Reading Between the Lines: What a CV is Really Telling you

This is part two of a series. Learn how to identify when it’s time to add to the team in part one.

So your business is doing well, and all the signs show that it’s time to start adding new heads to the team. Finding the best people means you will soon be reviewing a stack of CVs, and it’s not a step you want to breeze through or approach haphazardly.

According to one study, the average recruiter spends only 6 seconds reviewing a CV. But that’s not nearly enough time to identify the stand-out candidates.

If you know what to look for, CVs can tell you much more about a candidate than just a list of jobs they’ve had in the past. All you need to do is look past the simple list of jobs for signs of what kind of employee this applicant really is.

Here are some of the valuable qualities a CV can reveal about a candidate that might not be immediately apparent.

1. Organisation, attention to detail, and preparation

The first thing to look for are CVs that are well formatted and that tell a clear story. If the ideas flow naturally across the page and the information categories are meaningful, it speaks volumes about how a candidate thinks and organises their priorities.

Typos aren’t just a nuisance; they can be a sign that the applicant is careless. When you’re looking for just the right person to make life easier for your business, details matter. We’ve all fat-fingered a typo or two on an email or direct message, but a CV is a formal document that the applicant should have spent time meticulously putting together. It should look like it!

Does the candidate care enough about the job to read through the job description, or are they just playing the numbers game and mass-emailing applications to every job opening they find? If the CV is targeted directly to your job posting by highlighting the skills that are pertinent to it, you know they took the time to look through what your business needs and tailored their CV to demonstrate that they have what you’re looking for.

2. The soft skills: communication, teamwork, and integrity

Soft skills—qualities that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people—are key for employees who will be dealing with customers and teammates frequently.

In fact, a recent study from researchers at Harvard, Boston College and the University of Michigan found that soft skills training, like communication and problem-solving, boosts productivity and retention by 12% and delivers a 256% return on investment based on higher productivity and retention, and these skills are expected to become more important for employers in the future.  

Spotting these soft skills on a CV isn’t easy, so what can you look for to identify them? Start with the understanding that the foundation of these skills is consideration and empathy.

This can mean doing something as simple as giving credit where credit is due. Is the candidate presenting their wins as solo efforts or as the result of collaboration where each member played an important role?

At any rate, even if they did everything on their own, indispensable employees often pose a bottleneck for processes. That tends to happen when only one person in the organisation knows how to perform vital possesses. Even if your business is just you, you’ll be better served by having a team player working for you—so look for signs of teamwork.

3. Grit and motivation

The challenges your business faces are as diverse as the day is long and, if not handled correctly, can threaten to move your business backward. Look for signs of tenacity on a CV.

When faced with a challenge, did the candidate stick to it and try different approaches to get a win for their client or previous employer? This can be a hard thing to demonstrate on a CV, but there are clues you can look for.

Does the CV give you the results of a candidate’s efforts? This can mean percentage increases or decreases, numbers of people served or products made, to just name a few metrics.

Even if the numbers aren’t applicable to what they’d potentially be doing with you, the fact that they followed up demonstrates their accountability and inclination to track their efforts. If the task was a particularly challenging or ambitious one, there’s a very good chance they explored different ways to get it done.

Similarly, motivated employees not only work hard but have the kind of drive that takes ownership of everything they do and transcends their job titles. Look for verbs like “led,” “developed” and “designed” on their CV and ask them to elaborate on those projects during the interview process.

4. Signs of progression

A CV can reveal a lot about the depth of an applicant’s experience, though don’t assume a long and varied accounting of their past positions means that they are a strong candidate. Here you need to think carefully.

How long was a candidate at their past workplaces? A long tenure can be impressive, but it’s more so if marked by an upward progression.

That said, the devil is, as ever, in the details, and exceptions to this rule of thumb are numerous. A candidate who takes a series of lateral moves to get a role that they wanted demonstrates resourcefulness, and a person who stays in one role for a long time could simply have a lot of passion for it.

Everyone’s story is different, and not all companies offer the same opportunities. The important thing is for you to make note of these details and use them to inform the questions you’ll ask during the next stage of the hiring process: the interview.

We’ll be tackling that topic in another blog very soon, but in the meantime, if you’d like to get proactive about sourcing talent, why not try Indeed CV which empowers you to search millions of CVs for quality candidates who are ready for their next move?