Would you prefer to see this advice in a more visual form? Take a look at this nifty presentation we posted on SlideShare – same excellent advice, less text.
Every year 100s of people get in touch with me asking career questions. I try to help as much as I can. One thing that almost always comes up is whether their resume (and I use this word instead of CV for a reason – more below) is doing them justice. Almost always, the answer is ‘no’ and almost always for the same reason. Here’s the advice I share and it’s exactly what they already know from consulting.
PEOPLE SCAN CVS. THEY DON’T READ THEM
There’s loads of research on the average time readers spend on CVs. Some say as little as 6 seconds. Whatever the exact number, the point is, it’s not very long.
SO YOU NEED TO PRIORITISE WHAT YOU SAY
Think about how you put a presentation together. You define the most important messages. You cut the other stuff. You use an appendix for the detail. You tailor the message to your audience. You create an executive summary. And you can verbalise that in an elevator pitch.
AND SIGNPOST CLEARLY WHAT YOU WANT SOMEONE TO SCAN TO
Again, think about your presentations. They’re not cluttered. They have 1 key message per slide. And each message has a few supporting points. You use font size and style to highlight what you want the reader to focus on.
…SO I PUT IT TO YOU THAT IF YOU APPLIED THE SAME LOGIC TO YOUR RESUME, THE FOLLOWING WOULD BE TRUE:
Oh and before I get on to that detail, the reason I say resume is because it’s a summary. It’s exactly what you should be aiming for. In contrast, CV is derived from an academic document which sets out all qualifications, publications etc. It is lengthy. And credibility is often derived from the length.
Here’s what you’d do if you applied your consulting skills to your resume:
- You’d write a 2-3 line summary at the top. What they’re getting and why you’re a no-brainer.
- You’d prioritise what are included based on the requirements of the job & remove less relevant (albeit ‘interesting’ experience/skills).
- You’d create a concise document that’s not cluttered. 1 easy to read page with plenty of space for notes.
- You’d use font differentiation to draw the eye to the priority messages.
1-3 are highly important. But 4 is where I see most people go wrong. Let me explain.
The most commonly used differentiators on a CV font are bold, underline and caps. But they are more often than not used to draw attention to generic things. Things that aren’t the elevator pitch for ‘why me’. Things like:
- Dates (from-to per job),
- Locations (if lots of international work is important, reference it in the summary)
- Section headings (i.e, education, professional experience, interests etc)
- Contact details (if they like you, they’ll find them)
- Bullet points (the actual bullet rather than the point!)
You get my drift. Imagine if, instead, the reader could use the differentiated text as an indicator of the bits of the CV they really should read. i.e, the stuff you really want them to read. And – less being more – you removed the stuff that’s nice to have (you can always voice that over at interview). You want them to scan down and quickly tick all their boxes. So for me, I’d use differentiated text – bold being the most obvious choice for:
- Personal summary (the 2-3 lines)
- Current role and/or company (sometimes they are both highly relevant, sometimes just one)
- Skills you have that they are looking for (e.g, team management, analytics, problem-solving). You must use the requirements they specify to determine the skills you highlight
- University/subject (again, depending on what they’re after)
To really hammer home how this works, here’s a worked example. Let’s assume movemeon goes to pot (don’t worry, it isn’t) and I’m applying for a General Manager job at another growth start-up. Here are my bold parts; everything else would not be highlighted such that the reader can just read the below and ‘tick all their boxes’:
Richard Rosser (name needs to stick)
Start-up Founder and former McKinsey consultant. 5 years management experience growing tech-enabled start-up. Operational responsibility for team of X spanning marketing, sales & product and generating X revenues growing Y% YoY. Seeking similar leadership role in a growth company. (this is the 2-3 line personal summary at the top).
General Manager (current role – it’s what I do & it’s what they’re after)
Team Management (skill 1; the job calls for a seasoned leader. Follow with 2-3 relevant bullets)
Marketing – user acquisition (skill 2; their main challenge is scaling use)
Revenue generation (skill 3; they want to start monetising)
McKinsey & Company (their Founder is ex-consulting)
Oxford (they are picky about top tier academics)
I’ve given this advice hundreds of times ad hoc and in person. So here it is for all! I promise (and there are many examples) that it works. Hopefully, in applying the same logic used for any presentation, you can easily see why.