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CV’s – Substance vs Style – The Great Debate

By 28 November 2017

In c20 years of recruitment experience, I have read literally 1000’s of CV’s, and to many it would seem the holy grail of their CV is making it stand out from the crowd. Back in the day, I remember receiving CV’s in the post that were on coloured paper or had been sprayed in perfume / aftershave, now the internet is littered with new formats, templates and other tools to aid the presentation of the CV. Ironically, some of the “best” looking CV’s I have read have been by the weakest candidates, and some of the worse presented CV’s I have read have been by the strongest candidates.
Even if a CV is well presented and looks a bit different, once I have got past that, what I actually want to see is the substance – what have you done, what did you achieve, what difference did you make – this is the stuff that will make recruiters interested in speaking with you, not a fancy presentation, yet strangely enough it is often lacking. Why is that? There could be several reasons:-
1. People can be quite modest it comes to talking about themselves
2. People are not very good at writing CV’s – and why would you be, you may only do this a few times in your career
3. People are not always aware of what the reader is looking for
4. People can’t remember what they have achieved as they have not kept their CV up to date, or kept good records of their achievements, so don’t have the content available to them.

The solutions:
1. The CV is your chance to shine. Be proud of what you have done and don’t be shy
2. Think about what the reader is likely to be looking for. Tailor your CV to the specific job and to meet the needs of the job description or advert.
3. Capture and keep records of your successes and achievements – e.g., sales league tables, letters / emails of recommendation or thanks from clients or colleagues, marketing materials you have produced, business you have won and so on. Once you have this data you can then use it accordingly.
I expect a CV to be well presented (well formatted, no spelling or grammatical mistakes, relevant etc), but more importantly a CV should contain relevant content that demonstrates your range of skills and how good you are. It is this that will make you stand out from the crowd.

For me, when I receive a CV, I would take substance over style every day of the week. What do you think?

Darren Spevick is Managing Partner of Eventum Partners, a leading provider of interim and permanent executive recruitment solutions to the health technology, healthcare service and life sciences sector

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