By Jim Bright
Going over your CV with a fine-tooth comb might land you that dream job, writes Jim Bright.
Heather writes from Canberra seeking advice about her cover letter and CV. As a recent graduate, she has been frustrated in her attempts to secure a position. She hopes for a management or public service role but has been offered only retail positions.
“What am I doing wrong?” she asks.
Well, having reviewed the email, cover letter and CV, there are plenty of areas in which Heather can improve her application.
Firstly, there is a discrepancy between her claim that she has “an eye for detail” and some of her content. For instance, the cover letter includes the sentence: “I am very thorough and precise, without overlooking the finer points.” Here, the word “without” is misused.
The sentence is constructed to convey the meaning “I am X without overlooking Y”. The last part of the sentence broadens the subject. For instance: “I emphasise customer service, without overlooking profitability.” However, Heather’s usage is tautologous because it does not broaden the original claim but simply restates it.
Her construction raises the odd possibility that one could be thorough and precise and still be able to miss the finer points.
There are other examples in which her attention to detail can be improved. For instance, I’d prefer to see her phrase “take initiative” as “take the initiative” and in several bulleted lists, some of the items are given a full stop, while others are not. This might seem like extreme pedantry but such details can colour the impressions of a critical recruiter who is looking for reasons to whittle down the number of short-listed applicants.
The cover letter is written in a very general style: “I want to apply my skills in a changing environment.” Where possible, I advise candidates to be precise. So the first sentence can be improved by saying: “I want to apply my excellent organisational abilities in your analytics team to deliver accurate and timely reports in a rapidly changing competitive climate.”
Providing evidence to back up claims of competence is always more compelling. So statements such as “I am a highly motivated team player” can be improved by making them verifiable. “I am a highly motivated team player. I strive to do what I can to assist other team members to ensure we meet our performance targets. In April, a member of the retail team experienced a bereavement so I took on their weekly report-writing duties to ensure the team met its target and to give my colleague more time to cope with their work and non-work issues.”
Simply stating that you possess a certain quality or skill does not necessarily cut much ice. It is a common mistake that many job hunters make. The same applies to listing duties. Providing a bullet list of employment duties in the absence of any achievements related to those duties is a missed opportunity. Consider reducing the number of duties listed and use the space to describe some achievements.
Over and above all the layout, grammar and content issues, applicants who are trying to target a narrow range of occupations or are looking to change the direction of their career might benefit from considering the impression the CV will make. In particular, does the CV paint a picture of a person who is a natural fit with the desired area or occupation?
Editing all aspects of the CV to emphasise education, training and work achievements that are closely related to the job’s area enhances an applicant’s chances of being more seriously considered for such roles.
In Heather’s case, there is much she can do to transform a solid application into a winning one.
Jim Bright is professor of career education and development at ACU and a partner at Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy. firstname.lastname@example.org