How a tailored CV could land you that perfect job

Job-seeker working on their laptop
A 'tick and flick' application is unlikely to get a look-in, recruiter says. Photo credit: Getty.

With a new year underway, people jostling with the back-to-work blues may be considering a job change.

Starting the job search and putting applications together can feel daunting - so how can applicants put their best foot forward?

Newshub spoke to a recruitment expert at Xero and the principal of MyCareerBrand to find out how to write an application that makes the shortlist.

Based on her experience of plowing through each application that comes in the door, Louise Joyce, talent experience manager at Xero, said that when shortlisting candidates, one of the first questions her team asks is, 'Why do you want to work for us'?

"Thinking about this when writing a CV and cover letter means you’ll be three steps ahead," Joyce said.

"Tailoring your application to the company shows the hiring manager that you’ve taken the time to apply - it’s not just a tick and flick with a hundred other companies," Joyce added.

Craig McAlpine, executive coach at MyCareerBrand, said that as the job of a CV is to reflect the candidate, people have got to sell themselves on the first page. 

"You should customise your CV - particularly the first page - for each of the roles that you apply for," McAlpine said.

To help job-hunters recognise the value in tailoring their application as opposed to taking a 'transactional' approach, McAlpine suggests they think about how much the role is worth to them long-term.

"If you're going to be in a role for two-to-three years, [and, for example the role pays] $65,000 to $85,000 per year, multiplied over three years, the application to you is worth around quarter-of-a-million dollars," McAlpine said.

Joyce explained that the purpose of a CV is to tell the story of a person's career. She encourages applicants - particularly in the tech industry - to think about their personal skills that translate directly to the advertised role and to list them, with examples.

"Include anything that speaks directly to what the company you're applying to does and why your set of skills make you the best person for the job," Joyce said.

Joyce also suggested providing a description about previous employers if they aren't well-known and taking a few minutes to proof the CV before sending it out.

"You wouldn’t believe the amount of applications I see where people spell their own name wrong, or address the application to another company - don’t let it happen to you! 

"Attention to detail in your job application shows that you take pride in the work you do - and that’s important to us," Joyce added.

The following questions and answers provide more detail on tailoring a job application.

Is there an ideal length for a CV?

While there are a range of answers on the 'perfect length' of a CV, people with many years' of experience are likely to need more than one page.

"I'd recommend no more than four or five pages," McAlpine said.

For more experienced applicants, McAlpine suggests including experience from the last ten-to-fifteen years, using the concept of an upside-down pyramid.

"The further back you go, the less detail is required," McAlpine said  

Similarly, Joyce suggests that applicants with a long career history include all relevant roles irrespective of how long ago they were, rather than every role. 

"I think the sweet spot is around two-to-five pages, [with] your most recent experience at the top," Joyce said.

Should I include a cover letter?

Unless the advertiser states otherwise, taking the time to write a cover letter indicates a person's level of commitment in the application process.

As an 'anchor' to the CV, the job of the cover letter is to demonstrate further understanding of the role and fill in any gaps.

"Write the cover letter first and then check your CV against that, so what you say in your cover letter is reflected in your CV," McAlpine advised.

What is a useful format for the first page?

The first page of the CV should include the applicant's name and contact information, together with a broad summary of their career achievements.

"Put your name up the top, followed by an abbreviated format of your degree (if relevant) (e.g. 'BSC'), your city, mobile number, email address and Linked In URL," McAlpine suggested.

This would be followed by a career summary or 'narrative' of around three paragraphs, describing the size and scale of responsibilities.

For technology-based roles, Joyce said that hiring managers are likely to want to know how applicants have solved problems and collaborated with others to help the end-user.

"Almost all engineers can say ‘I was responsible for code’, but what will make your CV stand out is if you talk about how you were presented with a problem and had to navigate a number of challenges to find a solution," Joyce said. 

People wanting to move to a different industry needn't hide the fact that they have limited experience.

"What we want to see is that you’ve really thought about why you want to be an engineer (for example), and that you’ve gone out of your way to learn and grow in this area. 

"[Provide] examples of times when you’ve been out of your comfort zone and how you knuckled down and got [things] done. 

A powerful narrative is almost as tangible as work experience," Joyce added.

Is there a suggested format for listing work experience?

On the second page, McAlpine suggested a format for each role, as follows:

  • The name of the company
  • Title
  • Tenure of employment (month and year/s)
  • Key responsibilities of each role 
  • Key achievements (up to five).

"Under the job title, I suggest including a challenge on why you were hired in the first place, and provide context under responsibilities and achievements," McAlpine said.

"An example of an achievement might be 'Increased sales by 15 percent through engaging with clients and ensuring that product was fit for purpose'." 

Although tailoring an application for each job takes time, recruiters faced with full email inbox are likely to face a similar feat. 

Serious job-hunters are encouraged to understand the requirements of the role and tailor their application accordingly, increasing the likelihood that in the long-term, the time it takes to find the right one is a lot shorter.