What a great idea to put together a conference for MSc graduates to explore careers in different branches of Occupational Psychology.

However, as a Chartered HR professional rather than a Psychologist, why did the Division of Occupational Psychology want me to speak? I wasn’t quite sure how they thought I could contribute to the debate – and as opening speaker no less!

It turns out that it was my experience as a recruiter that they wanted me for; to hear from the horse’s mouth how to get your CV past a recruiter and selected for interview. I could have been forgiven for thinking that Psychology graduates, particularly those interested in work-place environments, would have a head-start on how to put a CV together.

But, it seems that getting your CV right, is a universally difficult thing to do – whatever your expertise.

My aim was to help people see how a recruiter makes decisions about your CV and covering letter. There were five points that seemed to hit home the most:

1. Think about the recruiter who has to look at your CV

It is human nature to think about how much detail you can cram into your CV; “I must try to sell myself as much as I can”. But actually, what does it feel like for the recruiter to read your CV, which could be number 27 out of a much bigger pile? Do they really want to have to wade through lots of pages crammed with details? Do they have lots of time to make sense of your work history? Are they going to be sympathetic if you have spelt their name wrongly?recruiter pile of CVs

So, make it 2 pages, make it clear and make it memorable. Importantly, your starting mind-set is not about you, but about the person reading your CV.

2. A recruiter does not read your CV

What? Doesn’t read it? No, the first thing a recruiter does is scan your CV. They cast their eye over the whole lot, trying to get a feel for who you are, and how to find information about you.

Imagine when you are googling a number of web pages looking for something specific. Do you read every web page, word for word, start to finish? No. Of course not. You scan the page, seeing what it feels like, forming an opinion about how easy it is to access what you are looking for, and generally getting a feel about whether the information is hitting the right target.

The same applies to a recruiter. So, it is important to make the sections clear so that they jump out at the recruiter, make the layout of relevant pieces of information (Job title, company name) clear and easy to find. And use bullet points not long sentences. You need to make it easy for them.

3. Your most recent experience(s) is the first thing they look at

A recruiter does not start looking at your CV from the beginning and read it diligently through to the end. They go to the most relevant piece of information first. This is usually your current or most recent activities/work experience. If they like the sound of that, plus they are finding it easy to scan the rest of your CV, they will carry on exploring.

This means you absolutely must make your current experience and activities easy to find and clear to understand. Write a few words about your position and your responsibilities, then go into bullet points about specific activities and/or achievements. This is likely to be the longest section on your CV, but should still be no more than half a page.

4. What does tailoring my CV really mean?

We all know we should tailor our CV. But what does this actually mean?

First, use the words that they use. Don’t talk about customers if they talk about clients. Don’t talk about key account management if they talk about customer relations.

Secondly, be prepared to change the order or de/emphasise some content about your previous experience depending on how important it is to the new role.

And finally, don’t forget to change the personal statement to talk about their company, their role and why you are suited to it.

5. Use the personal statement to say why your CV is in front of a recruiter

Recruiters hate long descriptions of vague skills that are full of words but say nothing. Think, “I am a professional but fun-loving, team oriented individual who is also happy working independently with excellent communication skills who likes responding to a challenge……” Please. It’s taken you ages to write but tells the recruiter nothing. And once they have glanced at that, are they going to be inspired to read further?

A personal statement is usually three sentences designed to communicate to the recruiter why your CV is in front of them:

First is a sentence that summarises how you have got to the position you are at right now (“I am a recently graduated Occupational Psychologist with work experience in xxx industry”).

The second sentence is something short and memorable about your character (“When I was volunteering at xxx, I became known for my ability to deal calmly with angry and distressed people”).

The final sentence is why you want the role, where it fits in your career, and why you are suitable. (“It is due to my experience as a counsellor combined with my research studies that I believe I can add value to xxx as a xxx. In addition, this role will enable to fulfil my longer term ambition to work within the xxx industry”).

Good luck to all the people graduating and hoping to secure an interview for their first role.