Apply the Seven Second Rule to your CV

There is a wealth of advice available to help you prepare a great CV. Perhaps too much, so many applicants find it very difficult to see the wood for the trees.

Indeed, one of the most frequent topics of conversation Prism have with candidates is around CV advice and feedback and it is clearly a very vexing topic. This is not helped of course by the sheer weight of information and diverse advice. If you ask five different recruiters, you’ll probably end up with five different views!  Even paying money for CV help is no guarantee of a good result and at Prism we’ve seen some shocking examples of wasted money.

A useful approach is to put yourself in the position of someone reviewing your CV

Can someone favourably assess your relevant experience, career history, qualifications and strengths within seven seconds of opening it?

Some CV reviewers make an initial decision very quickly and research suggests this can be seven seconds.

That sounds appalling, disrespectful and probably confirms your worst fears but alas people are very, very time-pressured. The line manager is struggling to review some CVs between client meetings; the recruiter (internal OR external) may have 30 minutes to review 50 (80? 100?) advertisement applicants. However when as many as 95% of candidates don’t meet the “essential” applicant criteria,  CV reviewers may feel they have little choice but to be brutal.

You have to make a good impact, so that you don’t fall at the first hurdle:

1) The CV should definitely be under four pages. Ideally between two and three.

2) Avoid poor format, tiny font size, confusing layout, big blocks of dense text or, conversely, overuse of bullet points.

3) Ensure there are job-relevant keywords and phrases placed to catch the eye (but not in bold or capitals). Assume a human will read your CV, but be aware that this might not be the case, and that software may be used which looks for certain keywords.

4) Employers, dates, roles and whether your past consulting roles were contract or perm need to be crystal clear. Unknown firm? Explain what they do. Avoid anything confusing. Concurrent roles? A gap? Weird or unhelpful job titles? DON’T fib but make it simpler if possible.

5) The last five to seven years of your CV will be critical in determining whether you get to the next stage: is it easy to see what jobs you have held and why you are suitable? If the role requires sales experience does this stand out? Similarly if leadership is essential does the CV say you have led people, and how many? If depth in transforming customer service in banking is needed is that clear?

6) Do not assume your persuasive cover letter will be read: it certainly won’t be if you fail the Seven Second CV test. All relevant information must be on the CV.

7) For the same reason don’t put key information in densely packed “summary” or “introduction” sections of your CV. The reviewer will want to easily see what you’ve done and when and will immediately look at the Employment History section, so all key information needs to be here. Other parts of your CV may never be read.

8) Typos? Check, check, and check again. Do not rely on spell-check. It may not alert you to a misuse of form and from, or Principal and Principle. If possible, ask someone else to read it: a fresh pair of eyes can often help.

9) Don’t forget LinkedIn: we’re cheating slightly here because that will only become relevant if you pass the Seven Second CV test but your LinkedIn profile must pass its own Seven Second test. Be under no illusion: most people WILL look you up on LinkedIn and MAY change their mind one way or the other depending on what they find.

Elsewhere on our site you will find more advice and resources to help with your career planning,  job search and interview preparation.

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