How to read a CV?

Being able to quickly and accurately assess a candidate’s CV is key when hiring a new employee. Knowing how to review a CV but also decipher it will help you determine whether a candidate is right for you. As a recruitment specialist, member of an HR team or other, gathering the information you need takes practice.

Of course you will want to look at past employment, degrees or qualifications and school exam results. But to really find stand-out and interesting candidates, we encourage you to look beyond the obvious.

Here are some of our top tips for reviewing a CV, and knowing which applicants are best qualified for the job role you’re recruiting for.

1. Before you start

Take time to write a really clear job spec. List the core responsibilities that the candidate will undertake. Think about who your ideal candidate is, what education they have, their work experience… But more than that their personality. What sort of person will fit into your company culture? Who can bring something new and fresh or fill a gap for example?

2. Look past qualifications

You might be used to looking straight at A-Level or GCSE results on a CV. Naturally you will want to examine the skills and qualifications that a candidate has to see if they’re relevant to the job. However we encourage our clients to look past qualifications. We have seen excellent candidates slip through the net because of a ‘botched’ A-Level result. Instead look at the CV or the person as a whole. What did they do after their A-Levels? After their University Degree even. Do they have an MBA? Have they dedicated their time to higher education in the form of Diplomas or Masters. Compare their entire skill set to the skills required of the job you’re hiring for.

3. What have they achieved?

In a similar theme, don’t get bogged down in job titles. One company’s Team Assistant is another company’s Executive Assistant. Look at what the candidate has achieved in their previous roles. What were their goals, what difference did they make to the company? This could be big or small but something that made an impact.

4. Think about transferable experience/skills

Candidates may have picked up transferable skills throughout their work experience. Some of these will be generic things like computer literacy, people management or a foreign language. Be sure to take time to look at the candidates ‘extras’. Would being able to speak French, for example, outweigh having direct experience in your industry. Other transferable experience might be what are described as ‘soft skills’. Things like their ability to problem solve, the way they perform under pressure or their customer service skills. Someone who might have worked as teacher previously but is now applying for a PA role would have excellent organisational, management and communication abilities. A recent graduate who has stacked shelves at a supermarket or waitressed throughout university demonstrates they are hardworking, gritty, organised and responsible. Look at what differentiates candidates.

5. Dive into their interests

A candidate’s interests is where they can really show their personality, passion and dedication. It can be a good talking point for an interview too. Someone who has spent the last six years volunteering with a charity or mentoring will have a wealth of experience that they can bring to the job. Likewise, if they have hobbies such as coding or videography – both skills people pay highly for. Learning something new shows commitment and motivation.

6. Personality matters

No matter how many letters someone has after their name, if the personality or attitude isn’t right they won’t work. It’s not easy to get a feel for someone through their CV, although all of the above will help. If you’re intrigued by someone, pick up the phone for a general chat before dedicating time to an interview. Think about what personality traits will work for the job you’re hiring for. Personal and Executive Assistants work very closely with their employers, as such you need to get on. Think about what they would bring to your team as an individual and what they can add to your company as a whole. What is their background, what fresh perspective might they bring?

7. Diversity counts

This is now more important than ever. Companies are richer for a mix of individuals. Think about what different cultures, nationalities, ways of thinking can bring to your business. Building diversity into a company has to come from the top down. It isn’t just about offering internships and mentoring programmes, it’s about hiring a diverse work force in senior positions.

8. Track growth

One candidate’s First from a leading university may equate to another candidate’s three Bs at A Level. People with different opportunities will peak at different times in their life. For some people, their greatest achievements may stop at school, for others they’ll go on developing and growing in their career. Look at how the candidate has maximised their opportunities.

9. Clues to look for

Read between the lines by taking note of  visual presentation. What does the CV look like? Has it been formatted neatly. Is it accurate? Are there spelling or grammatical errors. Look out for gaps in jobs or why people left. If there are inconsistencies or lots of movement between jobs you might ask yourself why?

10. Conclusion

When you are working with a respected recruitment agency be open to interview suggested candidates. Ultimately, while experience and education matter, it’s all about the fit.
If you’re looking to hire a Personal Assistant, Executive Assistant, Private PA, Virtual Assistant or other Office Staff candidates please contact one of our recruitment consultants on 020 7468 0400 or email us

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