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Questions to ask a friend editing your CV

friends editing cvYou’ve spent hours making sure your CV fits on two pages, and have proof read it twice. Surely now you can email it to hiring managers? Not so fast. Before you send your résumé into the world, it pays to have a friend check it over – and not just for spelling mistakes.

‘The best question to ask isn’t “what do you think of my CV?” but “what does my CV say to you?”’ says John Lees, author of a wide range of career books including The Success Code.

‘Listen to the story coming back at you. If you recognise and like what you hear, and it makes sense, your CV is working. If the feedback is that your document is sending out conflicting messages or doesn’t tell a coherent story, you may need to start again.’

Once your friend has finished reading your CV, ask them the following questions:

What kind of job do you think I’m applying for?

You might be tempted to write a generic CV that you can fire off for a range of jobs but this is nearly always a mistake.

‘If you want to stand out from the competition, you need to demonstrate why you are the perfect candidate for this particular job. If your friend can’t tell what kind of role you’re applying for, a hiring manager might not be able to either,’ warns John.

And while your various skills and experiences may connect to make you the perfect candidate for the role in your head, it may not necessarily come across on paper.

‘Successful CVs tell a narrative – if your friend can’t tell what kind of job you’re going for, you need to re-think your work history to date and come up with a more coherent story.’

Did you have to read any sections twice?

Recruiters are busy people. If the information on your CV isn’t easy to understand at first glance, they’re unlikely to re-read it.

‘If your friend had to re-read a particular section, it’s a sure sign you need to go back and re-phrase it. Consider using bullet points to help get the information across,’ suggests John.

Did you spot any gaps, or have any questions?

Gaps in work experience are a red flag to a recruiter. Don’t presume you can fluff your way around an issue at interview, take time to write a convincing explanation on your CV.

If your friend is unsure why something has been left out – or included – on your CV, you need to go back and work on it some more.

And if your CV doesn’t pass the friend test..?

If your CV isn’t working as it should, John’s advice is to turn it over and ask your friend to put the following six questions to you. You should answer as concisely as possible, and ask your friend to jot down your answers.

What do you hope people will say when they recommend you?

Your first answer needs to get past the need for personal reassurance (“I hope they say I am a person of integrity/ fun to work with/ reliable”) and move towards work – “I hope they say I’m brilliant at analysing information”.

1. What are you known for?

2. What will people say about your skills? Make sure you answer by talking about skills (things you do) rather than personal qualities.

3. What will people say about your experience? What sectors have you worked in that might make you stand out? What organisations have employed you?

4. What will people say about your areas of knowledge and expertise? This works really well with someone who isn’t familiar with your field of work so they need to ask questions to understand what you’re trying to get across.

5. What makes you a bit different? Think hard about what you have already said. What combinations of skills, experience, and knowledge are likely to get you recommended?

6. What to do with the results ‘By this point your friend, even if not a skilled interviewer, should have about one page of bullet points for you. This is your starting point,’ says John.

‘Your job is to trim this material down so that you can remember what you want to say, and others will remember what they hear. In other words, you distil until the list is the right length: small enough to communicate effectively but long enough to get your key messages across.’

The ‘So what?’ test

Once you’ve rewritten your CV, John suggests asking your friend to apply the “So what?” test.

He explains: ‘whenever your CV mentions a responsibility, skill, or an achievement, your friend should ask the same question: “so what?” Anything obvious, dull, unimpressive, or emphasising skills normally performed by more junior staff, should be rephrased or cut.’

Once done, it’s ready to be sent out… after you’ve proof read it twice more, of course.

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