Rewording the resumes

Rewording the resumés

Published in The Sunday Business Post on March 28th 2010, by Alex Meehan

The new economic climate has changed the way recruiters operate, and jobseekers must modify their CVs to reflect that reality, writes Alex Meehan.

Most people would agree that there is a big difference between adding a hobby or pastime to your CV to make yourself seem more interesting, and falsifying your employment history to secure a job you may not be qualified for. But that is just the kind of embellishment that is increasingly finding its way on to the CVs of jobseekers desperate to make their application stand out from the crowd.

Recruiter Mark Staunton said the dramatic turnaround in the labour market had left many candidates, unaware of how to sell their skills effectively, at a loss. ‘‘For the last couple of years, people often haven’t needed to bother with CVs – they were just going from one job to another,” said Staunton, chief executive of Noel Recruitment in Waterford.

‘‘They may have filled in an online application form or something similar. Now we are back to CVs and everyone is competing for the same jobs. Of course, you are going to find people padding their details out.”

One issue that Staunton said could confuse potential employers was how to read job titles on the CVs of  job applicants. ‘‘You have to forget preconceived ideas of what a job title means,” he said.

‘‘There are some traditional warning signs. Obviously, if a 21-year-old walks in the door and says they were sales director after six months with a company, then none of us can take that seriously – but there are other less obvious issues that can arise.

‘‘For example, it can be hard to tell from a job title alone how senior a person was within a company. Take a catering unit manager, working in a factory somewhere. That catering unit could be supplying good breakfasts and basic sandwiches, and the person overseeing that function could be very competent.

‘‘However, the catering manager overseeing Microsoft’s campus would be working at a totally different level – he or she could be feeding thousands of people three times a day. The same is true of a catering manager working for a bank or five-star hotel. These are very different jobs with the same title.”

Staunton said that experienced recruiters had the skills to read between the lines, and judge experience and seniority as it related to the same role in different organisations. He advised employers to assess applicants’ CVs with evidence of career progression in mind. They should, he said, ask themselves questions like, ‘Has a candidate jumped from account supervisor moving to sales director, or from technician to engineer and, if so, how rapidly did those career changes occur?’.

‘‘Look at someone who says they work to targets – ask how the targets were calculated and how much they achieved. If someone says they were responsible for sales, see where the sales enquiries started out – did they make cold calls or are they just processing someone else’s leads?” he said.

‘‘Always find out who someone reports to. If they are a senior engineer and they report to another senior engineer and not an engineering or technical manager, then maybe they’re really just an engineer.

‘‘Getting a third party to shortlist CVs and do interviews is extremely helpful in catching details like this. An experienced interviewer develops a feel for reading people, and there are certain things they know to look out for – both on paper and in person.”

Candidates who doctor their CVs do not always do so to improve their apparent experience levels, according to Mark Fielding, chief executive of Isme. ‘‘We have found this works both ways. While some people are adding to their CVs to make themselves more employable, certain older people are also omitting jobs they held early in their career as they don’t want to be seen to be too old,” said Fielding.

‘‘Overall, there is a fantastic opportunity out there for small businesses to get high-class quality people on board to help them make the most of the situation they are in, and to position them for better days ahead. Eighteen months ago, you’d pay a king’s ransom for a decent financial controller, but you can get a great candidate today at a much more affordable salary level.”

However, Fielding said that it was often difficult for companies to sift through job applications in the current environment, simply because there were often far too many.

‘‘Given that there are so many people looking for jobs, getting good applicants shouldn’t be difficult – but the problem is the sheer number of people out there. Companies that are choosing to advertise to fill vacancies directly are finding that they are being flooded with CVs, and many of them just don’t have the time to deal with the response,” he said.

Fielding advised companies to consider using the services of a recruiter. ‘‘If it is a low-grade job then, by all means, advertise and select candidates yourself, but beware of the consequences,” he said.

‘‘We have had companies tell us that they received upwards of 300 CVs when they advertised jobs. It is so easy for people to submit a CV by e-mail now that everyone fires them off, even if the job advertised isn’t really a direct match to their skills.

Putting together a good CV

According to Michelle Thomas of training provider Michael Communications, the key to putting together a good CV is to realise that it is essentially a sales document, whose sole purpose is to secure an interview.

‘‘It is important to understand that the jobs market is like any other market – there are buyers and sellers, and the laws of supply and demand are as valid as anywhere else. Being good at your job is not enough; lots of people are good at their jobs. Success depends on your ability to sell yourself, and the first stage in this process is your CV,” said Thomas.

Recruiters want to know what you can do and what sort of person you are. Hence, Thomas said, CVs should emphasise what potential employers want to know about a candidate, and not what the candidate wants to say about them self.

‘‘You need to establish your own characteristics, strengths, weaknesses and track record, so that you can present them in a way that will appeal to the sort of employer you are trying to attract,” she said.

A CV should also be easy-to-read and well-presented. ‘‘It should be typed, but not bound into fancy folders that do not fit into recruiters’ files. It should also be complete. There should be no unexplained gaps in the history. Any information that makes you seem an interesting candidate should be included, but it should also be accurate,” Thomas said.

Remember also that facts and figures can be checked. ‘‘It is very foolish to misrepresent yourself – liars get very short interviews,” said Thomas.

‘‘Show your academic qualifications complete with dates, and show your highest level of education first. Include membership of professional bodies that reflect genuine attainment – recruiters know which ones are simply bought by paying a subscription.”

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