How to nail your resume and score an interview

Graham Cooke 9 June 2017

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A winning CV is key to getting hired.

Last week, I covered how to get yourself into the final 15% of candidates for a job. This week, I’ll discuss how to get an actual interview. At this stage, it’s all down to your CV. If you’re in this final group, you’ll have already proven that you’re qualified for the position. What you’re trying to do now is get across the message that you are the best person for the role.

As mentioned last week, CVs are boring. At least, most of them are. A hiring manager will be sitting down with a coffee, a pile of CVs and maybe half-an-hour to spare between meetings. What they’ll be aiming to do is scan through the applications and cut them down to a shortlist of five or six candidates for an interview. You need to make sure you’re in that group. Here are a few things you can keep an eye on to help your CV stand out from the crowd:

Find your inner Apple

The first thing that will attract attention is the design of your CV. Plain black text, underlined titles and bullet points just won't cut it anymore. Your CV design doesn’t need to win any Archibald prizes, but it does need to show that you can efficiently summarise and display information. This is your PowerPoint presentation to management.

If you need a little help, search the internet for CV designs for some inspiration. Play around with a few layouts. A little caveat here though - avoid templates. Nothing will make you blend into the background more than another candidate having the exact same CV design as you.

Save paper

You may have heard from some people that a CV should be no more than two pages long. Ignore that. It's totally ok to use two, three, or four pages. Any more and you're just wasting paper, and it may appear that you're trying to bulk-out your experience. Bear in mind that the first two pages are the most important. Sell yourself up-front.

You’re not writing a novel

Nobody wants to read four pages of block text. Your job here is to get across your message in the quickest, clearest way possible. You have about two minutes to convince the reviewer that you’re a suitable choice before your CV gets moved to the recycle pile. You shouldn’t need nineteen bullet points or six paragraphs to describe what you did in a previous role.

Don’t include irrelevant experience or hobbies

Nobody cares that you like to go to the cinema, won bronze at the Geelong community games in 2012, or were a barista for six months in the 90s. Don’t include previous experience or hobbies unless they are relevant to the job or interesting on their own. If you’ve been involved in volunteer work or undertaken any post-university training, these things are worth mentioning.

There’s one exception here. You don’t want large gaps in employment experience, so if you did go travelling and fruit picking in some far-flung country for a year and a half after university, then you need to mention it. (Yes, this was me.)

Watch your language

You may have heard that most businesses like a team player - somebody with good attention to detail and excellent communication skills, who is solution-driven and has a good sense of humour. The thing is, so has everyone else. If you’re reviewing CVs, generic phrases like these soon start to lose any meaning. You end up glazing over them. Find a different way to say the same thing, and re-read your CV a few times to see if you can remove redundant words.

And finally

The above is particularly true when you get to the interview stage. Instead of citing the usual corporate phrases, maybe say that you really enjoy group projects, especially getting down into the nitty-gritty of formulating an effective plan. Say you love good conversation, and that when it comes to solving an issue, you find that a two-minute chat can often be more effective than a dozen emails. Say you get a kick out of working in teams where there is a bit of banter, and that you prefer and environment where it’s not totally serious all of the time. Say you really want this opportunity, the more you find out about this role, the more interesting it becomes. Say "Just give me a chance to show you what I can do." Overall, make it personal.

We’ve all been where you are - sometimes it can feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Recent research in the UK showed that most jobseekers had to apply for 27 positions before they found one. Don’t lose hope; you just need to find that one person who will give you a chance. Hopefully this advice will help you get to meet them.

Graham Cooke's Insights Blog examines issues affecting the Australian consumer. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.

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