A recent conversation with a colleague, who is Managing Director of a publishing company led to a fascinating revelation. He told me that he never looks at the CV of applicants for jobs in his company. I was surprised to say the least but he asked me what the point was. His view was that every CV is likely to say that the person is brilliant, telling him nothing revelatory. He made the point that if a CV is not 'shit-hot' then there is a very serious problem. All CVs are good he said, but often when he met the person face to face (or went on to hire them), the reality was very different.
This view maybe a little extreme but there is some logic to the argument. After all, it is true that we can all put down on paper something that makes us sound fantastic, the difficulty is being able to live up to that profile, matching the expectations. What does it matter, you may ask, if you end up getting the job you want? There is a balance to be struck here. I encourage my mentoring clients to make their CV as good as it can be. Individuals are encouraged to maximise their experience, but never at the expense of the truth. What is absolutely key, is how you tell people about the jobs you have had. Laying out your experience and demonstrating your capabilities is vital. Saying it in a more interesting and engaging way is also important. Don't just state the obvious.
Many clients come to me saying their CVs are good and are more worried about interviews. Normally though the CV is the standard kind you see. Listing roles and duties, skills and interests in an effective but ultimately bland manner. Splashes of colour and flavour across the CV make a huge amount of difference. However, there is little point putting together a well laid out CV with engaging content if your covering letters don't make the reader open the CV. And this is where my colleague is right. I will often make the judgement on the applicant by how they write the covering email or letter. If someone says 'Hi Dave', which has happened, the CV never gets read and the email is not replied to. My colleague decides on who should be interviewed this way, underlining how important it is to get that right.
Where my colleague is wrong of course, is that employers far and wide DO use CVs to judge candidates. His company is an exception and not the rule. A CV should always be updated and for every job you apply for - a unique CV should be used. For my clients, a key part of our focus is ensuring that the CV has the type of content I referred to earlier (i.e. engaging and interesting as well as informative), but also that clients understand the key hooks that a covering letter must include.
In any field there are bound to be dozens, maybe hundreds, of candidates and you need to shine above your rivals. Most of them will have a well-designed CV with examples of jobs and tasks that they have done well, but more subtle changes can make a huge difference to how strong your appeal is on paper. The covering letter is the same. Think about why the company should hire you and bear in mind what the employer might like to hear. For example observations about the company - style, approach to stories, staff members - showing you know their product will attract them to you more.
My colleague's approach to CVs is unusual - but the point behind his frustration with applications makes sense. Everyone says the same things. You and your experiences are unique. Everyone is different. Reflect that on paper. That's what we help clients achieve.