

A winning CV is concise!

A bit of CV advice to keep in mind when crafting a winning CV is that a CV does not need to be wordy in order to showcase your talents and skills.

The idea that you must hold onto the same tired CV foundation and format is no longer true. In today’s job market you can feel free to be more expressive and unique; truly projecting your individuality.

This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. A few well crafted sentences can go a long way toward setting you apart from the crowd of other job seekers.

Use these highly effective tips:

  • Write a punchy ‘elevator pitch’ of 3 or 4 lines at the top of your CV, under your name and contact details. This should spell out exactly why you’re perfect for the job.
  • Bulleted items, instead of lengthy paragraphs, can especially assist in drawing the eye toward your unique abilities.
  • Use action words to explain your achievements.
  • For paper applications, the use high quality, weighted professional paper can make your CV stand out from the stack, even before the recruiter picks it up to read it.
  • View our tips on supercharging your CV and get the basics right.

Here’s an example of a very good “elevator pitch”:

I am a motivated and analytical project manager with more than 15 years’ experience in the financial services industry, specialising in business lending. In my current role I have been responsible for rolling out a new microenterprise program which has helped more than 100 small businesses kick start their operations. I am proud of my solid track record of delivering projects that have had proven business benefits and am now looking to take on greater responsibility, with project budgets greater than $10 million and leading larger teams of more than 30 FTE.


Remember, you have one, and only one, opportunity to impress the employer enough that he or she puts down your CV with the idea that they absolutely must interview you.

That goal is worthy enough of spending a little extra time on the CVs you create.

Image by Sue Styles from Pixabay.

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