Brushing up on job application skills

I have just been made unemployed after 30 years in the same company. I am not at all sure about how to navigate the new world of job applications and am struggling with online applications in particular and the notion of keywords. What are the main ways that things have changed and how should I adapt my cv to fit the application form? Any help is much appreciated.

Job Description


This question is increasingly common – things have changed over the years, but reassuringly some things haven’t. A CV is your self-marketing document; it’s what sells you with the aim of getting you an interview. Nowadays a LinkedIn profile is more important than a CV – it should be consistent with your CV, but it’s the algorithms which will get you noticed by recruiters and there’s a number of top tips that’ll help. Here’s a link on how to get found by recruiters. LinkedIn is the 2nd best way to find a job.

The most proactive way to find a job is through your network – over 75% of roles come through a networking connection, so my advice would be to spend time networking; getting in touch with former colleagues, suppliers – people you trust to let them know of your career aspirations.

If you are applying for an advertised job online applications are typical and they can be incredibly daunting with many intimidating open questions which always seem to have very large spaces waiting for your answers. Questions like these, often behavioural or competency-based, are very popular ways of testing a candidate’s suitability, but they are also your opportunity to sell yourself. Here are some key tips:

  • Read the job description thoroughly and note down the key points you need to convey
  • Before you complete each answer, put yourself in the employer’s shoes and think about what they are looking for
  • Make your answer easy to read using headings, short paragraphs and avoiding large blocks of text. Bullet points can help
  • Look for the key words in the job description (for example, high pressure, team player and initiative) and include this language within your answers where possible
  • Back up each point you make with evidence or examples. If you can’t back it up, it’s questionable as to whether you should include it
  • Do not waffle, use jargon or clichés.

When you look at the job description, highlight the keywords i.e. what the employer is looking for. Then reflect how you can demonstrate how you’ve done these keywords in a variety of situations. It’s always best to mirror the language of the job description so make sure to include these exact words so they can compare like for like. This is especially important if a robot does the first search online which is increasingly common. If you don’t have certain skills in your CV/application, your profile won’t be a match and you’re unlikely to get selected.

How to get your CV noticed

You need a CV that works for you. It is your marketing document, but you should be aware that the average recruiter is likely to spend no more than 2-3 minutes reading it. Recruiters spend most time looking at your current job, job title and length of time you were in post and the previous one plus your education.

Spending time on your CV will focus your mind on your skills and achievements – and is useful to remind yourself of this in advance of those networking and interview meetings. Networking and getting in front of the relevant “point of purchase” person is your Number 1 priority.

A CV is never a single, finalised, document. It is an organic document that grows with you. A CV is always rewritten for a particular organisation or job. Make sure you adjust the profile to reflect the role you are applying for; and you may need to adjust your achievements to reflect the needs of the organisation or role. You should adapt your CV to fit the application for in terms of the language used.

Tips to create an outstanding CV:

    • In terms of CV design, it is more a question of format than content
    • A marketing document needs to be eye-catching but for the right reasons. All too often the wrong reasons are spelling and grammar!
    • Write it from the perspective of the person reading it or, increasingly, from the point of view of the search engines that are going to look for key words
    • Help recruiters by making the CV easy to read. This is so that they can pigeonhole you, which is how they work. An outline sequential order of the key elements might look like this:
      • Start with a profile. This will catch the eye and tell people where you have come from, where you are going, what you are looking for. At all costs avoid words like ‘dynamic’, ‘ambitious’, ‘creative’ – there is no way you can prove those things. Make the profile a factual statement.
      • Your previous experience should be listed next, in chronological order from the most recent role. Recruiters are only interested in the last 10 years. Focus on outputs which should be quantitative. Process, i.e. what drove outputs is less important.
      • You might need to include a brief positioning statement – what the job was and where it sat in the organisation, but avoid in-house jargon, such as EMC, DivMD etc
      • Tell it as a successful journey. Arrange your achievements to reflect the importance of these issues relative to the organisation or role you are applying for
      • You need to say something memorable about yourself to spark an interest in arranging to meet you
      • An ideal length of your CV is 2 sides/1 page. However, it doesn’t have to be one page of A4, but it absolutely can’t be on 15 pages. It should be designed to sell you as an individual, but there is no fixed rule
      • In the qualifications section give the highest level of qualification you have. If you have a degree then you don’t need to list all of your GCSEs and A levels or your cycling proficiency certificate.
      • Don’t forget your contact details, preferably at the top of the page. Make it easy to read and easy to find out how to get hold of you. Your mobile number is very important. Your email address should be name-based
      • You get wide choice of fonts and proportional spacing on typefaces, experiment and see what looks best, choosing one that is clear and easy to read, preferably in black and either size 10 or 12
      • Don’t be tempted to reduce margins too much to give yourself more space. Try to remember that less is more
      • If emailing your CV, send it as a PDF (portable document file). These tend to look professional and are not as easy to alter as a Word processed document can be
      • If you ask a career coach or recruiter about CV format you’ll get a different answer from each of them. There is no right way to write a CV, but what is really important is that you are happy with it and it reflects your brand and is what you might call “fit for purpose”.


    Remember the CV is just one of a number of tools available to market you…

    *Liz Sebag-Montefiore is a career coach and Director of 10Eighty, a strengths-based HR consultancy. For more information, please visit

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