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Five Top Tips for Assessing CVs

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It’s said that recruitment consultants spend an average of 6-7 seconds assessing a CV on first look.  Faced with a plethora of CVs to consider, recruiters are actually looking for reasons to reject CVs as much as they are looking to seek out the best. 

When looking at your own applicants’ CVs, you likewise don’t waste your time on those that are obviously not hitting the mark.  You’re not going to spend more than seconds considering the CV of a fresh graduate for an MD position (in almost all circumstances!).  You will, however, want to spend considerably longer assessing the CVs of those more obvious front-runners for two specific reasons: to decide on who to spend time interviewing, and what to ask during those interviews.

In our own recruitment process, we design the interview stages based on a defined list of criteria that we specify with the client at the start of the process, and assessment questions and tests will remain the same for each candidate.  However, we are dealing with individuals and any process must make room at some stage to ask questions that are specific to that individual’s circumstance so we always make room for questions that might be thrown up on examination of a CV.

What you can get to grips with in seconds

  • Are there any typos? Does it display a high level of written English?
  • Is the formatting consistent?
  • Is the information easily readable or does it ramble on for pages?
  • Do they have relevant work experience?
  • Do they have relevant qualifications?

When you’ve quickly assessed those areas (this is the bit the recruiters can do in seconds; I’ve been in recruitment for years so I don’t need a research piece to confirm that for me!), you can move on to what is more meaningful for the role and for your team. 

Five areas for thought

  1. Personal Statement

A personal statement should be just that – personal!  What it should not be is full of clichés or generic phrases. The statement should display some of the personality of the candidate and their passion for what they do. Ideally, you’ll see some of the key skills that you are looking for mentioned or illustrated in the statement.  A great statement will make you excited about meeting the candidate.

Reading on past the statement, would you say that there evidence from the CV that what they say in the statement is true?

  1. How much are they telling you?

Looking at the work experience section of the CV, does the candidate give specifics about their experience (statistics, project work, achievements) or do they simply outline the duties that they took on?

If the experience section feels vague, what does that mean? Is the candidate trying to be concise or is it the case that there nothing else to say? Ensure you question any vague areas at interview.

Secondly, are there any unexplained gaps in employment? Gaps in employment aren’t necessarily a negative but there should be some accompanying explanation. This is something else to be explored at interview. You may also consider checking how the information on their CV lines up with their LinkedIn profile.

  1. What claims do they make and can they back them up?

So, we have a CV that makes some very specific claims, such as “I was responsible for the company’s profit increasing by 30% in one year.” Surely you’d like to know if that statement can be backed up.  Did the candidate personally bring in orders that provided the increase? Were they entirely responsible for improvements in efficiencies?  Or, were they simply part of the team in the year when the profit increased by that amount?

  1. Does it look as though they have adjusted the CV for your role?

Can you see that some thought has gone in to tailoring the CV to show how the candidate suits your role? For example, have they made an effort to highlight areas of experience or skills that match those expressed in your advert. Perhaps they have done this in their covering letter.

You can’t necessarily expect an applicant to tailor their CV to each role but the more senior the applicant, the fewer roles you would be expecting them to apply for, and the more considered their application should be. 

  1. Will they fit in with your company culture?

There are a number of considerations here and, while lay-out could be a matter of personal taste, it can also be a reflection of the type of company that someone works for. For example, executives in a creative industry could well be expected to use a less traditional CV with more thought given to the design.

To avoid unconscious bias, it's good practice to have a list of attributes to culture fit that map to your values and vision. Look out for language used that can reflect these attributes but always test for them in your recruitment process. Culture fit may be shown by how an individual describes themselves, what they have selected to highlight as their achievements, their interests in their spare time...

When you finished assessing the CV in this way, ask yourself this: am I excited to meet this candidate?