The case of a generic CV

Please, meet Kate. Kate has been looking for a job for several months now, she is a machine at sending CVs. Looking for a job is a full-time job for her and every day she applies for at least 5 positions. Yet, she has not been invited to a single interview. Looking at her CV, I understood why. 


Her CV is generic. 


Kate has tried to write a CV which “fits” all of the relevant positions at once. She does not want to re-write her CV every time she applies for a job. In her opinion, she saves time but from an HR perspective - she loses opportunities to be invited to an interview.  In the job market there is no such thing as “One size fits all”, because HR or Hiring Manager will never spend time on a CV which is not “spot on” and which does not tick off most of the “boxes” in the job description. Therefore, if you would like to be invited to an interview, you will have to EDIT your CV each time you apply for a position. 


Kate has asked me how to write a CV in a way that she can “stand out” and “be different” from other candidates. But here is the thing. At this stage, the company does not want you to stand out or be different. All they want is that your profile MATCHES their job description. As much as possible. 


Put yourself into HR’ shoes who is doing the screening. Imagine that you are doing the recruitment for several positions at once. Depending on the  complexity of the position, you are likely to get between 50 to 100 applications for each position. From experience, more than a half of these will be surprisingly irrelevant, something like “I am a ballet dancer, but I am applying for a Full-Stack developer position, because I learn fast”. As an effective HR person, you would want to quickly scan and sort applications into “absolutely no” and “yes, this looks interesting”.


What looks interesting is a CV, which resembles the job ad. This should come across in your CV even if someone looks at it only for 15 seconds. 


This makes your job of editing the CV quite easy. 


  • Have the job ad open on one screen and your CV on another. See what key competences are listed in the position and make a short summary about yourself (not more than 2 sentences!) on top of your CV. Use the same keywords which apply to your own experience.


  • See what responsibilities are listed in the job ad. Under each position in your employment history make a list of tasks for which you were responsible for. The tasks you are listing should be same or similar to the ones listed in job ad OR  somehow relevant/connected to these. Do not list absolutely everything you've done in your whole employment history. If you want - you would be able to talk about this at the interview. The goal at this stage is to get you to that interview.


  • In general, use as  many keywords from the job ad as possible (key qualifications, requirements, tasks, competences, etc). Please, keep in mind that HR people are competent in THEIR area of expertise, they do not necessarily know "inside out" specifics of the job of “Biocatalysis Specialist'', for example. Therefore, they will rely on the description of key competences received from the Hiring Manager and compare these to the received applications, looking for keywords.


  • Always start with the Employment History and only then list your Education. The timeline of your employment should start with your latest job. It is always an advantage if your CV reflects “logical development and growth”, showing that you are continuously developing in the chosen field (as opposed to “jumping” professions and jobs).


  • Shorten your CV to 2 pages max. 


  • Use a professional template where the information is well  organized. I am still getting a lot of CVs which are written like continuous text. It is really a painful process to go through something written like a novel. There are lots of templates available online, please see - OR, for example.


  • Use a “business picture” in your CV. Although this should go without saying, I am continuously surprised by pictures like  “Me, eating pizza”, “Best friends together” (with 3 ladies in one picture it is hard to understand which one is a candidate) or “Selfie in the bathroom mirror”. 


  • If you have time gaps in your CV, please try to give a short explanation to these. For example, you have not worked for a year due to full time studies or work on a freelance project. You can list the time and the activity together with the skills acquired during that time to "close" this gap.


  • Get someone to proofread your text. Mistakes leave an unpleasant impression that a person did not want to try hard to present himself/herself in a proper way. 


  • Remember to attach a Cover Letter (søknadsbrev), where it is required. The absence of the Cover Letter can be perceived as lack of motivation. The cover letter should be visually less than a page. Please, avoid “retelling your CV” in the cover letter and using any generic information like “I am a hardworking person and a good team player”, “in my free time I like…”. All the company needs to know is how your experience is relevant for this particular position. Give concrete examples on how your expertise can contribute to their concrete requirements.


Questions? You can always contact me and you will find me here.