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When you’re managing your own career search, there is often no shortage of advice of what to do, and what not to do. How to keep your CV/Resume to 2 pages, but still showcase enough relevant information. How to sound confident at interview, but not spill in to arrogance. How to build rapport, but not talk too much. How to get your profile to stand out amongst hundreds of applications, yet keep it professional.

Too many sources of advice, or ‘expertise’, can leave you feeling a bit confused, or even overwhelmed. To coin a phrase from the greatest career coach that never was, the problem is….

“Well, opinions are like a**holes. Everybody’s got one” (Dirty Harry, 1988)

Apologies for lowering the tone!

The point though is whilst many eagerly offer up their opinions (or sell them), often as gospel truths, those in a company involved in a particular hire will have their own individual set of personal preferences, so what resonates with one, may do the opposite with another! Some may like a brevity of style, whereas others may react well to whackier approaches. I am suspicious when I hear edicts of MUST do that or MUST do this. I’d suggest you don’t get bogged down worrying about absolutes.  Of course, you need to represent yourself as well as you can, but remember to be yourself from start to finish! Not doing so could make both sides worse off, and with all the will in the world (and training), people (and those pesky emotional responses of theirs!) will continue to pervade most selection processes in some way, shape or form.

So, that said, and having decried all those offering advice, what am I going to do now? You guessed it..….I’m damn well going to offer up my own pearls of wisdom! Having acquired 20+ years’ experience working in recruitment internally and externally, I am not without a certain amount of knowledge of what can work well at a broad level. I’m asked quite a lot to give advice on such things in fact, and given the circumstances I expect to be asked plenty more. As such, I thought this article may prove useful. I hasten to add, these are not instructions of a formula guaranteeing success. These are some simple observations that I hope may prove a helpful complement along the stages of your career search.



Key points to consider

Remember the CV’s purpose is to secure an interview, not to list of everything you’ve ever done. The appearance should be easy on the eye, so try to put yourself in the readers position. A simple guide of the right information, in the right quantity, in the right place will probably steer you down the right path. If you’re going to add a personal profile/summary, it should pack a punch and relate to the application.


  • Remember to check how it looks in printed version as well as on a PC
  • Use white space to make it easy for the reader to digest
  • Make the text easy to follow, try to avoid long sentences/paragraphs/narrative
  • Be cautious with creativity, make sure it stands out for the right reasons!

The right information, in the right quantity, in the right place

  • Page 1 is essential to draw in the reader – make sure the key information features prominently or it may never get read
  • Allocate detail to the role(s) most relevant to your application
  • Avoid needless repetition
  • Contextualise your roles if possible (e.g. scale of business operations, nature of industry)
  • Show your contribution – achievements/facts/figures/tangible outcomes
  • Include relevant information – education, qualifications, recognition, awards, promotions

Optional choices

  • Personal interests, but keep it refined
  • Explain significant gaps or reasons for leaving if you feel it could be detrimental not to do so
  • Use a skills/experience based format rather than chronological (often preferred by interims)
  • Written in third person (recommended)

Our recommended DO’s and DON’T’s


  • Spell check AND read it manually
  • Ask someone to read it too
  • Make the 1st page count
  • Give detail according to relevance
  • Show tangible/quantifiable results
  • Provide context


  • Forget to add contact details…….they need to be able to reach you easily
  • Make it stand out for the wrong reason
  • Write a novel (I’m not one of these 2-page militants, but consider the reader will have lots of CV’s to read)
  • Duplicate experience unnecessarily
  • Refer to skills to generally
  • Give inappropriate corporate information (e.g. sensitive or unpublished data)



Five key areas to consider:

  • Preparation
  • Striking rapport
  • Listening to the questions & giving concise answers
  • Demonstrating your value to the business
  • Showing an interest

Preparation: It’s important to get a sense for a company’s mission/strategic objectives, organisational priorities, and performance, both for you to know what you’re getting into as well as helping you to present your answers in the best context. Keeping an eye out for organisational changes, business results and the markets in which they operate could give you a competitive advantage at the interview. Areas to explore:

  • Company website (career site, media, mission, values, financial reports etc)
  • Business/broadsheet media
  • Personal contacts – previous or current employees

Striking rapport: First impressions and your ability to engage with the interviewers is critical. Technical expertise will get you so far, whereas organisational fit could be what drives the final decision. So, the personal connection could help swing things your way. Try to:

  • Be positive to everyone you encounter, you don’t know who may be asked for their opinion
  • Make some general small talk when arriving at the interview to keep it light
  • Make regular eye contact with all interviewers, not just the person asking the question
  • Remember to sound enthusiastic and upbeat where appropriate – even if you’re bored by what you’re saying because you’ve heard it all before many times by now!
  • Try to find out about them/their opinions or challenges if the chance arises, what attracted them to the company, about the company performance, impact of recent changes

Competency Based Interview

  • Plan multiple examples of skills ensuring you’re not repeating the same example as far as possible, try to use a person specification to identify likely competencies
  • Rehearse (STAR) to keep your answer concise, specific, and ticking each STAR box
  • Don’t be afraid to check if you’ve answered to the interviewers’ satisfaction

Answer the question

  • Answer the question you’ve been asked, not the one you wanted to hear and prepared for
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification before answering the question
  • If you’ve been talking for a long time without the interviewer speaking…’s time to make your point asap!

General pointers

  • Evidence & outcome is more powerful than general commentary of your skills
  • ‘I’ not ‘we’
  • Show the business reason behind your action, and the business outcome because of it
  • Avoid jargon or technical terminology if speaking to non-technical people




  • Your profile – make it visible and attractive to the desired audience
  • Building your network – connect to people you know, have been referred to, or see mutual value
  • Applying for jobs – make yourself stand out, ask for a referral if you know someone at the company
  • Join relevant groups – a source of jobs, insight and the chance to raise your profile
  • Finding information – get useful contact names, get background information on people at companies you’re applying for, how to use the search tools/ways round it
  • Raise your profile – write insightful comments, articles, share items you like

Your current contacts

  • Don’t be shy to ask for help, a direct route into a business can be the most effective


  • Plug in to opportunities for free networking or training events

Recruitment Consultants

  • Use good ones as a source of insight, information and expertise
  • Understand how they work and what to expect from them
  • Build rapport – if they like working with you, and rate you it’ll enhance your chances
  • Think things through properly before entering a process, don’t feel pressured into anything
  • Know when & what to tell!


This guide is also available to download here Outplacement – 2020 version

At The Highfield Partnership we’re always happy to give our advice and guidance, so feel free to get in touch with us. Contact information is on our website

Meanwhile, here are some links to some of the other articles out there that I thought were pretty good.