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What I Have Learned From (Not) Reading 50,000 CVs

ResumeCV_KennedyExecutive_CareerBlog

In my career, I have received approximately 50,000 resumes (obviously I did not read them. Otherwise I would have no time to write this posting!). The reality is that I take less than 1 minute on the resumes I receive. And I am in good company: Research says that the average recruiter spends 6.25 seconds per CV before deciding “this one is not for me”.

The CV is thus the worst ROI in your job search strategy: you have spent 20, 30 or 50 hours – and you have lost us after only 6 seconds! And yet, the CV is (still) necessary. It is the entrance door to the phone call you will get which will eventually lead to the invitation to a job interview and an offer.

What are the 7 key learnings I can share with you after years and years of reading CVs?

  1. Bear in mind that the recipient receives a lot of CVs. They have to understand quickly if you match the selection criteria or not. Up to 90% of the CVs received on any given vacancy don’t. One of my clients, a multi-billion USD firm, told me they had received 250 applications for their new CFO. Among those was one from a 27 year old oboe player who stated she had never worked in finance, but always wanted to become a CFO…
  2. Most managers I know are short on time. So are you and I, right? It is vital that you deliver your message in a concise way and to the point. Make it short. The “cover letter”, today being replaced by an email should be 3 short paragraphs max on a screen. The CV itself should ideally be two pages and never more than three. I met a candidate once who had a 14 page resume and explained that he felt he had to compensate for his missing studies. Well, nobody who wants to work efficiently has time to read a 14 page resume.
  3. All the essential information should be seen at a glance and on the first page. What is your professional identity? What makes you special? Which languages do you speak? Make sure that everything you want to be read is on the first half page. If the person in front a) understands and b) likes what s/ he sees, s/he will read on. But you want to make sure not to hide essential information on the last page. Because 95% of the readers will never get there…
  4. Also, choose a file name that can be easily saved for easy referral (e.g. “Stegemann_CV”). A doc name such as “CurriculumVitae_english” or “CV_name_November2013_NEW” (I have seen all that) cannot be saved and or retrieved under its current name.
  5. On hobbies or leisure activities: One candidate asked if it was ok to put “belly dancing” under skills or interests (well, I would say it depends what job you apply for…). Should one put hobbies or interests into the CV, if there is a connection to the job (e.g. “cars” if you apply with Porsche). Otherwise I would say no if there is no relevance to the job/ the reader.
  6. Proofread: check (or ask someone to check) for gaps and inconsistency in the flow – and typos wich are alwas inacepptable (if you spotted three in this sentence, you are on a good way). If necessary, explain gaps and try to establish a logical transition from one job to the other, e.g. by adding the reasons for leaving. The reader will look for several things in your CV: consistency, gaps or a good explanation if these are not given
  7. Say the truth: It goes without saying that everything you write can be checked. Lying or “embelleshing” can result in immediate termination of your work contract and every court in the world will be on your employers’ side…


Conclusion:

Make it easy for us to invite you. We have to decide very fast. Only put data that is essential and relevant, the most important ones on the first page. If your CV has more than 3 pages, prioritize and shorten it. Finally, run one last final check for gaps – if you don’t, we will ask hard questions in the interview or we will never invite you.

Jorg Stegemann
Jorg Stegemann - Headhunter, Certified Coach and Business Writer - is head of Kennedy Executive Search. Apart from running Kennedy's company blog, he writes for Forbes, BBC and other media.
  1. Camille Reply

    Very demanding, and risky as approach: some excellent candidates may be missed simply because they do not have have a good CV.

    • Jorg
      Jorg Reply

      Camille, Thanks for your reply. This is why you should work with a headhunter you trust. S/ he will sell you and bypass this potential objection a hiring manager might have… Our job is to match a job and a candidate based on hard and soft facts, based on the skills and the potential. If we believe that you are the one, we will go to the end and do everything to convince our client to meet with you…

  2. Enrico Reply

    Jorg, just wanted to thank you for delivering this information that candidates should consider. I find it really positive that you explain us how a job application should be done. Thanks a lot. Enrico.

  3. Pawel
    Pawel Reply

    Hi Jorg – on top of what you stated above “I spot “mistakes” in 99% of all resumes” I’d love to see a % of job posts that you find “mistakes” in… :)

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Pawel – this is an excellent comment! If we talk about “job descriptions”, they should be considered with the same caution…

  4. Anoop Reply

    Hi Jorgs,thanks a lot! I am finance controller in the hospitality industry but most of time when I apply, I did not even get any response. I wondered if there was an issue with my CV and now I understand there is!

    Thanks!
    Anoop

  5. Didier Reply

    Interesting sum up for everybody
    Merci Jorg

  6. Wendy Enelow Reply

    Excellent article, Jorge! With 30+ years of experience in resume writing, it’s always valuable to hear what recruiters have to say about how they review resumes, what’s important, and the best strategies to capture attention.

    And, totally unrelated, I was just in Denmark 2 days ago. Great European Rhine River cruise with 2 airline stops in Denmark. Didn’t see much of the country, but what a lovely airport!

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Hi Wendy,

      Small world: I know you from LinkedIn! Thanks for the comment.

      Return to Denmark soon and my colleagues will buy you a good Danish coffee. Same for the rest of us of course!

      Best
      Jorg

  7. Alessandro Reply

    Dear Jorg,
    Thank for your article!
    My experience: Recently I had my resume reviewed by a very experienced head hunter and now it can be read in less than one minute. The cost was quite high but when I calculated the ROI… it will be a good investment if it will bring me in the future additional 1,5€ per month.
    Regards
    Alessandro

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Hi Alessandro,

      Thanks. What do you mean with 1.5 € per month?

      Best
      Jorg

  8. Alessandro Reply

    I meant that what I spent will be worth if it will bring me in the future new opportunities with an average salary that is 1,5€ higher than the actual one. This was my very simple calculation to prove that the cost, considered as investment for my future career, was definitely not so high.

  9. George Reply

    It was my impression that re’sume’s and CVs were first mostly scanned by special software, rather than actually read by a human (even if for 6 seconds). This article makes no mention of that fact, nor how the scanning software works – yet if my assumption is true, having a scan friendly document is almost as important as its actual content. Does Kennedy Executive actually physically review each document received?

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      Hi George, great question. Thanks. Yes, here at Kennedy a qualified Consultants reads every CV we get. The scanning softwares or “ATS” are used mainly in big corporate companies. A client told me once they get 3,000 CVs per day. This cannot be done by a human…

      Also check out “ATS, Savior Or Nemeses Of HR?” on this blog.

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