What gets a CV binned by an agent?

What’s in your CV can make the difference between being put forward for a role or not. But what key factors can ensure that yours stands out from the hundreds of others?

The most often-quoted rule-of-thumb is to keep your CV under two pages, or three at most. But arguably more important than length is ensuring that it is tailored for the role advertised. Particularly important is the front page summary, as if this doesn’t obviously match you to the role, you’re likely to be binned at the first hurdle.

“I once got knocked back for an enterprise architect role because the first page of my CV didn’t include the word ‘C++’,” says one contractor. “I spent the first ten years of my career doing C++, not that it’s relevant to the role anyway – and because it wasn’t on the front page, it didn’t get seen, and I didn’t get put forward.”

But not everyone agrees that a concise CV is required for every role. “Sometimes I like to see a bit more than that,” says recruitment agent Norman von Krause, “as I like to be provided with as much detail as possible, without going mad – particularly when people have had a lot of jobs.”

“Sometimes very senior roles can require more than two or three pages,” agrees Sarah, an IT recruiter for a large agency. “But in those cases the first page should make it very clear what qualifies you for the job.”

Other things guaranteed to get your CV filed in the bin include: “too much colour used, i.e. coloured fonts; fonts that are too wacky – it’s all a bit try-hard; and daft email addresses – stuff like sexybitch@hotmail.com”.

“Pointless information is a no-no on the first page,” says Sarah, and for experienced professionals this can include education details. “I’m not interested in the O-level in Biology you passed twenty years ago.”

So what are the things that will make sure your CV is seen by an agent – and seen by a potential client?

First, you need to make sure it can be found by an agent. Making sure that your CV hits all the potential search keywords – a sort of search engine optimisation in miniature – is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to make sure your CV is at least going to be found in the megalith databases of Monster and Jobserve, not to mention the various internal databases that recruitment consultancies use. So a WCF developer should make sure that their CV contains every possible combination of technologies, roles and acronyms that an agent searching for a WCF developer might look for – for example, .NET, Windows, Communication, Communications, Foundation, Developer, Programmer – and of course WCF.

As one agent wrote in the CUK forum recently, “A computerised search can scan CVs in more depth than I can, in far less time. “If I can do something in 5 minutes, or two hours, with the same net result, which am I going to do?”

“Computerised searches are a fact of life, especially in IT,” adds Sarah.

Most important of all, though, says von Krause, are “CVs that are clear and easy to read. Write about your duties and experience in detail but don't use too many words. We don't want to see an essay!”

Graham Taylor

ContractorUK has partnered with the UK's leading authority on Contractor CVs to provide a FREE review of your CV and LinkedIn profile. Contact The CV & Interview Advisors and one of their team will get back to you to discuss if your CV and LinkedIn profile matches up with industry best practice.

Further reading: IT contractor CV template guide here and Content and example contractor CV here