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Your CV Has 7 Seconds to Get a Recruiter’s Attention — Here’s How to Make It Count

Posted by Emily Moore

Last Updated 4 May 2020
|6 min read

There’s no doubt that your CV is the most important document in your entire job search. With just one glance at it, recruiters decide whether or not to move forward with your application. So it’s fitting that many jobseekers spend hours on their CV, trying to get every last detail right. But despite how much time you spend on it, odds are, recruiters will only spend seconds looking at it — seven seconds, to be exact.

7 second cv book with james reed signing

No one knows this better than James Reed, chairman of recruitment company REED and author of the new book, The 7 Second CV. All of the information in the book comes from interviews, surveys and workshops with REED recruitment consultants. As a result, the book contains heaps of valuable, practical tips for jobseekers, whether they’re new to the workforce or have years of experience.

Glassdoor chatted with Reed recently to learn more about why employers spend so little time on your CV, what they’re looking for and most of all, how you can grab their attention. Here’s what he had to say.

Glassdoor: Seven seconds — wow! That's not a long time. Why do recruiters spend so little time scanning CVs?

James Reed: Recruiters and hiring managers often receive hundreds of CVs for one position - and generally speaking - only one CV can be successful.

The first scan of your CV may not be by human eyes, but by a computer programme or ‘Applicant Tracking System’. This means you have a matter of seconds to make a lasting impression, which isn’t a long time — less time than it takes to boil a kettle, in fact. But the seven-second rule doesn’t have to be dispiriting. If you know what recruiters are looking for in your CV, you can use this to your advantage.

I wrote The 7 Second CV to give jobseekers a unique insight into the recruitment process and to show them how to go beyond seven seconds.

Glassdoor: Given the short amount of time, you mention that it's important to "tell [recruiters] up front why you’re one of the best candidates for that particular job." What exactly does that entail?

James Reed: Your CV has one purpose only: to win you the interview. In order to get there, your CV needs to be able to show the person reading it that you are the best person for the job. So, how do you do this in seven seconds? It’s all about knowing and articulating your unique selling points. Yes, you should list and evidence your relevant work history, skills and achievements, but you should also emphasise what makes you unique. What can you bring to the table that other candidates cannot? The best CVs I’ve read are ones that give me a flavour for who this person is, not just what they can do.

Glassdoor: In your mind, what separates a good CV from a great CV?

James Reed: A great CV is one that lands you the interview. One recruiter told me that ‘a great CV isn’t just words, it’s numbers too’! Make sure that when you’re writing your CV, you are able to provide evidence of your achievements and back up your claims with quantifiable figures, where possible. For example, if you’ve worked in finance and completed 3,000 invoices a month on the ledger, don’t just write ‘I completed the ledger’.

Glassdoor: You stress the importance of relevant work experience, but what about career changers? Do you have any tips for how they can stand out even without having perfectly relevant work experience?

James Reed: If you don’t have relevant work experience for the role you’re applying for, it doesn’t mean you’re out of the running or that you can’t make your CV stand out. It just means that your CV might have to work a bit harder than if you had the relevant experience.

Focus on your transferable skills, and find ways of showing you have what it takes to succeed even if you don’t have the direct experience for this role. For example, if you’re switching to a job in marketing after spending your career in Learning and Development, you could emphasise your ability to present information in a clear, logical and persuasive way. You’ll also need to explain your reasons for changing careers. Many of the most successful career switchers didn’t have relevant experience for the role, but they were able to demonstrate why they wanted to change careers.

Glassdoor: One of the ways you gathered information for the book was by talking directly with recruitment consultants. Were there any insights they provided that really surprised you?

James Reed: I often say ‘a team is a genius’, and that’s why the advice contained in The 7 Second CV is crowdsourced. I asked recruiters and hiring managers across the country with years of recruiting experience, ‘What makes a winning CV?’

One particular nugget of advice stuck with me. It was from a recruitment consultant who summarised how to write your ‘Key Skills’ section brilliantly, advising:

“There should be three things that are obvious in your key skills: the first is a number (five years’ experience, for instance), the second is a name drop (where did you get that experience?) and the third is proof.”  

I also came across some ‘CV horror stories’. One of which was an applicant who had apparently ‘usurped his manager’, and various other unfortunate spelling mistakes.

Glassdoor: We often hear stories from jobseekers who are discriminated against because of their age. Do you have any tips for how they can overcome the challenges they encounter in the job search?

James Reed: Unfortunately, this isn’t that unusual. Despite having legislation in place to combat age discrimination, there are occasions where jobseekers report feeling discriminated against because of their age.

If you’re an older jobseeker and you’re concerned that your age is working against you, it’s important to shift the focus away from your age and onto your ability.

Sometimes it can simply be down to an outdated approach to job seeking. If you’re only adding new jobs to your CV and not reviewing your CV in its entirety, you could find yourself failing to impress.

Glassdoor: As chairman of Reed, you must've hired many people throughout your career. Are there any CVs in particular that really wowed you? What made them stand out?

James Reed: I recently took on a new executive assistant, Molly, through our Graduate Training Scheme. Her CV impressed me because it showed that she had worked successfully in three different companies in the group and had proved herself to be capable, adaptable and trustworthy.

Glassdoor: Anything else you want to add?

James Reed: What stood out from the research I carried out for the book is that your CV must inspire trust, and inspire a recruiter to make that leap of faith by offering you an interview. Taking on a new person is always a risk for an employer, which means that CV mistakes and obvious exaggerations are a huge turn-off. On the other hand, there are plenty of ways you can present yourself as the most credible candidate for the job.

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