CV advice from a PR guru

Hems de Winter from de Winter PR and Marketing shares his thoughts about what he looks for in a CV.

Nine seconds. That’s the average time an employer spends looking at a prospective employee’s CV.

You can spend hours carefully compiling your CV but what it comes down to is that first impression you make with the first few lines of your opening statement. It’s that first impression that will often decide whether you get through the door for an interview.

At the end of the day, that’s what you want your CV to do for you – get you in front of a prospective employer. After that, it’s up to you.

Now I know that different employers will give differing advice as to what they want to see in a candidate’s CV but let me share my own views based on 26 years of being at the receiving end of literally hundreds of CVs.

Pro forma templates don’t do it for me or any other employer I know. Preparing a CV is not an academic undertaking, it’s an exercise in communication, and opportunity to impress and get noticed.

The people I invite for interview are those who make me feel something in those first few seconds. I want to see individuality, passion, curiosity and genuine enthusiasm rather than stock phrases.  Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Be yourself, be authentic, be honest.

Don’t use language that you wouldn’t use in the pub when you’re out with your mates. No jargon; no big words.  It’s all about effective communication. I want to see some understanding of my company, my sector and my challenges, and particularly what you think you can contribute and how you can make a difference.

Bring yourself to life for me. Make it real. Tell me why it should be you that gets offered that precious interview slot.

Don’t forget to personalise. It takes only a moment to look at a company’s website and find the name of the MD. You’d be amazed at how many CVs are addressed to ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, or ‘To whom it may concern’.

All too often I interview people who told me in their CV that they admire what we do and then we subsequently discover they haven’t actually bothered to visit our website. It really does happen.
There’s no question that presentation is important – I don’t want to see a wall of text. Make it easy to look at and read. Choose a good typeface, plenty of line space, adequate margins on both sides. Bring the thing to life with good headings: just because it’s a ‘formal’ CV doesn’t mean you can’t bring your own individuality to it.

Spelling and grammar are vital in my business as they should be in any business. Get the apostrophes correct! However good the CV, if it’s full of errors of whatever kind, it stops there. To me it means that there hasn’t been enough effort to check your work.

I’m less interested in academic qualifications but I am particularly keen to see someone who has done something for themselves, who can show evidence of proactivity, travel, working in a team, who has actively sought work experience or engaged in making a difference in their community.

All these things tell me that I’m dealing with someone who is prepared to strive for something, someone who understands something of what it takes to work in a team and how important it is to make a difference. These are qualities I value hugely in my team. Don’t bury this information at the bottom of the CV.  This is the information I want to see prominently displayed, not necessarily your hard-earned qualifications.

Use your imagination and try to put yourself in the shoes of the person at the receiving end of the CV and remember that yours could be the 20th CV in the pile.

Think about what are the things I really want to read about, as well as those things I might not be so interested in. For example, don’t waste words and my time in the opening paragraphs telling me how hard working, honest and reliable you are. I’m going to take all that for granted. Any lack of these qualities will ensure you don’t get far.

All it takes is a bit of thought and awareness.  Good luck.


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