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Insights from HR: CV tips from someone in the know

My Job
My Job

You see a job that you are keen on, you brush up your CV and send it off. But what happens next? While you sit back and hope for a call, what happens to your CV? Let’s follow its journey and speak to a young human resources manager, Shireen McWhite, to hear what it’s like to receive hundreds of CVs, and find out exactly what they look for and how they decide who to call.

When you advertise a job, how many applications do you receive?

A typical job can receive close to 500 applications. It depends on the job, but the less specialised it is, the greater the flood of applications.

What do you look for in a CV?

From the get-go, I like to see if the person understood the application process. Have they included the right references and the right documents? It’s fair to say that if they haven’t got those basics right, then they won’t get looked at any further. If you can’t get the application process right, what does that say about how you are going to perform on the job?

Qualifications are obviously important, as is work experience. I really like it if people can show that they worked while they studied. It speaks to time management, grit and independence.

I also look for gaps in CVs. Why haven’t the applicants worked? It often tells a story. Also, how long people were at their previous jobs. These days 24 months is a good length of time. Being able to see growth in roles is also important.

What can applicants do to help their CV stand out from the rest?

Do not use regurgitated templates. Remember the people who receive your CV are looking through hundreds of CVs a day and something fresh is always appreciated. Having said that, you don’t have to decorate your CV or be overly elaborate. Nothing says amateur hour quite like a picture or an emoticon.

You’ll stand out for the right reasons if you are concise and well formatted. You’ll stand out for the wrong reasons if there are spelling mistakes, different fonts or if things are not chronological.

Is there an ideal length?

It shouldn’t be longer than three pages, but if there’s only enough information for one page, don’t pad it. Keep it simple, short and sharp, enough to get you noticed. Think of it as an invitation to a party. The CV gets you there, but the party is the main event, and that is the interview.

How important is the covering letter?

A covering letter is not essential. It’s the skill set that is being looked at, and if the covering letter doesn’t highlight the applicant’s skills, then it doesn’t help the process.

Any final insights or words of advice?

Make sure each CV that you submit is sent with care and detail. Get friends to look at it. If you know a designer, ask them for help. And network. Connect with people. Use LinkedIn and start conversations with the people you want to work with.

Stay informed! Visit the SA Department of Health's website for COVID-19 updates: