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The Bright Side: Cut your CV to fit the job

By Jim Bright

Make it easy for the recruiter and forget the outdated information, writes Jim Bright.

Danielle writes: "I have a CV dilemma. A friend told me that you should only list the jobs you've had in the past 10 years in your current CV as recruiters only look at your past three roles and your CV needs to be no longer than four pages - however, my career spans 20 years."

"In that time I have had a number of roles and my concern is how to fit it all in the four pages. I have been working on updating my CV for the past few months and am stuck, yet I want to maximise my experience in the best possible light. Do I tell the whole story or only part of it? If I only tell part of it then the years and breadth of experience are lost. What do you recommend?"

My recommendation is that Danielle needs to do three things:
■ Change her attitude;
■ Use the "fit" model of CVs;
■ Understand how to write a persuasive narrative on her CV.

Danielle is looking at her job application from her own perspective rather than the employer's. It does not matter too much what Danielle thinks should be on a CV; what really matters is what the employer wants to see on her CV. So Danielle needs to see her CV through the eyes of the recruiter or employer.

This might involve her doing some research (such as phoning or Googling the company, talking to friends in the industry and reading the job ad and position descriptions in depth) to get a clear idea of what the employer is looking for.

Then Danielle needs to apply the "fit" model. The first step of this is to break jobs down into four components:
■ Knowledge requirements - what you need to know to do the job;
■ Skill requirements - what skills you must possess to do the job;
■ Ability requirements - being able to use and apply your knowledge and skills in a range of ways;
■ Attitude requirements - what makes you tick.

The second step is to think about yourself in terms of knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes. Make lists and draw things from your education, work and hobbies (if necessary).

The final step is to make up a list of your own knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes according to my three rules:
1. If it increases the fit between you and the position, include the information on the CV (and try to say it in the interview).
2. If it decreases the fit, omit it from the CV (and don't mention it in the interview).
3. If it is likely to have no effect on fit (or you are not sure if it will), only include it if there is room (or say it in the interview if there is time).

If Danielle follows these steps, it will become clear which parts of her job history to emphasise and which bits to drop. The idea of including only the past 10 years is a reasonable rule of thumb but if you've done something longer ago that is directly relevant and will increase the fit, include it. Finally, Danielle needs to think of her CV as telling her story. Does the information present a compelling story of why she would be the perfect fit?

This means Danielle has to do the work for the recruiter by joining up all the dots so it is clear from the briefest of looks that her story fits with the role.

Jim Bright is professor of career education and development at ACU and a Partner at Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy. Email marked clearly "FOR PUBLICATION" to

Published: 15 October 2011

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