I contributed to a noisy, interactive live Q&A session on Guardian Careers today. Lots of people having problems with the written side of the job-hunt, some of those problems were familiar, some not so familiar. I summed up my thoughts on the session as follows:

(1) Understand how CVs get read in your sector. In nearly all cases, this involves a quick “is this person in the frame?” whizz-through your document. If yes, you get onto the ‘possibles’ pile, if no, you are in the bin. Therefore, you have to write your CV with that quick look in mind. You need to persuade the reader halfway down page one that you are a “possible.”

(2) On the second pass through a pile of CVs, the reader is looking for role match and organisation match. You can’t do this unless you have completed some meaningful research into that role/organisation. People do get hired from speculative CVs – just as some smokers live to be 99 years of age. Don’t go betting the farm on being the 1 in a 1000. Research and tailor accordingly!

(3) On a final pass to lock down the shortlist, the reader is looking for intangibles – personality coming through in your writing (cover letter!), professionalism (really clean and clear layout), independence (don’t use a CV template), team fit (which is why an ‘Interests’ section can still be important).

Bottom line, it’s very easy to reject candidates en masse and at arm’s length when you are wading through a pile of CVs or application forms. Don’t make it easy for the reader to do this because of carelessness (spelling, formatting, grammar etc) or because of laziness (one size fits all CV).

A few years back, a solid all-the-facts-are-here CV had a good chance of getting you an interview. Now, your CV needs to be something special. What’s changed? Well, the content can’t change – you are still the same person with the same experience and qualifications. So what has to change is your sweat level in producing a stellar document to represent you to an uncaring, unfeeling marketplace. I tweeted this a little while back and I think it sums the whole thing up:

Date: Thursday 3rd May 2012