CVs – a how-to guide

In our second blog on getting back to work, we look at CVs, their uses, and how to write one.

In this four-part series, we explore the impact of being made redundant after coronavirus, along with losing your job after a cancer diagnosis, and provide a step-by-step guide on how to get back into the swing of things. In this blog, we will turn our attention to writing a curriculum vitae (CV). For advice on job applications, see our third blog.

Searching for a job can be stressful at the best of times; however, this pressure can be even more intense for individuals returning to work after a gap. For blood cancer patients who may have experienced a gap in employment or be looking for workplace adjustments to be made, job-seeking can often be frustrating and intimidating. This is only exacerbated by the rise of COVID-19, which has seen an unprecedented rise in applications per job, resulting in a lot of negative media surrounding the state of the employment market. The ramifications of COVID-19 on the workplace are not all negative, however, with more and more employers realising a flexible or remote approach to work is feasible and can work within roles or industries that historically have been tied to the workplace.

When beginning to look for a new opportunity, it goes without saying that you must be prepared to accept and work with this new normal. The pandemic has had an impact across the spectrum. Social distancing measures, the removal of hot-desking, a focus on cleanliness and logistical challenges has resulted in a changing of focus for many large employers. Rather than looking for historical traits or attributes, an emphasis on behavioural and character traits has seen a rise. Innovative, resilient people are the cornerstones of any organisation irrespective of level, and more and more employers are beginning to look beyond historical limitations to ensure a diverse, focussed and engaged workforce—a landscape which is ideal for someone looking to re-enter the work force or change focus entirely.

It’s important to say that job seeking is a process, and sometimes can feel like a full-time job itself. You will experience highs and lows, and sometimes it can feel as if you’ll never secure another opportunity again. This is completely normal, and all job seekers, irrespective of circumstances, will experience these same emotions. To give yourself the best chance of success, remember to remain focussed, have an emphasis on quality of applications not quantity, and understand your own skillset and value.

Step 1 - Set your foundations

Step one for any jobseeker should always be to have a CV which is the best reflection of them. Your CV is a vital tool in a job-seeking process, and for many employers is the first impression they have of you as an applicant. On average, a recruiter will spend under seven seconds reviewing a CV, so ensuring it not only reflects your capability and desire for the role but is one which makes a recruiter want to read it further is crucial. To set the scene, your CV gets you an interview, you yourself get yourself the job.

There is a huge misconception that you should have one standard CV and use it to apply to all. This is one of the worst things you can do as a job-seeker and will inhibit your chances. A CV should be a “live” document, constantly being added to and should cover everything you have achieved including metrics.

The CV you send to jobs, however, should be incredibly tailored, with the most relevant parts drawn out and highlighted alongside a personalised opening statement. This focus on quality will see much higher results vs a usual scattergun or quantity approach.

Step 2 - Writing a CV

A CV is an incredibly subjective thing. What some may perceive to be perfect, others will have areas of improvement. This guide is used as a suggestion; however, as a CV should be a direct reflection of the applicant, ensure you add your own flair or character to the document. As mentioned above, the average recruiter spends just seven seconds or less reviewing a CV, so ensuring this document stands out is crucial for job-seeking success.

Layout

  1. Top of the page: Name, address (can be area or actual address dependent on preference*) and up to date contact details.
  2. Personal statement: Tailored, bespoke, signposts to the most relevant parts of the document. Avoid buzzwords and always remember to “show don’t tell”. It’s worth doing some research and re-writing or alluding to a companies’ values during this part.
  3. Education: Depends on relevance; however, this is a personal preference. Include dates, institutions attended and grades. O levels/GCSEs should be “[number] A*-C” not each one individually. If you are a high achiever, include this: “[number] A*-A, [number] B-C”.
  4. Work Experience: Include job title, employer, dates of service. Ensure duties are tailored, relevant and include any applicable metrics (“show don’t tell”), ideally in bullet point format. This is the reinforcement of suitability. For any gaps in employment, put the dates and why. A gap in employment should never be seen as a negative**! Make sure to include any relevant systems or experiences, e.g. if you are applying for a role which requires knowledge of JavaScript, ensure that is written on your CV. Concise and relevant detail is key; if you are questioning whether to remove a duty, take it out, review your CV and if it makes no difference then leave it off!
  5. Hobbies/Interests: Personal preference, but this is a humanising factor of a CV and often utilised as an ice-breaker exercise. Include around five hobbies or interests personal to you. This is also a great way to reinforce your character fit for a role, such as for charity work, personal study (if applicable).
  6. CV length: This depends on experience but less is usually more. For someone with under 10 years of experience, usually a two to three-page CV is more than sufficient. For someone with over 10 years of experience, three, possibly four, pages are sufficient; however, in this case the most relevant information should be highlighted with other details only alluded to.
  7. Review: Ensure your CV is thoroughly checked for format, spelling, grammar, relevancy etc. You can go blind to documents if you review it constantly yourself. This is a direct reflection of you, and your first impression, so make it count!

*Some companies/recruiters will use a location search as a screening tool and will have unwritten rules on commuting sensibility. Additionally, some individuals can feel uncomfortable sharing their full address.

**Can also be other experience if there is a gap, such as volunteering or personal commitments, provided you tailor it and make it relevant to a role.

Step 3 – Myth busting and understanding the market

Recruitment is a huge industry, and what comes with that size is a wealth of misinformation and preference passed as fact. Below are some key misconceptions which need further explanation.

Should I disclose my diagnosis?

For blood cancer patients, this is always a big question. The modern world of work is geared to try to remove discrimination in all forms; however, it does unfortunately still happen. Your diagnosis is a part of you, and if a company is willing to reject you on that basis, then they are most likely not an employer you want to work for anyway. Although sometimes the pressures of job seeking can lead individuals to want to accept the first job they come across, always make sure to consider if it is the right culture and position for you, not one you’ll come to regret later on.

What is important to stress is that you are under no obligation to disclose your diagnosis—that decision is entirely up to you. However, if you need adjustments to be made, such as extra time to complete interview assessments, or changes to your workstation, it then becomes important to be upfront about your diagnosis.

It’s always worth investigating whether an employer has signed up to any equal opportunity, disability confident or guaranteed interview schemes. This can sometimes make the difference when applying for a job, and also signals that they will be more willing to make wider adjustments to fit your personal requirements. As a general rule, a vast majority of employers will always go above and beyond to ensure fairness in their recruitment process, so it’s advised to always be transparent early on to avoid any unforeseen circumstances. Non-disclosure can be seen as a negative if you try to request adjustments later on in the interviewing process rather than at the start. If you feel you need any extra support at all, ensuring you always operate on a transparent basis is the best way forward.

CRM/ATS “busting”

You may hear the terms “ATS” or “CRM” thrown about with guidance of “how to beat it” and concerns of being screened by a form of AI. This is false. ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System, CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. Both are tools used by businesses or recruiters to store data, and every company will have a form of this, sometimes as simplistically as an Excel document. These are not hurdles to jump, but more so tools used to streamline and identify the correct talent. Some ATS/CRM tools will include keyword searches which will allow a recruiter to identify the most relevant attributes for the role.

Pre-COVID-19, on average a role at a major agency would have roughly 60 applicants per single position. This has now risen to nearly double or more in some cases, with some industries witnessing application increases of 300% or more. Therefore, ensuring you are applying for relevant roles, your competency and relevancy is easily discoverable, and the layout ensures your document is readable is paramount for applicant success.

The only way ATS or CRM may inhibit your chances at job seeking success is with formatting. Some systems struggle to upload PDFs, and nearly all ATS/CRM systems do not have access to custom fonts. These systems will also revert documents back to standardised formats, so being aware of these limitations can help. Should you want to make your CV incredibly personalised and custom, export it to PDF; however, ensure you have a Word copy available. It is not uncommon for applicants to attach both to emails.

“Where did you hear about us?”

This question is used by companies to collect data about their most effective recruitment marketing channels. There are misconceptions that this data can be used as a screening tool, meaning candidates who select a certain jobsite are seen as lesser value than others. This is entirely false, and this question is only used to help companies understand the reach of their adverts and understand the Return on Investment (ROI) from the advertising partners or platforms they use.

Step 4 - Covering letters/personal statements

The question of whether or not to attach a covering letter is incredibly subjective. Adverse to expectation, a covering letter is usually read after reviewing the CV. This is a legacy left by the practice of faxing CVs, as it would be the first page a potential hiring manager would see, which is why there are so many misconceptions about should you or should you not submit one.

Best practice is to see whether a job requires one or not. If it does, then you should ensure it is effectively a lengthier opening statement (see Step 2 for information on opening statements). This should signal your relevancy, demonstrate your competency and reinforce this with facts that can be found in your CV itself. Address this letter to the hiring manager, or if you cannot find a name, simply “Dear Sir/Madam” or even “Dear [company team name]”.

This is a lengthy process; however, ensuring a personalised approach every time will result in higher conversion percentages from application to interview.

Two examples of personal statements

“I am an ambitious, articulate individual looking for an opportunity to restart my career after time out following treatment for blood cancer. Able to work individually or as part of a team, I thrive in customer-centric environments and would relish the chance to be able to use my skills for customer success again. With a long demonstrable working history in customer service positions, I hope to be able to use my skillsets for a new employer to deliver exceptional customer service.”

“I am an experienced customer service professional with a demonstrable history of exceptional performance through numerous employee awards and feedback surveys. Skilled in XYZ (job specific), I am now seeking a return to work after time away due to a blood cancer diagnosis and treatment. One of the most important factors for me is the desire to work for a company which prides itself on a commitment to community, something incredibly close to my own heart through my own volunteering at [charity]. Immediately available, I feel I would be an asset to [company name], not only for my working competency but also for my shared interests and passions in the sector allowing me to empathise and live the values of the company.”

Working experience

Demonstratable experience is usually the marker for success or failure. More often than not, it is not the most suitable applicant who will be called for interview, rather the one who can signpost their relevance the best. As above, your CV gets you the interview; you yourself gets you the job. Ensure your working experience is up to date and tailored. If you are going for a job which requires high level of customer service, ensure this is front and centre in all your past roles or volunteering experience.

A great rule to follow is always to “show don’t tell” to help set yourself and your experience apart. If we use the example of customer service, usually applicants would write something along the lines of “maintaining a high level of customer service at all times”. So, to stand out, think laterally and demonstrate your competency.

Below are some examples of how to detail your experience to stand out against the crowd:

  • Exceptional time management skills, servicing hundreds of customers daily against a target of 80 with a consistent customer feedback survey score of 4.7/5
  • Saved ABC company £80,000 annually due to proactive implementation of new stock management system and rota management system
  • 3x Employee of the month awards for exceptional customer service
  • Part of the highest performing customer service team for XYZ, voted for by customers
  • XYZ amount of returning customers owing to exceptional level of customer delivery

Include any metrics and always reinforce your points; however, ensure this is not false or an embellishment!

Life experience

Something incredibly important to note is that competency is not just gained via paid employment. Skills, behaviours and experience can be generated from personal interests or hobbies. Someone who has been going through treatment for a blood cancer and has started or been involved in a support group has a demonstratable experience of resilience, team working, working under pressure etc. An individual who is a working parent has demonstrable experience of juggling priorities, organisational skills and very demanding stakeholder management skills! Think laterally about what you bring to the table and ensure it is reinforced in the document.

For blood cancer patients especially, there are so many positive traits and characteristics which can be taken from the experience of living with the disease. You should never be ashamed or embarrassed about your time away from the workforce, and you will have naturally developed so many soft skills which employers are always looking for. Creativity, resilience, prioritisation, organisation, risk management, empathy, a positive mental attitude; blood cancer patients have spoken of these traits stemming from their diagnoses and each are ones which are central to the future skills agenda of many employers.

Buzzwords or cliches

One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is to fill a CV with buzzwords, particularly the personal statement. This is a common practice in the UK, and is also a sure-fire way to ensure your CV blends into every other job seeker’s document. A hiring manager or recruiter can safely assume you are an ambitious, proactive, articulate, team player via you applying to a vacancy which requires these skills. This is why it’s so crucial to demonstrate your fit, but reinforce soft skills or traits via experience. Ambition can be seen through previous working experience, personal studies in a certain field, or sporting achievement. Proactivity could be done via company research, or again listed examples from past work experience. Articulation comes through the formatting, spelling and grammar on your CV. The trait of a team player can be listed through working experience, volunteering, sporting commitments, anything which has required you to work with others. Always remember to “show don’t tell” and reinforce what the job requires through demonstrable experience or competency.

Step 5 - References

Usual advice is to put “references available on request” or to list all of your references from previous companies. Whilst it is advisable to proactively seek references (sometimes the deciding factor between candidates can be as simple as past employer’s endorsement, especially if you’ve been out of work), it is not advisable to list these on your CV or even make the statement. Job offers are usually given subject to references, so the this is an expectation of any job seeker, not something that needs to be re-affirmed on your CV.

Should you find yourself in a competitive process with other applicants, or wish to demonstrate how good you are as an applicant, submitting previous references are a great way to get the edge. There are a few factors and scenarios to consider. If you are applying directly to companies, you can dictate if and when to bring references in if you feel it would benefit the process and help you stand out. If you feel it will not help, then references should be provided once you have received a verbal or written offer of employment. If you are currently in work, quite clearly seeking references from your current employer is not advisable unless they are aware you are looking to leave. In these circumstances, having references from previous companies (if applicable) can help; however, often companies are most interested in references from your most recent place of employment.

If you are applying via a 3rd party such as a recruitment agency, it’s important to know what your references can be used for as you are not entirely controlling the process. Your references can also be used by recruiters as a sales tool through the practice of “CV stripping”, whereby a recruiter will proactively engage with companies and managers through reference details. This is something which. in correct circumstances is a perfectly valid thing to do; however, in others it can be used as a business generating exercise with no duty of care towards you the candidate. Only submit references if you have them to a recruiter once you have built a relationship and are comfortable they can support you in your job search, or if you want them to submit your references for you during a job application process.

What is campaigning and advocacy?

As a charity we are actively involved in campaigning on behalf of patients and their carers, which we feel is an important part of the work that we do. We are passionate about doing everything we can to improve the experience of patients throughout their cancer journey.

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