Published 31 Aug 2015

CV's! -- Where to start! What a load of Codswallop! There has to be way better ways of finding your ideal job than applying for every job advertised (regardless of suitability) and firing a poorly constructed CV at it. Hydra has been recruiting for Sales Executives and so we've been sifting through CV's and so this is probably the most impassioned article I've ever written.

Our previous blog talked about the CV being dead -- and it's our mission to greatly speed-up their demise (at least the bad ones) -- but old habits die hard! At the time of writing we've just finished week 9 in the odyssey of the HydRa Recruitment platform creation, our revolutionary recruiting app'; and we're having an overwhelming response by IT professionals interested in developing their career, and so loading their profiles into the tool. Despite not asking for CV's many people feel compelled to send them to us anyway -- just in case; and so here we are again -- scanning CV's.

In the old days B.H. (Before HydRa), the default first step for anyone looking for a job was to write or refresh their CV (incidentally HydRa doesn't want your CV -- but more of this later) and then sending this solicited or not to possible employers. Having hired hundreds, if not thousands of staff on-behalf of my employers over the years, and also my own company (read: -- now it's my risk and my money), I feel I'm well used to the process of talent selection. Sifting CV's on someone else's time is a drag, but doing it on your own time is darn-right frantic. And this has lead me to the inspired the idea of sharing best practices (and worst) as I see them. Here's the disclaimer - I'm not a psychologist, or have any professional qualifications in the Human Resources industry -- just an awful lot of experience hiring good people. So for what it's worth -- here goes:

Its human nature to see the world through our own eyes, and the CV by definition is the most narcissistic, self-congratulating, and elaborately constructed expression of one's professional value we can ever be asked to create -- and damn-it, we're supposed to make it short and concise! -- "WAIT -- I want to tell you more about me!" This is the inherent problem with the CV -- the prospective employer (or Talent Acquisition professional) really isn't interested in YOU -- not yet anyway; they just want to see if you can do the job they need to hire someone for. So if your CV really doesn't scream-out that you are an ideal candidate, you'll be passed over. This is the problem with the CV - to be attractive it must immediately appeal to the reader on so many levels, and all within a few precious seconds!

"Seconds?" Yes! Personally I claim to spend about 30 seconds looking at a CV -- honestly it's probably more like 45 seconds (being a generous chap and always looking for the best in people.....), but I have many friends who are Recruitment Agents who claim to scan a CV in 10 seconds (okay I'm sure they exaggerate) but point being we all claim to "scan" and never "read" a CV -- seriously, the words are never read -- just key data-points: location, current employer, tenure (weed out job-hoppers), and does this person remotely look like what I'm (or the client in the case of a Recruiter) looking for?

So first things first when scanning a CV:

1. Who is this person? -- gender, age-ish, location where they are based, nationality, languages spoken and ease of contact. None of these are discriminatory but as an employer I want to begin to form a picture of the candidate I might want to interview. If any of these points are missed in the first few seconds of glancing at a CV then the readers' interest will begin to wane. Of course in these times of political correctness none of this can be obligatory, and some countries suggest such information like age and gender is not provided on a CV -- but if the employer is looking to weed-out CV's, these points if missing could well be a reason to pass-over the CV and move on to one where this information is apparent.

2. Secondly, does this person look like they have the basic requirements to do the job I need done? So now I'm scanning -- scanning the current employer, job title, job being done, role fulfilled, and last couple of jobs. If none of these are close to what I'm looking for then no point in proceeding. I do want the role to be clear, and personally I like data-points here, so include numbers -- number of staff managed, target carried, quota attainment, growth stat's, etc.

3. Lastly, it's the other "wild-card" things -- the thought given to layout of the CV, typo-o's or sloppy errors, how many pages are there, how many jobs has the candidate had and tenure (do they job-hop, or show no career progression). A concise, properly laid-out CV will impart all this information in 30 seconds. If it does -- then I like the candidate already.

The point of the CV:

Let's think about it -- the purpose of scanning CV is to eliminate applicants, not to find the right one at this point in the hiring process (see earlier blog: The CV is Dead). Once the CV is scanned and poor CV's eliminated, I've now got a short-list of candidates to interview. On this assumption these guys have passed the first hurdle, and unless they muck-up the interview, the job's theirs -- in principle.

So how do you make your CV attractive? If you've missed the point so far (hard to believe) the CV must scan well. Writing the CV with the view to it being scanned as opposed to read, takes time and thought -- from the perspective of the reader not yourself, as hard as that concept is. We know your lovely, professional, committed, team player, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial... but we don't care -- question right now is "can we bin your CV or not?"


CV's tend to follow the common rule of: Person info -- Name, Nationality, Contact details. Followed by a brief statement of what the candidate is looking for (career objective). Then the current/most recent employment position including dates then working backwards in chronological order. Then Academic achievements (academic achievements are less relevant the older you get), and lastly a few personal items such as main hobbies or interests such as sports and/or charitable interests. Any deviation from this defacto model is not really a problem, but it's not the norm' so hunting for information by a scanning reader can be a nuisance as the data-points are not where the reader expects them to be.

Content: (pet likes, hates and best and worst practices):

Formatting: The format described above is my personal preference. Candidates who get "funky" and show they think "outside the box" by jumbling up their CV format may impress more creative types -- but those of us too lazy to appreciate such inspired thinking just get annoyed not seeing what we expect to see and where we to see it. Recommendation -- keep the layout simple and well-spaced.

Personal Information: While respecting personal privacy and political correctness, I really don't care what's included; but the more the merrier. People (let's not make a glib gender statement here) who don't include D.O.B (date of birth) are not doing themselves a service as date of graduation will age the person to within a year or two anyway. Gender is typically irrelevant, but I feel awkward with non-English names if the gender is not apparent. Many including Chinese, Korean, and Japanese names can often be gender neutral -- particularly for a foreigner, so including gender is helpful. Recently I received a CV from someone who not only just used just one Chinese name, but also failed to say where they lived, and even the phone number was missing the country code. Moreover, the previous jobs were dotted about geographically -- so not only did I not know the applicants gender, I had no clue about their location or nationality -- fool! Nationality is important for employment passes and regional roles and so must be included.

Whether to include a picture? Personally I don't mind, but if you do - please look cheerful. If you look like a "Police Wanted" poster it's less than ideal (LinkedIn is hilarious for this). Companies (people) want to hire positive people, so looking inert, or uneasy is awkward. A picture can also be a double-edged sword; people naturally gravitate towards attractive people but this strategy can back-fire too. Some might deliberately bias towards good looks, while others may dislike for whatever reason, or feel the candidate is pretentious. Photo's that are very dated or "assisted" are also annoying as it's silly and misleading -- creating the wrong first impression.

Previous positions:

Obviously the most important part of the CV is your current and previous positions. This is where the reader will look for a natural fit and experience that's relevant in the position being offered. Keep it brief, state the company name, your position, tenure -- including the month (i.e. Jan 2010 -- April 2015) and a one line about what the company does! A pet hate for me is not-knowing who the company is or what they do. If I've never heard of XYZ Ltd, then it's hard to judge the relevance of the experience. If I need a Software Sales Exec' and XYZ Ltd is a Hair Products distributor as opposed to an Software developer, chances are it's not relevant. One line sharing the core business of the company illustrates wider-thinking on the part of the writer for the benefit of the reader. This is good!

Job Descriptions -- this part is really hard, because you know what your good at, but the reader may not -- and assume he/she doesn't. Please avoid jargon and acronyms. "Managed back-end EPX system", or "processed PPM clams" is obvious to you, but probably not to the reader, and especially if the terms relate to the former employers unique systems. Please give all achievements a context. "Launched major marketing initiative", "participated in focus teams" or "broke into new markets" mean squat and is a waste of words if there is no "resulting in......" following the statement. Every achievement must have relevance, and preferably a measurement ($ value or % increase or an 'impact' statement such as "contributed to 20% operating cost savings").

Cramming key words is also unhelpful. 6 pages with 2,867 "key words" -- poorly formatted (yep -- I got one of those this week) in the vain hope that some crap job-board will catch your CV via a Boolean or key word search is time-wasting, and a definite straight-line to trash. I 'get' the point of trying to leverage key-words, but frankly if that's the best the candidate's got they're not what I'd hire.

"Good team player but also a good individual contributor..." and "excellent stake holder relationships and strong networking skills..." -- and other such pointless statements are word wasters too, please refrain. Writing such woolly statements irritate the reader as this 'chaff' obscures the real points I'm looking for. Furthermore, the reader is slightly irritated that their intelligence is being insulted -- we both know its rubbish; well I hope so.

In summary -- get to the point: what was the job and what was achieved. If the reader quickly finds that information and it's applicable, then a quick decision can be made to progress the candidate to interview.

Should you include "Reasons for leaving"? Best not. Curiously I've only ever seen "career advancement" or some-such comments given. I've never seen "because my boss was a complete Muppet", or "I was fired for skiving-off too often and sexually harassing the girls in Finance" so best not bother to state a reason for leaving. Save the words, and let the reader assume it was for a constructive reason.

"References available on request" -- of course they are! And even if they're not I'll seek them out after the interview, so this statement is of no use at all in getting the interview, and therefore a waste of pixels (or ink if you're old enough to remember that).

Mentioning/listing customers you've sold to/worked with/or technically supported is excellent, and a "slam dunk" to interviews if your customers are the customers or target customers of the hirer. I would always interview a candidate that had relations with my target clients if that was the case. But caution - be sure you memorize the names of your key contacts there otherwise you risk being caught-out. This happens all too often. Candidate lists their customers, and I'd interview them on account of this point, but then the candidate can't remember their contacts -- a quick way to wind-up an interview. An interview technique I use here is to ask "so can you pick-up the phone and call Mr. XXX and he'll take your call?" So be ready to answer this if you've listed Mr. XXX's company on your CV.

Formatting and those other 'wild card' things:

Given the psychology of reading CV's -- simple mistakes are tiresome and really irritating putting us (the readers) in a bad mood and so more inclined to dismiss a CV with careless errors regardless of content. Sloppy typo's, poor formatting and grammatical errors are inexcusable. OK, I'm dyslexic but MS Word has a little green, blue and red underline feature to show errors -- use it! A flawed CV shows a lack of professionalism and suggests the candidate will be careless in their work.

Highlighting some sections is fine (you can see it's used here) but don't overdo and limit to key data points otherwise it rather suggests you're already saying the non-highlighted bits aren't important.

Career Objective statements at the beginning of the CV can be helpful (as an employer I'd naturally like to try and align -- or not) but it helps if the candidate is specific (if you can't be - then best to leave it out). "To engage in a career that allows me to continuously improve myself and make a meaningful contribution to the Company" is quaint -- but seriously? Companies are inanimate legal entities, so a more individual goal is helpful to an employer -- and a good opening into an interview. And so it goes on: "Highly motivated, team player, entrepreneurial, outside the box thinker, and results driven......" -- ironically I never see CV's claiming the candidate to be "minion, indifferent to results, only completes the bare-minimum to avoid instant dismissal, resentful, spiteful, and just do as I'm told regardless of consequences even if I know is a blindingly stupid idea". Be genuine, and if this statement is tailored to this specific position, or better still my Company -- then I'm very impressed.

Personal information/Interests can be helpful, I'll glance to see if there's a common interest with me out of curiosity, but there are no wrong answers here. If someone does share my interests that's cool, but not a deal breaker one way or the other, and I'd not prejudice a CV one way or the other either.

Lastly, I like a brief personal letters of introduction, shows that the application is sincere and you've taken the opening seriously and researched my Company before applying (not just throwing your CV out there to see what sticks -- not much will if you're a professional). Make it specific to my Company and in one line why you thing you're a good fit. Keep brief, and not a 2 page rewrite of the CV. Also please avoid gratuitous flattery "esteemed Company, gracious consideration, etc." -- I'm not being "gracious", I'm looking for good staff! Now I respect that some cultures may appreciate a bit of 'toadying' on a letter but most western cultures find it superfluous and disingenuous. A credible, concise and professionally courteous letter of introduction will always trump flattery.


There's a lot written about how to construct a compelling CV and I respect there are many differences in opinion, but these are mine, and probably not far off optimal. Laszlo Bock Head of HR (called "People Operations") at Google has a good book called "Work Rules", and he has 4 key points to hiring:

1. Set an uncompromisable high standard.

2. Find candidates on your own.

3. Put checks in place to assess candidates objectively.

4.  Provide candidates with a reason to join.


Our HydRa system is designed to remove the CV from the first phase of Talent Acquisition, and as you can see, from Mr. Bock's points, once contact is made to professionally suitable candidates (in our case through HydRa), the CV, if needed, can assist in addressing the first 3 points noted here.

Well, this blog is about 3 times longer than the average CV should be, but if you agree my points make sense, and prompts you to go edit your CV then I'm sure your statistical probability of getting more interviews will have improved -- of course after you've loaded your professional profile onto Good luck!