Ensure your CV makes the final cut

First published in the New Zealand Herald

We’ve all been there. Sending CVs to recruitment agencies and not being selected for a job that seemed a perfect fit.

Sure you can roll with the punches — some you win, some you lose. But plenty of job seekers wonder why they didn’t make the cut.

Ben Pearson, general manager of Beyond Recruitment, says it’s important to remember your CV will be viewed on screen, not printed out.

“A recruiter will be quickly reviewing CVs so rather than graphics and bling, you need to state right up front why you are suitable for the role you are applying for,” he says.

A recruiter will place the most emphasis on recent work history, so clogging up the first page with subjective material such as personal statements and goals is not advised.

“Keep your contact details in the footer or header of the page, a few bullet points stating specific, evidenced suitability for the role, followed by work history on page one.”

Pearson also advises to tailor your CV for each role, “which can be a hassle if applying for multiple roles, but is time well spent”.

The increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) systems to sift through CVs is saving recruiters time but is it costing job hunters opportunities?

Katherine Swan, country director at Randstad New Zealand, says AI is built by humans and in any recruitment process there is an opportunity for bias.

“The risk is that bias is built into AI so AI should be approached with cautious optimism [by recruiters],” says Swan.

“For many years now, tools have existed to help find candidates with the right mix of skills, from a large talent pool of people.

“Recruiters use tools such as Boolean search strings to find people using keywords and phrases. So, whether a recruitment company uses AI or not, it is very important that candidates state the exact skills and tools they have on their CV.

“At Randstad, we use AI to help answer rudimentary questions — similar to bots like Oscar by Air New Zealand — to ensure candidates meet basic criteria. This also supports the candidate experience. It is very frustrating as a candidate to go through a recruitment process only to find out they cannot take the role due to some basic criteria not being met.”

Pearson says AI is still in its infancy but believes it has potential to improve. “AI is proving quite useful in the job advertising search phase,” he says. “If you register on a job seeker database your details [if you agree] are shared with recruiters so you are likely to find recruiters contacting you proactively.

“The AI helps the recruiter find you in the crowd. At this time the technology is still immature and imperfect, so some candidates are getting unwanted approaches from recruiters and some are relying solely on contact from recruiters, that does not come.

“Once your CV has arrived at the recruitment agency, there is usually little AI intervention. Your details are automatically ‘parsed’ to the recruiter’s system but recruiters will tend to run more specialised and custom search and reference methods to assess your suitability.”

Swan says AI is quite capable of missing perfectly good candidates.

“There is every chance that AI, currently, can remove good candidates from a process. Our response as employers and recruiters is to proceed with caution and test, test, test the systems to ensure that not only are the best candidates being appointed but that there is no bias in the system.

“I would advise candidates, should they be unclear as to why they were unsuccessful, to ask for more information,” she says. “People are fallible, as are systems. Unfortunately, good people are always missed, no matter how robust a test, a system or process.”

But there is a way to circumvent the AI filters and that’s to call recruiters for a chat. “That is not always possible or appropriate,” says Swan. “But it is a good way to connect with the consultant and check the status of the application.”

And if you thought you can trick the systems by adding certain words and phrases to your CV — think again.

Pearson says: “AI revolves more around the candidate’s behaviour rather than CV wording. For example, a recruiter seeking BA candidates may be presented with a CV based on a job candidate’s past searching record. You can’t really cheat the AI.”

Bottom line is: recruiters know what they are looking for and sometimes people stretch themselves to fit.

“People also have to remember that just because they think they are a good candidate, that doesn’t mean they necessarily are the right person for the role,” says Swan.

“In most cases the only information they have to go on is an advert. This doesn’t provide context about the overall culture of the organisation, the strength of the current team, the experience levels of the hiring manager or what will make a person successful in the role.

“How could a candidate be expected to know that? Rejection is very personal and it is easy to take it personally. But I would encourage candidates to take time to understand why they were not selected. This assumes that they are receiving informative feedback, which should be the case.”