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The 3 important questions you should answer in your CV

By Jane Donnelly, Managing Director East of England

Standing out from the crowd is often challenging in the job application process, especially when you are up against hundreds of other applicants. You may be wondering; how do I grab the attention of the recruiter or hiring manager. The answer is simple – it is the ability to answer these 3 vital questions:

1. What interests you about this job, company, and industry?
2. What value can you bring to the team and organisation?
3. What is your current potential and how can you grow this for the future?

Think of your CV as your own living, breathing personal marketing pitch – a pitch that succinctly answers all those burning questions your audience (i.e. recruiters and hiring managers) have about you.

And, the degree to which CV can answer their questions well, will have a huge bearing on whether you are invited to interview. So, you must ensure your answers are strong, clear, tailored and relevant.

1. What interests you about this job, company, and industry?

Above all, the reader wants to know that you are genuinely interested in this job. And, when reading your CV, they are essentially seeking assurance of this in the language and words you use. They are looking for signals that indicate genuine interest, and if they don’t get them, they will likely assume that you have just submitted a blanket application.

So, before tailoring your CV for a specific application, think back to what it was about this job that made you want to apply in the first place, and why do you think you are such a good fit? Was there a specific part of the role that excited you? Does the company’s mission particularly resonate? Researching the company and industry may help you articulate this.

Once you are clear on your reasons for applying, work on updating your personal statement (and your cover letter). Look back at some of the research you’ve done, and weave this in. Demonstrating that you’ve made the effort to do your homework at this early stage will only be a positive thing in the recruiter’s mind.

2. What value can you bring to the team and organisation?

Jobs are advertised because there is a need for a problem to be solved or help to be provided. Therefore, when reading your CV, the recruiter or hiring manager will be looking for clear evidence of the value you would bring to the specific role and organisation.

A great way to focus the reader in on this is to update the employment history section of your CV. When doing so, ensure you focus on the value you added in each role, rather than simply listing what your duties were. This section of your CV shouldn’t read like a list of job descriptions, instead, it should tell the story of your unique strengths and accomplishments.

A good way to do this is to think about what your biggest standout achievement was for each role, no matter how big or small and focus in on that. Remember, the reader wants to know what you can do and needs to see concrete evidence for this.

And, when updating each entry in your employment history, focus on communicating the quantifiable value you added during that time. A great way to help bolster your perceived value in the reader’s mind is to use action verbs – using these verbs will force you to focus in on what you achieved and the results you saw during each role.

3. What is your current potential and how can you grow this for the future?

As the world of work evolves, potential is becoming a more common gauge or indicator than years of experience when assessing the suitability of a candidate. So, the first step here is to clearly evidence your current potential – what are you good at now, and would you be able to do the job in question? The recruiter or hiring manager needs to have come to the end of your CV with absolutely no doubt in their mind that you would be able to do the job and do the job well.

Obviously, tailoring your employment history, as I’ve mentioned above, to focus on the value you can bring will help towards doing this. However, there are other things you can do:

  • Try mirroring the language and keywords used on your CV with those on the job description – this subtle change will increase your chances that the reader will see you as a good current fit.
  • Don’t neglect the skills section of your CV – include both technical (e.g. digital literacy) and soft skills (e.g. creativity) as this will give the reader a more well-rounded perception of your current potential. Also, try to mirror these to those outlined in the job description (where relevant). This blog provides more advice on which skills to highlight on your CV to generate the most impact.
  • Add links to your LinkedIn profile and online portfolios of work – these will help the reader build a better picture of your current competencies.

But recruiters and hiring managers don’t just want to know what you are capable of now. They want to know that you have potential to do great things in the future. A fantastic way to do this is to demonstrate to the reader via your CV that you are ambitious and have an upwardly mobile career plan. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Articulate your ambition and future plans in your personal statement, linking back to the job in question and opportunities you feel you would gain from it.
  • Within each entry in your employment history, demonstrate how you have got better and better over time. For instance, each achievement you add to each entry in your employment history, if you can, make the next better, and remember to quantify them.
  • Evidence your commitment to continuous upskilling by tailoring the skills section of your CV’s, weaving these skills into your employment history. Also, ensure your qualifications are up-to-date and include dates of completion so you can clearly demonstrate your commitment over time.
  • Don’t try to gloss over any career breaks you’ve had. Instead, outline how you used that time to generate value in different areas of your life and build your skillset.

By doing the above, you are essentially indicating to the reader that you would be a good investment both now and in the future.

Ensure your CV is error-free

In this blog, I hope I’ve highlighted for you just how important it is that you ensure your CV is as relevant to the reader as possible, and that it’s absolutely imperative that quickly and succinctly answers the three main questions they will have about you. However, this hard work will be lost if your CV is littered with errors.

By making a concerted effort to ensure your CV is 100% error-free, you are providing another signal to the reader that you could be the right person for the job. Above all, checking for errors will build the perception in the reader’s mind that you have a proactive and committed attitude. When competition is so high, the fact of the matter is that a simple typo could mean your CV is rejected, regardless of how well you have answered the above questions.

As you would with any document, whether it be an email or a PowerPoint presentation, when writing your CV think about who your audience is, and what information is most important to them.

And remember, the questions each reader will have in their minds may well be the same, but the answers they’re looking for will be different. So, take the time to tailor your CV to each role you apply for and ensure you answer each of the above questions in a way that will really resonate.

About this author

Jane joined Hays in 1994 as an Associate. Initially recruiting within the Accounting and Finance in Scotland she progressed to Regional Director in 1999 running all Hays Finance, Office Support and Customer Contact recruitment across the North East of England.

Moving to Hays Australia in 2001 as Regional Director for offices across the Sydney and Canberra specialisms included Finance, Procurement, IT, and Banking. Jane also launched Hays Life Sciences in Australia and was instrumental in the development of the national Healthcare and Education business. In 2006 Jane was appointed a Senior Regional Director.

Jane returned to the UK in July 2013 initially completing a number of operational project roles in Cambridge and Chelmsford before taking responsibility, in 2015, as Regional Director for 6 offices across Essex and Suffolk. In 2017 Jane was appointed as the Managing Director for the East of England region, covering 17 offices. She also currently sits on the council for the CBI in the East of England.

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