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Making Sense of all the CV and Interview Advice

You have found a job that seems to be a great fit, got your CV ready and are preparing for your interview. And that’s when you decide to do a bit of online search to find out what’s the “best practice” for getting ready, and that’s when you decide to ask someone for an advice. There is some great advice to be found online, and some valuable insights are to be found thanks to asking what others think. And then, at times you will notice that one advice contradicts another, and – as it goes with advice – all of it is presented as an absolute truth. Today, I will share with you what bits of advice on CV and interview preparation I have found to be consistent. I am basing this on:

  1. Research into what the Internet has to say about CV editing and interview techniques over the last 10 years.

  2. Speaking with various career consultants and professional recruiters for different industries.

  3. As a business psychologist, working as an interviewer in the assessment centres for senior hires, and as a “trainer” for an AI application designed to automatically process and evaluate CVs. Having looked through dozens of CVs across different industries I saw what “good” and “bad” is to different people, and how an automatic CV analysing software can make its judgements versus a human recruiter.

What is helpful for a human reading your CV:

  • A short summary (3-5 lines) on the top

  • List your skills, grouping them into categories can be a good idea (e.g. Software skills, Communication skills, Project Management skills)

  • Experience section comes before education (unless you’re going into academia and don't have much experience outside of it), with your positions in chronological order, newest first

  • Simply describing what your responsibilities were is not enough – include numbers when possible to talk about achievements, remember the STAR model when possible (Situation-Task-Action-Result)

  • A good idea to start the sentences with a verb (omitting the pronoun “I”), there is some contradictory advice on the tense (Did vs Doing) – best to have the past tense for previous positions and keeping the past or going for the present tense for the current one. Remember to keep it consistent throughout.

  • 2 pages is good. Remember that at the early stages, when the volume of applicants is higher, your CV will likely be skimmed through (some recruiters take only 10-60 seconds), not read in detail – but you want it to be ready for those who do read CVs in detail (most likely at the later stages of the recruitment process).

  • What about using different fonts, colours, highlighting some words – the advice is mixed, but the general tendency is that it's better to go for a more "conservative" approach – too much variety on the page can be distracting. Unless design is your thing (and you're applying for a design job)

  • Pro tip: make the most of the CV template libraries available in MS Word, GoogleDocs and Pages apps. Those can be fairly easily edited to adjust to your content. However...

Optimising your CV for the CV-analysing software:

  • If you are using templates, avoid those that format your text in text boxes or tables – this may not be picked up as text by some CV software

  • Clearly label the sections as "Experience", "Skills", "Education"

  • Listing all the skills you have that are listed in the job description is a good idea, as the machine will be looking for them

  • Consider using the language of the job description to talk about your experience (helps the software match your experience with the keywords in the job).

  • BUT do not copy the job application text, as it will be likely picked up, whether by the program or by a human reader at the later stages


Interview advice:

  • Arrive early for a face to face interview. For a video interview:

  • Check if you need to download or update any software and do that at least 10 minutes before

  • Dial in 1 minute before the time to be there early

  • Check your background is looking good

  • Prepare your answers in advance BUT do not over-prepare to the point of sounding “robotic”

  • Watch out for your interviewer’s reactions, they may feel that you are not answering the questions and can help you by correcting the course of your answer

  • Cooperate with the interviewer by checking every now and then that you are giving them the information that they need to make their decision. Ask questions like:

  • “Does that answer your question?”

  • “Would you like me to elaborate?”

  • “Does this example help?”

  • Remember that this is not a “life or death” situation. This is a friendly professional chat about your experience. Stay focused but also forgive yourself if you feel you have made a mistake.

Applying for a job, getting your CV, application, and interviews right is partly due to luck (what you cannot control), and partly due to how you show up and perform on the day (what you can control). Mastering what you can control while having the calm to accept and “go with the flow” in matters that you cannot control – is what will help you excel in your career advancement and learn to enjoy (or at the very least not mind) the process. Every advice has exceptions to it. If you would like to discuss your particular situation and come up with a plan that will help you transform your career, you can book a conversation with me here (that conversation is free).

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