Former police officer Peter Kelleher provides advice and guidance on using a CV as a tool in your job search.

If you are getting ready to put the word out that you may be in the market for changing roles, you would do well to have at your disposal some pre-prepared tools like a CV, a LinkedIn profile and an “elevator pitch” – in essence a verbal summary of your main accomplishments and achievements along with what you can offer a new employer.

I would like to focus on the CV side of things in this post.

If, like me, you joined the police service at 18 (and a half – that extra six months must have been important!) having arrived straight from school or college, you will likely have had no need for a CV.

As is the case in many other public services, the police relied on having potential new recruits complete seemingly endless application forms with multiple boxes to fill in.

This turned out to be useful practice for the subsequent 30 years worth of form-filling that lay ahead.

While much of the public sector remains application form based there is still great value to be had in developing your own CV.

This is because the majority of jobs – perhaps over 70 per cent – are never advertised but can be accessed through your network of friends and acquaintances, in essence people who you know and who know you.

Research tells us people are much more likely to buy from individuals that they know, like and trust – and the same can often be true of employing others, particularly if that role is in a small business.

Here it is even more vital that the new person fits in to the existing company culture and doesn’t upset existing staff.

That’s why many small and medium sized employers will want some form of personal reassurance around the person they are looking to employ.

Accordingly, if you have contact with friends, neighbours, business contacts or even some acquaintances down the pub or at the gym, you will want to have a form of words ready that lets people know you may be available for employment (or hiring as a consultant) that doesn’t sound like you are desperate and leads to the next stage: either a direct “Why don’t we meet for a coffee?” from them or “Can you let me have a copy of your CV?”

If you want to demonstrate how organised you are, you will want to send it immediately, striking while the iron is hot rather than having to scrabble around getting some words together and trying to figure out whether they are any good.

That’s best done in “slow time”.

There is a whole range of advice and guidance out there around CV completion, but the difficulty is that so much of it is subjective.

There is no one way to write a good CV. It depends very much on where you are coming from, what skills you have to offer and what you are looking to get into.

In essence, the primary purpose of a CV is to get the applicant through to the next stage of the selection process, whatever that may be.

It could be an interview or, more likely these days, involve some online or offline tests as an intermediate stage.

This sifts more unsuitable applicants out and means there are fewer – and more likely better suited – applicants to interview. Time, after all, is money – especially in the world of commerce.

The problem can sometimes be, though, that CVs aren’t read by the recruiting manager who understands the role and the skills needed to fill it, but by a (sometimes junior) HR assistant who has been given the unenviable task or sifting through piles of applications from prospective employees. It might even be read by a machine!

How can they know whether your qualifications are well-suited to what is required or whether your achievements are those that would be of use to the company? This is why many CVs get a quick scan of about six seconds before a decision is made.

Unfair? Certainly. Understandable? Definitely.

Put yourself in that person’s shoes and think how you would select one successful candidate from a considerable pile, on top of an already significant workload.

The secret is in visual communication.

Certainly your choice of language will be crucial.

You need to explain what you have done – your achievements – crisply and succinctly but using language that anyone can understand.

This will not be news to those who have completed countless promotion forms describing how they “adapted their communication style for the needs of the audience”. If the sifting employee doesn’t understand what you have done, guess what, your CV will likely be on the rejected pile before you know it – when in fact you could have easily been the best person for the job. And you will never know why.

How you present information on the page is of equal importance to your choice of words. If the CV is going to have a maximum scan of seconds, what key words will you need to ensure are read?

How will you need to ensure these phrases stand out in some way?

It may be easier if you are responding directly to an advertised role because you can tweak your CV to hit the elements they are looking for, but it is often harder with a generic CV or an unrequested submission.

Bullet point phrases can be a useful feature here.

Presentation is, therefore, critical, with carefully laid out sections that lead the reader to the most important points first. I think back to when I was designing my first book cover. What I originally submitted to the designer was worlds away from what the designer eventually produced for me – it simply blew me away.

And that is what your CV needs to do too. Look great, be succinct but packed full of useful content and be easy for the recruiter to read and find what they are looking for. Help them to make it a “yes” and you will be well on your way to success.

Of course, there’s a lot more to it. We have got loads of great information on the ‘Advice and Guidance’ page of this website, or simply get in touch and we will be very happy to help.