Start your CV off on the right foot

Have you noticed that many CVs include a self-description at the beginning, above the applicant’s current job? These descriptions go by many names, such as Profile, Executive summary or Strengths, and a lot of online CV advice asserts that they’re an essential component of a CV.

If you’ve got one these self-descriptions — let’s call them profiles — in your CV, I suggest you seriously consider flagging it down.

Why? Because in many cases it’ll either be ignored or seen as insulting. One recruiter in an executive recruitment agency commented that — although he saw a place for profiles when they included information that didn’t fit easily in the main body of the CV — he generally found them an insult to his competence as a recruiter. “You tell us what you’ve done”, he said, “and it’s our job to figure out your competencies”.

In many cases, profiles will simply be ignored. I once interviewed 100+ clients who were employers in SMEs (small and medium–sized enterprises), and none of them read profiles. First, they looked at the position the applicant held now. Second, they looked at the pattern of the applicant’s career up until his or her current job.

Having said that, I’ve come across recruiters who do read profiles, especially executive recruiters and HR specialists. One of them, an HR director responsible for 700+ staff worldwide, said that he read them to see how original or, more likely, unoriginal the applicant was.

Yet most professional CV writers swear by them, despite a study (W. Evans, Eye Tracking Online Metacognition: Cognitive Complexity and Recruiter Decision Making; TheLadders, 2012) which indicated that they have little or no bearing on the most important recruitment decision.

The study examined recruiters while they were reviewing CVs (called “resumes” in the USA), and it used “eye tracking” — a high-tech way of determining eye movement — to find out what they looked at and how long they dwelt on each item of information. The upshot was that — in the 6 seconds they typically allocated to each CV when they were making in-pile/out-pile judgements — the recruiters spent most of their time looking at the applicant’s name, current position, most-recent past position, and qualifications.

The research was conducted by a prominent, US-based CV-writing company that, ironically, continues to write profiles. Why? One reason is that, in the USA, many CVs are filtered through a computer program before a recruiter reads them, and the program searches for keywords — which can readily be included in a profile. Here in New Zealand, our comparatively small population results in far fewer applicants for any job, and hence there isn’t the same need for computerised CV filtering.

Another reason why profiles are popular is that, after the first in-pile/out-pile scan, the recruiter will allocate a good deal more than 6 seconds to read each of the CVs in the in-pile. At that point the profile may get read, and may — just may — carry positive weight, as long as it doesn’t try to tell the reader how to suck eggs or come across as boastful.

Which leads to another point. Most online CV advice — and enthusiasm for profiles — originates in the USA, and US culture is much more tolerant of self-inflated hype than NZ culture. A further point is that, as indicated earlier, there’s certainly a place for profiles if they contain information that doesn’t readily fit in the body of the CV.

But if — after weighing up the pros and cons — you figure you’d be better off without a profile, how are you going to sell yourself to a recruiter?

To get through that first cut, make sure your relevant job titles are clearly visible. For the sake of the second reading, if your CV gets that far, make sure you’ve articulated any accomplishments in these jobs without bragging and without exaggerating them. Imagine a recruiter phoning one of your referees and asking, in a slightly sceptical tone, “Jill Applicant reckons she did XYZ. Is that right?”. Don’t forget that unless your referee answers “Yes”, your application could end up dead in the water.

The moral is to stick to the facts, and articulate them so clearly that the relevant facts stick in the recruiter’s mind.

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