5 tips to write the perfect CV

James Reed knows everything there is to know about hiring, and what it takes to gets your CV noticed. He’s outlined how to write a killer CV in his foolproof book The 7 Second CV. Here, he gives five top tips on what to avoid.


1. Don't be a generalist

If you’re of a ‘certain age’, you’ll remember when there were only two or three commercial TV channels in the UK, and the internet wasn’t even a twinkle in Google’s eye. In those prehistoric days, advertisers could broadcast mass messages to vast swathes of the population because none of us had much choice. Fast forward to now, and we’re not satisfied with the broad-brush approach. If a company wants us to buy something, they’d better make us feel special or we’re not interested. Marketers have caught onto that, and now segment their promotional messages much more tightly to the audience in question.

It’s the same with your CV. If you give the same information to every recruiter, you’ll run the risk of sounding generic. Actually, you might not even reach that far, because if they can’t see instantly why you may be the best candidate for their partic­ular opening they won’t bother shortlisting you. They’ll just reject you there and then. So tell the hiring manager up front why it’s you they should consider, and back it up with facts and examples.

2. Don't forget your reader

When was the last time you started reading a book you hated, but managed to carry on to the bitter end? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was never. We have a low tolerance for boring, confusing  communications because they feel like a waste of time. CVs are a form of communication, so when you’re writing yours take a little extra effort to consider your reader. Does it start in an attention-grabbing way? Would it inspire them to read on? Does it pack a punch? Sometimes, in the hours you spend crafting your CV, it’s easy to forget that there’ll be a human recipient at the other end who might be feeling tired, rushed, or uninterested. This leads nicely onto our next ‘don’t’.

3. Don't erase your personality

Job hunting can be a stressful process, and science has shown that when we feel under threat we often respond by retreating into our shells. From a biological standpoint, becoming invisible when you feel pressured makes sense, but it’s a big mistake when you’re out job hunting instead of big game hunting. Now’s the time to make yourself visible, not to blend in.

Think of some of your favourite and most successful media personalities. There won’t be a bland one among them, and that’s because we respond positively when we sense that we’re in the presence of the real article rather than a made-up version with the rough edges smoothed out. Of course, if you’re applying for a job as a retail assistant or an accountant, that’s very different from wanting to be a TV star. But in the process of presenting yourself professionally, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water by erasing all of your quirks and flaws – they’re what make you believable and noticeable.

4. Don't forget that a job is a problem to be solved

Although it would be handy if they did, employers don’t advertise job vacancies so they can pay people salaries, give them careers, and provide them with something interesting and useful to do all day. They do it because they have a collection of tasks and responsibilities that need taking care of. In other words, 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. A clothing retailer solves the problem of how to look captivating on a Saturday night. An accountancy software developer helps small businesses to be more profitable. And a hospital solves the problem of poor health. Then, in order to achieve their objectives, these organisa­tions generate yet more problems, which are what are known to you and me as jobs.

To win with your CV, you need to show that you can solve that job problem better than the other candidates. If you forget that basic tenet of successful job hunting, you’ll come across as someone who’s only in it for themselves.

5. Don't lie

There’s nothing wrong with highlighting your achievements in your CV – it is important for getting across your strong points. But there’s a line to be drawn between that and stating or implying things that simply aren’t true. Not only are you not doing yourself any long-term favours, but you’ll also have a hard time convincing an interviewer that you’re capable of the job. Worse, you’re likely to have a horrible experience if you come to actually do it.

There’s a whole industry in producing fake qualifications. A company in Pakistan called Axact was found to be operating a network of hundreds of fake online universities, and they sold thousands of forged university degrees and qualifications.

Now that you know the five ‘don’ts’ of writing a CV, discover the five ‘do's’ in James Reed’s The 7 Second CV, the foolproof guide to landing your dream job.

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