How to create an ideal CV and use it to supercharge your job hunt

Fidelis Navas, founder and Director of Gamma Talent, outlines what practical steps you can take to creating a great CV - alongside other smart ways to stand out from the crowd when looking for a new job.

By Fidelis Navas: Founder and MD, Gamma Talent: Responsible Recruitment for the Third Sector

Getting the CV updated. Remembering the names of strategic partner organisations who no longer exist. Recalling old job titles. Googling different words to use instead of repeatedly writing, “I did this…. I did that” on application forms.

Job hunting can be exhausting. It takes perseverance and commitment from everyone at all stages and walks of life. But I think it can be especially daunting for those who haven’t had to job hunt for a decade or more.

A number of candidates that fit this description have been in touch with me recently, the majority of whom were at a cross-roads, unsure what to do. Gaining a true understanding of their skills and knowledge, sorting out a CV and getting a view of the kind of jobs available in the sector were initial tasks.

But I found the most important task was actually just to do something, anything. Like ripping the plaster off – taking the first step into job hunting was the biggest challenge, regardless of what that first step ended up being.

If you find yourself in a similar position, here are some suggestions to help you start the hunt to find your perfect new job:

1.     What are you capable of doing? 

When it comes to finding a new job, too many of us leap to the end point and start googling jobs, where the results can be overwhelming. So start at the very beginning, thinking about what you like to do, what makes you happy and gets you motivated:

a)     Write down what you are proud of in your career history – explore why this is so. What is it that you liked about these achievements, what part did you play in order to achieve this success? Are there common denominators from a skill set point of view, that you could explore in a new role?

b)     Specifically think about successes and happy memories.  When you’re thinking about change, get yourself into a positive frame of mind. Don’t linger on all the things that went wrong, as that wont help your approach of being open to new ideas

c)     Draw strength, confidence and inspiration from what you’ve already achieved during your life. Going through the different stages of your life, including childhood, make a list of everything you’ve achieved at school and work, including friends, family, volunteer work. Look at this list whenever you need reminding that you need not be scared of change – your achievements will show you are more than capable of succeeding on this new adventure.

2.     Sometimes it is easier to know what you don’t want, rather than what you do want. 

And this is totally okay.  Frequently, candidates say to me, “I know what I don’t want, but I’m open to what I do want”. This is fine, at least you have a starting point of where not to look! So now you’ve worked this out, don’t stray into these roles. Stay focussed.

3.     Networking is not a dirty word. 

Networking is another word for catching up with friends and work colleagues. You can do this from your desk via LinkedIn, Facebook etc. – or out and about at events or arranging coffee dates with old contacts. Talk to them about what is happening with you, remind them of your successes. Ask them to keep an eye out for roles. Inquire if they can make introductions to other people. The lovely thing about the charity sector is that everyone has a genuine desire to help people; it is ingrained in our psyche.

4.     How to write a CV

Remember there are no hard and fast rules. But you’re aiming to give a formal overview of your experience and skills. Try to keep it to two pages and don’t go any smaller than font 12. Definitely put volunteer work down and do not be afraid to note work absences, such a “Concentrated on family life January 2005-September 2009” or “Travelled Europe August 2000-July 2001”. I would suggest something along the lines of:

1.     Write an overview paragraph saying what your strengths are

2.     Under the header, ‘Employment’, write out your job title with a few bullets outlining what the job was but most importantly, what your successes were in these roles. Note the month/years for each role.

3.     Write under the header, ‘Education’, your educational and professional training experience, with dates. Again, use bullets.

4.     Write under the header, ‘Personal Interests and Achievements’, your interests and hobbies. Add any volunteering experience here. Again, use bullets.

5.     Get up to date on LinkedIn.

And visit it at least once a week…. Although my preference would be once every 48 hours! This is a social platform based on work, where you can connect with people of similar interests and follow their observations and activities.

Add some content to your profile about your skill set and experience (use the text from your fabulous new CV!), seek out individuals that you don’t know and ask to follow them. Be polite and chatty. Make comments on people status’, and actively like what they’ve said as this will mean your name shows up in other people’s feeds – this is what you want, like a snow-ball effect, your name will get out there. 

Jobs are advertised on LinkedIn too and you can let recruiters know you are looking by ticking a simple box when you sign up. If you’re openly looking for roles, talk about the roles you are interested in your profile. I’ve also come across some really thought-provoking bloggers on LinkedIn that have certainly helped me with my approach to my work. See what you can find – and share the hell out of the good stuff!

6.     Applications forms and covering letters need to be succinct but not comprehensive. 

They are there to get you to the interview so look at what the Person Specification and Job Description and explain what experience you have in doing what they are asking for.

You don’t need to give an example for every single one and that’s what I mean when I say it doesn’t need to be comprehensive. Put your most relevant answers here but remember to save a few back for when you get to the interview.

7.     Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Recruiting managers are not horrible people – they want the very best from you in order to see you at your best. Ring up beforehand to get an understanding of the role– prep some questions to ask them.

Make sure you have your questions written down to ask at the interview. If a role is advertised as full time but you’re after part-time, ring up and ask them about flexibility of hours. By having a conversation with them beforehand, you will also get a feel for the organisation before you turn up at the interview – which could be really good for managing nerves. Plus, you’ve hopefully left a positive impression on the Recruiting Manager, leaving them excited to meet you.

8.     It’s interview time! 

Turn up early. Make the journey (if it’s possible) in the days beforehand, so you know where you are going on interview day. Wear comfortable but smart clothes. Take your time in answering the questions, and always say at the end of each response, “Have I answered your question fully?”

Often the interviewers are scoring you, so this gives you chance to make sure you’ve covered all elements of the question. Plus, it makes you confident that you’ve given each answer your best shot.

9.     Finally, it is normal to feel overwhelmed by job hunting.

This is understandable if you haven’t had to find a new job for years. Conquer the fear by acknowledging it instead of ignoring it. And revisit step 1.c above.

Fidelis Navas is founder and MD of Gamma Talent: Responsible Recruitment for the Third Sector