How to write a good cv

James Reed’s new book shows how to capture recruiters’ attention with your cv and bag that all-important interview.



It’s the new year – a time when people’s thoughts traditionally turn to new starts and potentially a new job. To bag that job requires a good cv and you might need not only to dust yours down, but to give it a bit of a rewrite.

According to a forthcoming book by recruitment expert James Reed, cvs are vital documents as they are the gateway to an interview and should be viewed not as a summary of your working life so far, but as a marketing document selling why you are unique and can solve the problem their vacancy suggest in a quick, professional and skillful manner.

The 7 second CV

The book, The 7 second cv, is based on the fact that most recruiters spend around seven seconds on the first cv sift and on Reed’s experience of talking to many hiring experts who say that what they want from a cv is clarity, something that brings out the writer’s mindset and personality and something that tells them upfront why the person is the best candidate for the job.

That means not only showing your skills, but also your personal strengths, resilience and an ability to see the bigger picture and also backing everything up with concrete evidence.

> See also: Upload your CV and let recruiters match you to jobs

Reed says to leave out irrelevant details such as age, marital status, ethnicity and gender and to try to make hobbies and interests relevant to the job application.

Reed adds that it is important to be concise, to write in the first person and to avoid passive words, too much technical jargon and cliches such as ‘goal-driven’, ‘strong work ethic’, ‘multi-tasker’ and ‘self-motivated’. Instead use positive direct words such as innovative, responsible, accurate and flexible and back them up with examples, he says.

He also suggests that it is a good idea to have a separate skills section or to focus any personal statement on what you can offer, on achievements and on career goals.

Tailoring CVs to jobs

Reed advises candidates to tailor each cv to the job they are applying for and to research the position and employer well. Many employers now use an Applicant Tracking System to do the first sift of cvs.

That means your cv will first be viewed by an automated system. This will pick up on key words, relevant experience and hard skills. Frequency of specific key words is important.

Reed’s book also contains a section on cover letters and says these are important not just for highlighting relevant experience and explaining career gaps, but for showing how hiring you will benefit the organisation. Cover letters should be addressed to the right person so researching this is vital.

Dealing with employment gaps

There is also a section on cv challenges, including how to address a need for flexible working [Reed says to mention this upfront in the cv or cover letter] or career gaps. Reed counsels: “Don’t think of your gaps as holes, think of them as other roles that you didn’t happen to be paid for. What did you do during your time ‘off’? What did you learn? What did you achieve? Focusing on this, rather than the void, is the key.” He adds that a skills-based cv might be better for significant skills gap than the traditional reverse-chronological cv.

As we now live in the digital age, it is also vital, says Reed, to pay attention to your digital footprint, most particularly your LinkedIn profile. That means ensuring it is professional and in line with your cv. Reed also covers other social media and blogs as well as video cvs which an increasing number of candidates are using. He advises that videos should be professional, clear, natural and straightforward – just like a written cv.

Reed ends with a handy list of do’s and don’ts garnered from his long experience in recruitment. A key ‘don’t’ is ‘don’t forget that a job is a problem to be solved’. He states: “From an employer’s perspective, a job is a problem to be solved. In fact, it goes further than that because their entire company exists in order to solve other people’s problems…To win with your cv, you need to show that you can solve that job problem better than the other candidates.”

*The 7 second cv: how to land the interview is published by Virgin Books on 3rd January, price £9.99. 

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