Clarity, focus and no pictures of famous people is just some of the advice from the Bay's top employers for making an impact with job applications.
As part of the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend/the Right Staff's five-week career makeover, six major Bay of Plenty employers were canvassed for their opinions on CV mistakes and how to secure that sought-after interview.
Common advice among the companies - including supply chain logistics company ISO Limited, TrustPower, Comvita and the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic - was to capture the reader's attention with a structured, concise and targeted CV.
Jason Stockdale, senior recruiting consultant at the Right Staff, said polished, professional CVs were about impact and giving yourself the best chance to progress to the next level of the recruitment process.
"The primary function of the CV is to get you an interview. Similar to a sales pitch, you only have a short amount of time to get the person's attention and create enough interest so they want to see you in person. We are inundated with CVs filled with common mistakes.
"The feedback we are getting from our clients is that in this type of employment market the bar needs to be raised if you want the job.
"This is also about helping employers make the right decision and we know their standards are high. Many companies in the Bay area tell us they are frustrated by the poor standards of many of the CVs they receive and candidates should take the time and make the effort to reduce common mistakes."
A spokesman for ISO's recruiters advised candidates not to over-complicate their CVs by providing glossy page borders or fantastic cover photos. He reported recently having received one with Barack Obama on the front cover.
The spokesman said common mistakes included non-sequential employment dates and "putting pages of material together and providing three short sentences of work experience at the end".
"A big put-off are pages and pages of certificates and meaningless course attendances," he said. What did make an application stand out was "how well presented it is - fonts are all the same/bolded headings/clear".
A TrustPower HR department spokesperson said: "You have 20 seconds to convince me I should invite you for an interview - make that first page count." They said they looked at the first third of a CV but needed a reason to continue. Only if the CV interested them would they read the cover letter. However, the cover letter then "may be what makes or breaks an application".
Photographs were an area of unanimous agreement, in that they only made a difference if they were bad or inappropriate.
"We do get a lot of photos, however they don't make a difference," said an HR spokesperson at the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. "In fact it can detract from the person, eg you might get someone that looks too casual in a photo that is applying for a professional role."
CVs messy, too long, and full of spelling errors were mistakes seen frequently by the Comvita HR department. A spokesperson said three pages was the maximum CV length recommended.
Analysis of the three career makeover candidates conducted by Jason Stockdale, senior recruiting consultant at the Right Staff.
Strengths: No spelling mistakes and few grammatical errors, well formatted. Kunal caters cover letters to the attributes listed in the job advertisement. He tells potential employers why his experience means he can do the job required. Lots of good practical examples of using his IT skills; he just needs to keep them concise and apply to the relevant jobs.
Weaknesses: With nine pages in total, Kunal's CV was much too long. The CV began with ``Career Objectives'' and summarised five years' work experience, applications worked on, work ethics and enthusiasm. The only thing missing was his career objective.
Advice: Save personal details for cover letters and talk about how your goals and objectives align with the company you want to work for.
Two pages of technical skills are followed by two pages of work experience without technical skills. Combine both so the reader knows what hardware/software you used in each job and what is current.
Advice: Don't forget the person reading your CV may not be as IT savvy as you, so don't over-complicate it with too much information, unless it is a highly technical role like a senior systems engineer.
Attached his certificates and written references.
Advice: Best just to list your certificates under qualifications and don't clutter the CV with written references.
Kunal has too much information in his CV, making it difficult to find the relative skills. It needs a lot of simplifying before it is user-friendly and flows nicely.
Advice: Less is more.
Strengths: Karolyn doesn't do things by halves and has really worked hard to fix her CV. She created a personal website to promote herself and her job-hunting. She documents everyone she sends a CV to, their responses and recommendations. Karolyn makes sure her CV really captures the reader's attention and studies the role and company. No spelling mistakes and well formatted. She sent out self-promotional marketing packs to companies.
Weaknesses: Originally in May, when Karolyn approached me for help with her CV, it was clear she would have challenges representing herself with this format. There were no headings with employment dates, company names or job titles, but rather list after list of key strengths, financial, communication and administration skills. There was a lot of good experience and achievements, however, it was all bunched together without any sequence or continuity.
Karolyn's challenge was she had a lot of experience and had worked in many industries (including hospitality, tourism, web design, marketing, administration, student, journalist and tour guide) during the past 20 years. But she needed a way of conveying this in a structured fashion.
Advice: We broke down the information and created three separate CVs. These specifically linked her employment experience to the positions she wanted to apply for which were in three main areas: administration, web design/graphics and marketing. We created a user-friendly format for each CV with key areas such as skills and attributes, responsibilities and achievements tailored to each job sector.
Strengths: Chrissie has some good interests which show off her personality; big-game fishing, painting and lots of physical fitness.She has listed some short-term jobs she has done while looking for a career. This is great but needs to include dates so it flows with the CV. Has put her reason for leaving each job, which stopped me from guessing.
Chrissie's cover letters were one page and really targeted the job advertised. She used phrases and keywords from the job descriptions.
Chrissie has a spreadsheet listing the companies she has applied for, any feedback she has received and who she has heard back from. Great idea.
Chrissie told all her friends and former employers she was actively looking for work.
CV is too long at nine pages. Advice: Keep it short and concise. The CV starts with three pages of personal information, which is too much. Advice: Condense it to a short paragraph as a prelude to the employment history, which should be the bulk of any CV. With five pages of employment history she runs the risk of losing potential employers after page two.
Advice: Ideally work history should be one to two pages. List the top four responsibilities in a role and add in a similar number of achievements. Achievements are important, especially for people applying for sales positions.
Top Tips from the Right Staff's Jason Stockdale
- With an average of more than 100 applicants for administration roles you have about 30 seconds to make a connection with the reader. If you state you have great attention to detail and in the next few lines have a spelling mistake you lose all credibility.
- Include the months as well as the years of employment or else the reader will come to his own conclusions which may not be in your favour.
- Make sure you list a reason for leaving a role particularly if it was after a short period of time. In this current market it's OK to say you were made redundant, the business closed down or you were on contract. Once again if your CV flows and is simple you are more likely to keep your audience.
- For a creative role, be creative but not with over-the-top fonts or photos. If you must, add some colour but keep it simple.
- If you have a long career only add in the most recent roles. For jobs older than 10-15 years only include if they apply to the role you are applying for.
- If it is a technical or IT role make sure you don't include a lot of software or hardware details that are unrelated to the position. The reader might not be IT savvy so be careful not to abbreviate everything.
- Read the advertisement. If the company wants someone motivated tell them how you have been motivated in your previous jobs. If they want attention to detail use keywords such as orderly and precise.
- Quality not quantity. Don't send out a mass amount of CVs to jobs that you are not qualified for. Instead take the time to really improve your CV for the ones you do have the skills for.
Six top Bay of Plenty employers were canvassed on the importance of specific CV/cover letter elements. Ranked on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being most important, the average results were:
1) Qualifications: 8.2
2) Key competencies (relevant to role): 8.2
3) Cover letters: 7.8
4) Personal achievements: 5.9
5) Personal statements/attributes: 5.2
6) Career objectives or goals: 4.8
7) Hobbies: 3.6
Next week, week three of our five-week career makeover, will cover presentation and preparation for interview. For more CV advice go to the Right Staff website at www.therightstaff.co.nz