Blog by LSE Careers consultant Maddie Smith:
Ever seen an advertisement and thought, that’s not targeted at me or conversely really felt it talked to you? Marketers spend fortunes trying to understand consumers and producing adverts encouraging people to buy their products. Well it might seem a strange thing to say but many of the same principals of effective advertising apply to CV writing! Let me explain…
When you send a CV out to an employer you want them to do something as a result of receiving it; you hope it will get you through to the next stage of the recruitment process. But what if that CV, your own personal advert, isn’t written or tailored specifically for them? What if it isn’t talking their language? What if it isn’t really promoting the product – in this case you? Well it’s more than likely to end up in a bin (or deleted email folder)!
So how can you go about producing a CV that has a positive outcome and gets you through to that next stage? Think about your audience! This means tailoring your CV to show that your experiences are relevant to the knowledge and skills required in a particular role, with a specific employer. When your CV is specific to them, it should reflect the qualities they want from a strong candidate, which increases the chance of you getting through to the next stage of the recruitment process.
And yes, this means altering your CV for each new job you apply for!
Time consuming you say…well yes, but employers tell us that they can easily identify generic CVs and are much more likely to put you through to the next round if you’ve put in an effort and written something just for them.
To help you successfully tailor your CV we’ve put together our top six pieces of advice:
1. Understand your audience
Research the employer, the sector, and read the job description thoroughly. Keep updated with relevant sector news, sign up to email alerts or RSS feeds, follow the employer on social media sites, attend employer presentations and speak to them at careers events, to identify all the skills and knowledge the employer expects from their ideal candidate.
2. Talk their language
Once you’ve identified the required skills and knowledge you can begin reflecting these on your CV. Your education, work experiences, extra-curricular activities, voluntary positions and internship experiences can be used to demonstrate your relevant transferable skills. Under these sections, use positive, action orientated verbs, at the start of sentences or bullet points, which are directly related to the skills you have identified as being required by the role. You’ll create the impression of a positive, active person who has the relevant experience for the position. For example, if the employer is looking for communication skills, begin your sentence/bullet point with the action verb ‘communicated’. If they are looking for liaison skills use ‘liaised’. Need leadership skills? Use ‘led’.
3. Be specific
Your action verb should be followed by a short description related to a specific task, role, or project you completed, eg. ‘Communicated with senior staff across the organisation via email and over the phone to organise a conference for external clients.’
4. Promote your successes
Prove your effectiveness by outlining the positive result or outcome of the work you have done (if there is one!) Include this in the same sentence as the action verb and specific example, eg. ‘Communicated with senior staff across the organisation via email and over the phone to organise a conference for over 500 external clients, earning the company over £3000.’
5. Target your headlines
You don’t have to use standard headings on your CV, such as ‘work experience’, ‘extra-curricular activities’, ‘volunteering’. To further tailor your CV, choose different headings to enable you to combine relevant experiences, from your work experience, voluntary experiences and extra-curricular experiences. Perhaps change a heading to ‘leadership experience’, if the employer requires leadership as a key skill. Similarly, ‘research experience’, ‘team work experience’ and ‘presentation experience’ are focused, specific headings related to skills. Under this new heading include the experiences which most closely match this categorisation.
Perhaps you have sector experience and want to highlight this to the employer; try using ‘finance experience’, ‘policy experience’ or ‘marketing experience’ for example. If you have some experiences that don’t seem to fit under your new heading, include a second heading called ‘other experience’. By tailoring your headings, employers can quickly see your most relevant experience and the skills you have to offer in one section, without having to piece it together themselves. With estimates suggesting employers spend < 30 seconds reviewing your CV, like an advert it’s important the message is clear and they can quickly see you are a strong candidate who meets their criteria.
6. Think like the employer
Each time you go to write something on your CV, think like the employer. Will what you’re about to write be relevant and interesting to them? What can you write to inform the employer about the knowledge you’ve gained throughout your education? Will they understand your transferable skills from what you have written (ie. do you use an active verb at the start of your sentence related to what they require)? Do you have an outcome that will show the gravitas of your achievement?
Remember then that your CV is your own personal advert that needs to be targeted. It is worth it!
How we can help
For more information on writing effective CVs, you can attend seminars run by careers consultants and have a look at our CV writing guide. You can also come see us (book Skype or telephone appointments if you’re not in London at any point!)