The new year is the perfect time to look for a new job, and sprucing up your CV is an essential part of the application process.
Whether you want a promotion or a career change, or recently lost a job, you can improve your CV – and some top recruiters have spoken to Telegraph Money about what employers really want – and the common CV mishaps to watch out for.
‘I’ve got a strong degree but no work experience’
If you’ve worked hard on your academics but feel like you haven’t got enough workplace experience to bulk up your CV, you’re not alone.
You probably have more experience than you think, even if you’ve never been on the payroll. Were you the treasurer for a university sports team? Describe it how it gave you experience in financial management.
Did you do a few days’ work experience when you were at school? Describe which skills you learned during your time there. Even if it was only for a day, all voluntary work and hobbies where you had some sort of responsibility should be added to your CV.
If you’ve never had a job, list your experience under “Employment and work experience” or consider creating a skills-based CV, where you organise activities by theme such as teamwork and management experience.
Reed said if you can, speak to someone already working in the field you’re interested in to find out what their day-to-day work involves and thereby gain a deeper understanding of the skills required to do the job and what you should emphasise on your CV.
‘I’ve done back-to-back internships but haven’t yet found a job’
Internships are designed to get a foot in the door of your chosen industry – so if you’ve done several and don’t have a job to show for it, ask for feedback from your employers.
“If you’ve been doing intern jobs for two years or so, it begs the question – why haven’t you been snapped up?” recruiter Setchell said.
“Firstly, talk to your employers and ask why they haven’t given you a job. Get feedback from them – hopefully someone will be honest and tell you if this career isn’t right for you,” he said.
Internships are intended to give people a foot in the door.
‘I’m a graduate, and I just missed out on honours’
Gillian Kane, a digital recruitment specialist from Digital Gurus, said that while a top degree is an asset, it may not be the deciding factor depending on which sector you go into.
“In many cases a lower score will not matter too much as a lot is based on talent, ambition and potential,” she said.
The technology specialist said: “In the case of advertising sales, creative and user-experience jobs, a degree doesn’t matter too much and talent will be spotted based on your abilities and tenacity to sell and the skills needed around that.”
Kane advised candidates to highlight any projects that they have worked on as part of their course or outside of university. “Superstars will be spotted,” she said.
‘I’m changing careers’
You’ve got reams of experience and have worked your way up the pay scale, but want a change.
Instead of seeing your employment history as a turn-off to prospective employers, use your CV as a tool to make it relevant to your future career direction.
Victoria McLean, career coach and founder of consultancy CityCV.co.uk, says it is essential to create a CV that highlights transferable skills. “Drill down into the roles you’ve had and what you’ve learned from them or what you achieved. Identify exactly which transferable skills you have and how they could relate beneficially to the job you’re after.
“Facts and figures give a real boost to your CV, so quantify your achievements if possible. Give evidence of how you’ve reduced costs, attracted clients or built a winning team.”
McLean added that any personal interests or achievements should be considered CV worthy.
“Marathon running or mountain climbing shows stamina and commitment, voluntary work demonstrates integrity and leadership, helping friends with start-ups during a career break shows you have been keeping your head in the commercial space. Employers are looking for all these competencies,” she said.
Simon Carder, head of experienced recruitment at PwC, said: “As the workplace continues to evolve, so does the job market, and employers are becoming more flexible about the attributes they look for. It’s no longer just about a checklist of skills, but more about well-rounded experience – and so-called softer skills, such as adaptability, collaboration, creativity and problem solving are highly prized by business leaders.
“Think about the skills and experience you possess that are transferable and how you can align them with the job description to show you’re a good fit for the role.”
‘I’ve taken time off and want to get back into work’
Whether you’ve just started a family, been travelling for a year or have returned to university – be prepared to explain why you took time out of the workplace, and what you achieved in the meantime.
Andrew Setchell, a recruitment specialist from employment consultancy firm SRM Recruitment, said people who take time out are sometimes under pressure to prove they can stick to a job. “Put yourself in the seat of the person looking to hire you. The obvious question employers will ask is, are you prepared to stay or do you need another career break?
“If you’ve no longer got the travelling bug, make it clear that they know the year out has been just that.
“Returners from maternity or paternity leave sometimes like a shortened week. This mainly happens when there’s been a precedent or there is an opportunity to job share. Be aware this mainly occurs with your current employer. With a new employer the easiest route back is to take a full-time job, then in time move to working from home for part of the week, continuing to establish yourself, and then request a shortened week.”
There are always interim opportunities but continue to build a relevant and desirable skill set while seeking a permanent role. Even if you’ve spent years out of work, your skills are still there and you have probably built up your personal network.
Instead of adding your CV to the stack of people who have applied through a jobs website, try organising an interview through a friend or former colleague.
Most big companies operate employee referral schemes, which means you can quiz your acquaintance about the office culture and potential interview questions before you apply.
‘I recently lost my job’
You may have been laid off through no fault of your own – whatever the reason, your new employer doesn’t need to know.
Career coach and author Corinne Mills said it is acceptable to list the date of your previous job as “to present” if you find yourself unexpectedly out of work. “Don’t put a ‘reason for leaving’ on your employment history, and list dates by month so prospective employers can’t see exactly when you left a job,” she said.
The exception is if you lost your job more than three months ago, in which case a reason for leaving should be briefly stated.
James Reed, chairman of recruitment agency Reed, said that if you’ve left a job because of a disagreement, you can leave it off your CV, “but bear in mind that your recruiter will need to approach past employers for a reference. Honesty is always the best policy.”
The common CV pitfalls to avoid
Spelling and other errors: The biggest CV mishaps by far are misspelled words, irregular grammar and clunky sentences, according to CV expert Mills. “I see thousands of CVs in my career and it’s amazing how this problem is so common. Mistakes suggest to employers that you haven’t spent the time and effort on your application and that you lack diligence,” she said. Always get someone else to proof read your CV before you send it.
Underselling yourself: It’s surprising how many graduates miss out key experiences from their CV, explains Mills. “If you’re going for a finance job, don’t miss out that part-time job in a shop – point out responsibilities such as dealing with cash and financial procedures,” she said.
Sending a generic CV: A template CV could send you straight to the reject pile, warns recruiter Setchell. “Every employer is different – try to tweak your CV to meet their exact requirements. Most importantly, keep it simple and easy to read – bullet points are useful, and avoid using jargon or acronyms,” he said.
Sending too many pages: There is one watchword to remember as you write each line of your CV: “relevance”, says Bill Richards, UK managing director at job site Indeed. “A single page of relevant detail is far more likely to be successful than four or five pages listing everything you’ve ever done. Trim the verbiage and aim for a concise and focused CV that contains only relevant skills and experience; this will always trump pages of waffling.”