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Make your CV stand out

Published on Friday, 17 Oct 2014
Photo: Lau Wai

Jobseekers may have their own ideas about what makes for an eye-catching CV, but they should also remember that, as far as recruiters are concerned, certain conventions should be observed.

So, unless candidates are applying for roles which absolutely scream "creativity", the best approach is to stick pretty closely to the usual guidelines for format and content, while ensuring clarity and accuracy, and showing that they know what is expected of them.

"Most employers will spend no more than two or three minutes reading a CV - and sometimes much less," says Alan Wong, managing director of Kelly Services Hong Kong, who has seen his fair share of good and bad submissions over the years. "Therefore, it is important to make sure your CV is clear, easy to read and truthful."

There is no firm rule on length, but employers will obviously expect that a more experienced candidate will have more to say than a final-year student or recent graduate. In either case, the key point is to focus on quality, not quantity, and to include achievements and contributions that are quantifiable.

For instance, if you organised a student conference, briefly note the range of speakers or number of attendees. If you headed a business unit, indicate headcount or growth in turnover.

"Also, always make your CV relevant to the job that you are applying for. A generic version sent out in hope, or as part of a mail shot, is easy to spot and is never likely to impress," Wong says.

With more companies now using information systems to sift and store applications, it does make sense to include a few key words in your CV and cover letter, picked out if possible from the job description or advertisement. If done carefully, this can improve the chances of getting into the candidate pool or, in other cases, being called up later on when a suitable role becomes available.

But the golden rule is still to be yourself by not over-exaggerating your achievements. If you do add too much shine, people will simply find out the truth at the interview.

"Integrity is very important," Wong says. "Everything you include should be true, including things like the duration or title of a job in a previous company."

For more experienced candidates, he adds, starting with a mission statement or career summary can be a good idea. However, it must be custom-made for the target role and, ideally, should avoid lapsing into corporate jargon or business-school catchphrases.

However, for younger applicants, it is often better to use a chronological or functional format to highlight the acquisition of different skills in directing, say, a school play or running a university society.

Including a portrait photo can be a nice touch, but most employers do not pay much attention to this unless the job on offer is regarded as "customer facing", and where appearance - rightly or wrongly - will be a factor.

"I may be old-fashioned, but I still think having a cover letter with the application or as an attachment is a sign of respect," Wong says. "The employer also sees your writing skills, and a well-written letter can help you stand out from the crowd."

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