Contractors’ Questions: With my CV, am I alone in raging against the machine?

Contractor’s Question: Am I alone in raging against the machine when it comes to CVs? I ask because I signed up with a recruitment agency to try their ‘free CV assessment’ service and, looking at the results I’ve got, it’s unclear if the ‘assessor’ had a pulse or just lots of programming!

The response I’ve received, while on the surface looking like it was from a human, has the feel of something scripted. It even reads like a carefully-designed attempt to get me to spend money on the agency’s next CV service, a ‘professional’ rewrite I’d need to pay for.

That service could be run by a machine though too! Paragraphs like this one fill me with absolute rage: ‘Your CV is saved in PDF format. 19% of CVs look like yours. While this may make viewing consistent for recruiters, some older Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have problems reading them. If you have the ability, you might consider saving your document in MS Word format for some online submissions.’ Sorry, but I now need to go and invest a new version of Word just to find a job? Absurd. Any advice?

Expert’s Answer: Let’s break this topic down into three parts to try and calm you down! Firstly, we’ll pick apart the automated ‘free CV assessment’ offering – secondly, we’ll talk tactics on how to optimise your CV for recruitment software – and thirdly, we’ll provide some support for you and others who need it.

Free CV Assessments

You are pretty much on the money that these automated CV assessments are often scripted sales pitches. I’ve seen the same ‘stock’ response dozens of times from one particular CV writing company, no matter what the CV you submit says!

I’ve also heard stories from someone who had insider knowledge that users of the assessment tool would receive a ‘low’ score for their CV, subsequently have their CV rewritten (by the CV rewriter; human or otherwise), and when they ran the newly written CV through the assessment tool, hey presto, the score which came back was ‘high.’ In actual fact, the score was just totally made up, to fool the unsuspecting customer into believing that their CV was now much stronger.

In addition, receiving a score without a benchmark is also flawed logic. How can a CV score 57%? 57% of what? The only way to measure a CV’s match is to compare it against the specific requirements of a role. There are some CV assessment tools that allow you to upload a CV and job description, and these provide a much more useful yardstick.

CV Optimisation Tactics (format, headers, title)

Despite the integrity of various CV assessment tools (or lack of), the logic of optimising your CV for recruitment software is still sound.

You mention the issue of having a CV in PDF format and this is indeed something to act upon. I’m sure there will be some techies who want to pull me up on this, but a PDF is essentially a photograph, and the algorithms within recruitment software have a hard time reading the text.

The same applies to graphics such as logos, which may affect the CV’s appearance once it has been parsed by recruitment software.

Headings are also important. Firstly, make sure your CV has headings and secondly, make sure they are commonly used ones. Having a ‘Work History Synopsis’ may sound cool, but the CV bots won’t have the faintest idea what on earth that section is! ‘Professional Experience’ on the other hand, is a much more optimised heading that matches with what the software is programmed to find.

Another error which contractor job candidates commonly make is to put their limited company as the first position. If a recruiter / company is looking for an ‘IT Infrastructure Manager’ and the recruitment software analyses your CV to find that you are a ‘Managing Director at John Doe Consulting Ltd,' it isn’t going to end well.

IR35 considerations

Obviously, for many contractors, this phrasing and prioritising needs to be balanced with any need to promote an outside IR35 status -- a topic we will cover in more detail in our upcoming webinar for ContractorUK readers, on Tuesday August 25th:

Having your job title or IT contractor skill, or at least how you professionally describe yourself, after your name, is a great tactic to signpost your CV and help the bots figure out what you are!

A postcode can also help if it’s a geographically sensitive role where the recruiter is looking for someone who lives within a certain radius of the company’s premises. Many a contractor has been ruled out of an opportunity simply because the recruitment software was unable to ascertain their location.

A bit more help?

If you would like a CV appraisal via a real person, my team would be delighted to oblige. It might not be instantaneous, because we’re into rushing something so important, but it will be genuine, high-quality, and useful. You can find out more here:

Also, here’s the sign-up page to the webinar Advanced CV Writing for Contractors webinar on August 25th, where we’ll cover CV optimisation, IR35 tactics and much more.

The expert was Matt Craven, winning-work and CV expert from The CV & Interview Advisors 

Tuesday 28th Jul 2020
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Written by Matt Craven

Matt is the Founder of The CV & Interview Advisors and Linked-In-Credible. He is considered to be a thought-leader in Personal Branding and is regularly engaged as a public speaker to deliver advice and guidance to global audiences on all things related to CV authoring, career advancement, LinkedIn, personal branding and thought leadership.
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