Expert Insights: Creating An Effective CV

This short series of interviews is designed to provide tips for accountants and other professionals on achieving more career success.  Today’s blog post is from my interview with Duncan Watt of The CV and Interview Expert Ltd.

Tell us a little bit about you and your background.

I graduated from The University of Kent with a degree in English & History and then went to work for a large bank in one of their project finance teams.  After leaving the Bank I moved into recruitment, where I was able to use my knowledge of operational finance to great effect recruiting accountants.  My recruitment career has spanned 9 years, 2 continents and an awful lot of CVs and interviews! My passion was always the candidate side of things, helping people, so I decided to set up The CV and Interview Expert to do just that.

How important is a good CV in the job seeking process?

CVs are still a pivotal part of the recruitment process.  With today’s technology, companies are relying more on agencies, on-line advertising and social media to source candidates but the decision to interview or not is still predominantly made on the candidate’s CV.

How long should a CV be?

There are a few schools of thought on this.  Many executives will try and rely on a one page summary, there is the “maximum 2 page” urban myth that everyone has heard of and there is still the school of thought that says ” as long as it needs to be to show all your experience”.

There is a good reason why people suggest either the one page snapshot or the maximum of two pages: The people reviewing your CV are unlikely to read more than the first 1-2 pages.

I have a slightly different view on this:  A one or two page CV will force most experienced candidates to seriously curtail their most recent experience, which is after all the most important part of the CV.  To this end I advise that the last 5 years of experience are showcased on the first two pages, but that candidates allow themselves another couple of pages if necessary to list their less relevant experience, hobbies etc.

This allows candidates to have an impactful CV without losing continuity.  A good rule of thumb is 2 pages, plus an additional page per 10years of additional experience.

Anything over 4 pages should be avoided at all costs.  It will put off the person reviewing your CV just by the sheer length and will present you as someone verbose or pedestrian.

What are the Top 3 simple mistakes that candidates should avoid?

Generalist CVs:

Given that employers have so much choice in the marketplace now, generalists are not faring well.  Your CV, and your applications, should focus on your key strengths and areas of expertise, rather than attempting to show expertise in everything you have ever done.

Lengthy personal statements:

You have a very small window of opportunity in which to grab the attention of the person reviewing your CV.  A punchy introduction, signposting the key strengths that you will demonstrate on your CV later, is most likely to result in you making the fist cut.  When sifting through dozens of applications, the criteria is usually very subjective and a long, opening where you claim expertise in many areas is likely to result in you being added to the “review later” pile…

Lack of achievements:

Most candidates are quite good at listing what they do in their job, but many candidates forget to show how they add value. When being compared to many other applicants with the same skill-set, it is those who can demonstrate where they go that extra mile who are most likely to get offered an interview.

Anything else you would like to add?

In the current climate, unfortunately clients are very risk averse, and tend to employ people with proven track records rather than potential or transferable skills.  Your CV is a shop window, if you display your best products in an attractive and uncluttered way then you are most likely to succeed.  Keep your CV simple and focused, there are still a great deal of opportunities out there for good candidates.

Duncan Watt is founder of The CV and Interview Expert Ltd.  To learn more click here

About the Author Duncan Brodie

Since 2006 I’ve worked with in excess of 8,000 accountants and professionals in workshops, seminars and one to one helping them land their next jobs and become better leaders, presenters and business partners. Before that I spent 25 years in accountancy climbing the career ladder from Payments Clerk to FD. I’m a CIMA Fellow, Certified Professional Coach and Team Coach Facilitator.

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