5 easy CV tips to help you reach the shortlist

Just as websites strive to hit the top of search engine rankings, CVs must also aim to reach and remain at the peak of the available talent pool.

In an age of sophisticated applicant tracking systems (ATS) and hi-tech digital job boards, it is imperative to ensure your CV has the best chance of standing out in the face of keyword optimisation.

Ten years ago, if you applied for a role and were unsuccessful, you’d likely receive a polite rejection letter and the communication would be over.

Today, however, businesses are keeping records of promising but unsuccessful applicants. They’re tracking them as potential hires or, at the least, as part of a future talent pool. The formal job application, whether successful or unsuccessful, is just the beginning of the process.

“As companies look to build talent pools and harness job applications for the lifetime of an applicant, the systems are becoming fairly sophisticated,” says David Cawley, regional director at Hays Accountancy and Finance.

“Whether or not you reapply for another job with the same business in five years’ time, the business may well have their eye on you.”

AI in recruitment

Recruitment agencies, major job boards such as Seek and social media giants like LinkedIn all use similar systems in order to manage their talent databases and employ artificial intelligence (AI) to follow the qualifications, achievements and career progress of individuals.

“The algorithms are powerful,” Cawley says. “They pick up keywords in CVs and job ads. Candidates might be looking for a particular job so they’ll visit a recruitment agency website and say, ‘Show me all the jobs in accounting in Chatswood’. Equally, employers searching databases might say, ‘Show me all the Big Four-qualified accountants who live in Norwest’. That search is going to present data from information on applicants’ CVs.”

Just as websites strive to hit the top of search engine rankings, CVs must also aim to reach and remain at the peak of the available talent pool. How can this be achieved?

How to write a winning CV

Cawley says in an age of machines, there are several very important ingredients in the recipe for a successful CV.

1. Succinct professional summary

The professional summary is the part of the document that is most likely to be picked up by applicant tracking systems (ATS) – or “resume robots” as they’re disparagingly called – and enter the applicant into a specific tracking system. If you’re looking to grab the attention of a recruiter, Cawley says, make sure your professional summary is succinct – one to two paragraphs.

“It must clearly articulate how you differentiate yourself from every other applicant,” he says. “It might be some sort of specific experience that ties into the advertisement or the job spec. It must make it easy for the person who eventually reads the CV to say, ‘Yes, this is fundamentally what we’re looking for’.”

2. Clearly outline systems skills

Applicants, of course, are expected to be familiar with systems and applications that are at the core of specific roles, whether it’s Xero for an accountant or BIM (building information modelling) software for an engineer.

Related: How to nail the accounting job interview

If the job outline says knowledge of certain packages, or demonstration of certain competencies, is vital, then a CV that does not clearly state that the applicant has this knowledge could very easily be “wiped off the table” by AI, Cawley warns.

Never make the mistake of assuming an employer will naturally assume you have such skills, he emphasises. All basic requirements must be expressed, or an ATS might remove you from the pool of candidates before your CV even reaches the employer.

3. Achievements rather than simple facts

Rather than stating a fact such as, “I managed this business for five years”, instead include an achievement with each fact, such as, “As managing director, I grew revenue by 40 per cent over five years”. Rather than “I closed large deals”, instead say, “As a sales manager, I closed three significant deals in the last 12 months with a total value of A$33 million”.

Notice how the job titles are simple and clear? Don’t go with fancy or trendy titles; “chief happiness officer”, “innovation alchemist”, “legal ninja”, and so on. Instead, consider job titles that will translate easily across industries and companies and which, therefore, will be easily recognised by an ATS.

4. Use hyperlinks wisely and sparingly

Hyperlinks are useful if used to illustrate important points, but you don’t want your CV to look like a firecracker. If one links to your LinkedIn profile, which has been updated to match your CV, it can be particularly useful in terms of the machine confirming its findings. After that, only links highly relevant to specific job requirements should be included.

5. Consider keywords

Just as web developers research keywords important to their audience, so too should job applicants. Research keywords significant to your industry, connected to your specialisation and pertinent to the specific job advertisement, and ensure they are highlighted in your CV.

The above points are all integral in a world in which it is almost too easy to submit job applications, Cawley says.

“This means the machine learning, AI element has become far more important to do the job of sifting out the relevant responses from the non-relevant,” he says.

“The service delivery of a machine is only as good as the information it can read, so feeding it the right information will increase your chances of CV success.”


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October 2019
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