Career Advice

The Customised CV: Why You Need It and How to Write One

Female student at home studying.

Generic CVs should be banned. Sending out the same CV to every vacancy is one of the biggest mistakes a candidate can make.

The only things that should be generic on your CV should be your name and contact details. Everything else should be tailored to the specific vacancy you are targetting. Here’s why:

Some recruiting staff and hiring managers reject standardised CVs automatically. You may think sending the same CV to a range of vacancies is efficient, but to the employer, it indicates laziness and a lack of commitment to the job and the company. The logic is that if you cannot be bothered to write a customised application for their specific job, you don’t care much about it.

“But how will they know it’s standardised?” I hear you cry. As a former recruiter, and now careers journalist, I can assure you that recruitment staff can spot generic CVs immediately. The tiniest details can give the game away. One HR chief told me: “Even using the phrase ‘your company’ rather than the company’s name can betray a standardised letter.”

Just changing the name of the company on an otherwise generic application or CV is risky. HR staff have told me of application forms where candidates have inadvertently forgotten to change the name of the company to which they are applying. This is likely to prompt an automatic rejection as it shows lack of attention to detail — and anyway, it’s just rude. Small oversights will be picked up. One hiring manager told me: ‘I’ve had letters saying “I’d like to work for a multidisciplinary international company — which we are not.”

The same goes for cover letters: a generic letter gives the impression that this is just one more application out of a huge pile. No employer likes to think they are just one of a long list of possibilities, and it makes the candidate look indiscriminate, or even desperate.

The message is clear: every application form, CV and cover letter must be targeted at the specific vacancy. Think of jobs and employers as you would a potential romantic partner. You would not just market yourself to them as a generic commodity but as a person who is right for them.

So writing a customised application is essential. I know it’s time-consuming — but there are many benefits over and above the fact that it’s less likely to be rejected.

A targeted application makes you think carefully about whether you are applying for the right job, which will give you a head start over some less savvy candidates. A recruitment consultant recently told me that candidates should ensure their CV “fits the job description as closely as possible — many don’t.”

By reading the vacancy carefully, as well as researching the company and the role, you can get an idea of what skills and experience the job calls for and construct your CV accordingly.

This is not to say that your application should be a work of fiction. Stick to the truth, but highlight those elements of your experience, qualifications and achievements that match the requirements of the job. If you are listing projects you have worked on, for instance, be sure to highlight those that are particularly relevant to the vacancy.

Cover letters are particularly prone to be standardised. If you send one, make it short but specific to the role and include some facts that make it clear that you have researched the company. Mention one of their products that you have used or refer to a recent (positive!) news story that has spurred your enthusiasm for the company.

As well as reducing your chances of avoiding rejection, the research required to create a customised application will also stand you in good stead when it comes to preparing for an interview. You will be confident that you fit the vacancy and you will know a lot about the job and the employer—- all good starting points for working out how you will answer interview questions.

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