James Reed 7 Jan 2019 04:25pm

What do recruiters want? I asked them

IT turns out that recruiters are a pretty reasonable bunch and their needs are few. They want your curriculum vitae (CV) to tell them up front why you’re one of the best candidates for that particular job, be clear and easy to read so they can compare it instantly with other CVs and bring out your mindset and personality

I know this is what recruiters want, because I’ve asked them. I’m fortunate enough to be chairman of the Reed Group, the UK’s largest  recruiter, which gives me access to around 12,000 employers advertising their vacancies on reed.co.uk every day. Not only that, at Reed we have our own network of 2,000 recruitment consultants, who work both with companies that are searching for people and with people who are looking for new positions.This gives them a valuable understanding not only into what recruiters want from a CV, but also into the elements that jobseekers find most difficult to write about.

By surveying recruiters via our site, and by travelling up and down the country talking to our in-house recruitment specialists, I have a clear picture of what goes on inside a recruiter’s head. In other words, not what you might think that they’re after, but what they actually put into practice when they open the CVs that are sent to them. At the same time, I surveyed the job hunters who browse the 250,000-plus roles on our website every day. I quizzed them on what they thought were the most important elements of a CV, and how they went about writing one. This has given me a unique insight into the problems anyone might be grappling with when they go about crafting their CV.

So what did I learn? It turns out that what recruiters think most makes a CV stand out is relevant work history, closely followed by a clear visual layout that’s easy to read. However, spelling mistakes and frequent job changes are likely to land it in the reject pile. A quarter of hiring managers use applicant tracking systems to screen CVs, and three quarters prefer a CV to be two pages long (if printed out, double-sided is best). According to them, you’re also advised to use a reverse-chronological format, to include a cover letter, and to be prepared for your social media profiles to be scrutinised. 

Collating all these discoveries together led me to create what I call "the fatal five", or the five key mistakes that could land your CV in the reject pile. They are, in order of importance:

1. A lack of relevant work history 

2. Spelling mistakes 

3. Frequent job changes 

4. Not enough information 

5. Poor visual layout 

This may all sound obvious stuff. You would be astonished how much it isn’t, across all job application types, both internal and external, and from first jobbers to senior staff appointments. Learning what I did in the course of my research, I had no choice but to write my new book to help new job seekers everywhere.

James Reed is the chairman of REED – Britain’s biggest recruitment brand and the largest family-owned recruitment company in the world. He is the author of two books, Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again and Put Your Mindset to Work, which he co-authored with Dr Paul Stoltz. His new book The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview is published by Virgin Books.