It is well known that first impressions are all-important in the workplace. However, what is easily forgotten is that your employer’s impression of you is made before you even step through the company’s door.
Puth Sithy, the executive director at online recruitment portal TopJob Cambodia, scrutinises the CVs of at least 10 shortlisted candidates every day. He explains to Management Insider why an attention-grabbing CV is essential to getting noticed. “We receive hundreds of CVs, so we don’t have time to look at each one in detail,” he says. “We miss good candidates simply because they’re not writing good CVs,” he says.
There is a set of easy rules to follow to ensure that your CV can take you as far as your potential allows.
In such a highly competitive market, a clear structure will make a CV stand out. “It’s best to start with the desired job title,” Sithy advises. “This can be followed by a summary; for example, a candidate could say, ‘I have 5 years’ experience as an account manager with X and X, and I want to go on and achieve X.’ Then, they should list their education, experience and achievements.”
Pheaktra Tep is the HR and admin manager for Power Transmission Lines, an engineering firm. Like Sithy, he receives a huge volume of CVs: Some positions he advertises attract more than 200 potential candidates. Dealing with this many applications means the review process must be fast, giving a simple, clear CV a
far greater chance of being selected. “I first look at experience and education, and then I make a shortlist of people that stand out. Then I screen again, checking the details of their experience,” he says. “A good CV has the length of each previous position, and your responsibilities there. If it doesn’t detail responsibilities, we just skip it.”
Designing the Details
Tailoring your CV to focus on the relevant parts of your personal work and education history is important. “People with longer work experience should list their work experience above their education. With recent graduates and people with less experience, it should be the other way around,” he says. “For skills such as languages, it’s important for candidates to state their skills levels clearly. Make a distinction between listening, reading and writing skills.”
Sithy says he also judges a candidate’s English-language skill by how well their CV is written. “We can see if they have good English, editing skills, good spelling and attention to detail,” he says. You should double check
a CV to correct any spelling and grammar errors before sending it, or ask a friend to look over it. It’s not just what you say in a CV that is important – it’s how you say it. “It’s important to sound confident,” says Sithy. Using an active voice rather than a passive voice when describing your accomplishments makes you sound like a stronger, more confident candidate.
Personal interests are a common stumbling block for potential candidates. “Too much irrelevant personal information – like weight, height, marital status and religion – that isn’t necessary. Some people put uninspiring interests like watching TV or playing on the Internet. Good interests to list are productive activities like team building, or research on specific subjects,” says Tep. “Personal detail is not a priority: we can find out afterwards. It’s OK to just include a few hobbies near the end,” adds Sithy.
Employers don’t like CVs that are too long. For Sithy, short is sweet: his ideal length is just a single page, while Tep gives a three page limit. Fussy and over-complicated design and format is also a no-no. “Always use A4 paper, and make it simple but good looking,” says Sithy. “Use Times New Roman font in size 12, or Calibri font in size 11 or 12,” adds Tep. “Too many font changes makes the document harder to read, and the formatting takes away from the content. Don’t overuse underlining or italics.”
Adding the Extras
Attaching a cover letter to a CV isn’t always appropriate, but in some situations it can be helpful to a prospective employer. “It depends on what the company you’re applying to wants, but if I have questions about the CV, I look at the cover letter,” says Sithy. “It should inform me about the candidate’s motivation to apply for the position, and what abilities they can bring. However, it shouldn’t be too long.” The two experts disagree over the need to attach a photo: Sithy says it is unnecessary in all cases, while Tep concedes that although it’s an unpopular measure abroad, Cambodian employers prefer to see the face of future employees.
CVs are about showing employees your best self and your fullest potential: If you’re struggling in the job market, it is worth taking a look to see if it’s your CV, rather than your skill, that is holding you back.
Words by Eve Watling | Shutterstock