Professional CV writing is about knowing your audience

When writing a CV, most people will ask themselves: what have I done during my career? What will make my CV stand out? What CV template should I use?  But the professional CV writer asks a set of very different questions:

  • What does the employer want given the role and their business context?
  • What makes you relevant for that employer?
  • What will make you stand out for the potential recruitment company?

The truth is, your CV has two end readers and they have overlapping but different requirements from your CV.  Let me explain each in turn.

The recruiter’s interest in your CV: A recruiter is typically looking to respond to a client’s brief.  Their job is to find candidates that closely match the core specifications in the job description and forward those candidates to clients.  They are, therefore, looking for keywords, buzzwords, past responsibilities, etc. that show a direct match to the job specification.  They will often search their databases looking for these keywords to find relevant candidates. They are not typically able to think about a client’s challenges and see the value of other experiences you may have.

The employer’s interests in your CV: An employer is also very concerned with your ability to perform the role, but they are looking out for your broader ability to add value beyond just the narrow scope of the job description.  They are aware of the challenges in the business and in their department, which will not necessarily be communicated to a recruitment company or specified in the job specification.  Experience that may not be on the radar of a recruiter may be of interest to the employer and indeed give you an edge.

The implications of this difference are important.

Firstly, you must create a CV that contains the keywords that will help you be found by recruiters and immediately strike a chord with employers.  But you must also make sure that the employer derives benefit from the use of those keywords. Simply listing a bunch of key skills without context is meaningless to the employer even if it helps you be found by a recruiter.

For example, some people claim to have “strategic planning” as a key skill.  But what does this mean?  To a strategy consultant with 20 years’ experience strategic planning is a well-understood business strategy development process. But to someone doing a junior role in marketing, strategy planning is defined as marketing planning, which can be for a specific product or across a portfolio of products.  Without context, such phrases mean nothing to an employer.

Secondly, you should consider adding achievements or experiences that may not be absolutely core to the role but which could differentiate you, as long as you can make a connection between these experiences and the likely challenges facing the employer.

So when you develop your CV, think about the two audiences you need to please.

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