Recruiters share their top tips for CV writing

I work in the Business Support section of Detail2Recruitment and my job includes looking at CV’s all day long. I see so many of them in all different formats and it has me thinking... What would the perfect CV look like?

Should there be just one standard format that everyone conforms to?  I know that I prefer a short and to the point CV, but I only use certain information. 

So what about the recruiters? I asked around the office and found that they were really keen to give me some feedback. I created and handed out a short survey and this is what they had to say. From our recruiters directly to you- a ‘how to’ guide!

1. Do you prefer a CV that is plain or one with design elements?
Less is more! This is something all recruitment consultants can agree on. Due to the sheer amount of CV’s received, consultants will focus on the most important points. Clear headings and bullet points make a CV much easier to read and you should display your experience in chronological order, starting from your most current role. This of course depends on the role you are applying for and the sector that you work in. If you are looking to apply for a more creative role, a CV containing more design elements may prove beneficial. Showing time and effort has been put into creating your CV and will make you stand out from the crowd. View some amazing examples of creative CV's.

2. Should candidates include a picture on their CV?
It was a resounding no from our recruiters! A picture is not only irrelevant, but also opens you up to discrimination - consciously or subconsciously.  An employer should only be hiring someone based on skills and experience. Your picture is not relevant.  A few recruiters said that they would prefer to connect with you on LinkedIn where you can each see the others photo and previous experience which does seem fairer.  Others say that first impressions are best saved for the interview stage.

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3. Brief or detailed?
This question split the recruiters down the middle.  Some said that there isn’t enough time to read a detailed CV and that a brief one with key information in the form of bullet points is more attractive to them as they will ask for more details during the screening call. Others said that a more detailed CV can showcase your personality for a recruiter and give you the opportunity to list your achievements.  They also say that you should include all of your experience with no limited career gaps. 

4. Personal or formal?
Most of our recruiters said that a CV should be formal.  “Your CV is a professional document and you should show the employer your ability to write such a document.”  It is also clear that a formal CV will appeal to everyone as you are never really sure on the culture fit of a company until the interview stage.  Most recruiters agree that you should be formal to begin with and you should reveal your personality in the interview stage. Your personal statement is the perfect place to give your future employer a taste of your personality.

5. Do spelling /grammatical errors put you off?
In short?  YES! The consensus is that it shows a lack of attention to detail, especially if the job you are applying for requires written communication. They agree that really, it is part of their job to tweak your CV to make it more attractive to an employer. However, it goes without saying, if you’re applying for a new role; make sure you ask a family member or a friend to proof read your CV first.

always check for spelling mistakes

6. Is marital status and dependents relevant?
Most recruiters said no. A consultant will find out more about your home life during the screening process, so it isn’t relevant unless you have specific needs that need to be met. For example, if you will only be able to work certain hours, won’t be able to travel, stay overnight, relocate etc. then it is worth stating.  Adding this information to your CV could invite discrimination, again consciously or subconsciously, from your new potential employer so consider this before adding it.

7. Does an employment gap put you off?
This question again split the recruiters. They mostly say that it depends on the length of the gap and whether it is explained on the CV.  If you have a solid reason, they would be fine with a gap in employment. An employment gap over 3 months needs to be explained in detail.

Overall it seems that what is more concerning than a career gap, is when a candidate has left one role before finding another. This means an employer may question your commitment to your career.  Also, if it seems that you have ‘job- hopped’ it could put the employer off, so make sure the reasons for leaving each role are present.

8. Should there be a Hobbies section?
Most said yes, it can work as a good conversation starter for the interviewer and you could find some common ground there, which could benefit you in the interview stage. Include it especially if you feel that your hobby will match the company’s values such as charity work etc.

One recruiter warns: “Don’t get caught out! Only state true hobbies... If you state you are fluent in Spanish and they start asking you about yourself in Spanish- it could get awkward!”

Some consultants say that it can make the CV too long- especially if you put the same as everyone else e.g.:  gym, cooking, socialising with friends etc. However, if you are sure that you want to inject some personality, the hobbies section could be that place! View the best examples of Hobbies and Interests to put on a CV

Image of man fishing popular hobbies hobby

9. Do you read a personal statement?
Most recruiters said yes. It should be a brief summary of your journey and aspirations as well as your career objectives- almost like a summarised version of your CV or a self assessment of your skill set.  It depends on the role and should be tailored for each one you apply for and it has to be relevant.  It should only be a paragraph in length and you should express your personality here more than anywhere else on your CV. View some personal statement examples HERE

10. How should a CV be formatted?
If your CV is being sent to a recruitment agency, it should be submitted as a WORD document whereas if you are handing it straight to the employer, it should be a PDF.

11. How many pages should your CV be?
The general consensus is that your CV should be between 2 and 4 pages long with most recruiters agreeing that 2-3 is best.

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Expert advice
We asked our recruiters to give you one piece of expert advice, here are a few of the most important points:

  • If you have various roles with the same employer, create a separate section for each role you had there- all of your roles are important so make sure you showcase that.
  • Never use rolling text- stick to bullet points.
  • Avoid generic statements such as ‘Can work as part of a team or individually’- You don’t want your CV to read like everyone else’s.
  • Make sure your most recent job is at the top.
  • Write with confidence.
  • Don’t forget to include your current contact details.
  • Tailor your CV to the job you are applying for.
  • Include stats if you have them.
  • Include success stories - e.g. promoted from a team leader to assistant manager. 
  • Sell yourself - Find out how to market yourself with your CV
  • Keep the same format throughout.

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