What recruiters are looking for when taking on new candidates

A recruitment consultant – whether in house or with an agency – is your gateway to a new role. But what are they looking at when they have a job to fill? And how do you make sure you get their attention?

The first step: your CV

You’ve seen a job advertised. It’s right up your street; you have the correct qualifications and experience. What do you do now? Unless the recruiter already knows you and has your CV on file then you’ll need to send yours off to the recruiter.  

But don’t dust off an old CV and hope that it will do. It won’t. Dan Brown is Senior Manager at recruitment specialists Robert Walters. He says: ‘You’d be surprised the amount of bad CVs we get sent. Your CV is an extension of you and you should make sure it is professional and accurate.

And Lee Owen, director at Hays Accountancy and Finance said: ‘Recruitment consultants are motivated by finding others the right career opportunities. However, to do this, they need the right information and can be drawn to certain qualities in prospective candidates. Presenting an impressive CV is central to any strong application and should highlight your education and qualifications followed by work experience in chronological order’.

So what does a good CV look like?

A recent survey by recruitment agency Reed found that more than 50% of recruiters said that having a logical order for a CV is the most important thing. And size was important too: 91% said that the ideal CV is a word document of two to three pages.

The survey found the biggest pet-hate in CVs was the phrase ‘I enjoy socialising with friends’. Reed comments: ‘Let’s face it we all enjoy socialising with friends. The same goes for ‘good team player/working in a team or as an individual’ with 28% of hiring managers surveyed identifying it as their own pet peeve. When you’ve only got two or three pages to stand out don’t waste valuable space by using the same stock sentences’.

Creating the perfect CV

Your CV should show you in a good light but not be overcooked. Owen adds: ‘Ensure the CV is formatted in a professional manner with consistent font size and sub-headings added to add impact where required’. Brown adds that your CV needs to tell your whole story – but must not be embroidered or exaggerated. ‘Any recruiter will spot gaps in your work history so make sure everything is covered.

A good CV is clearly written and not too long. And it should be relevant to the job you’re applying for:  just sending out an all-purpose CV is not a good idea. If you do think your CV is too general, then it is a good idea to include a covering letter explaining why you should be considered for the job’.  

And Owen adds: ‘See the CV as an opportunity to showcase one or two unique selling points to differentiate you as a candidate, such as a high academic achievement or a successful project at work. This will be attractive to recruiters and help them best understand your experience and career options’.   

Preparation is key

So your CV has got you an interview with a recruiter. What now? Brown says: ‘Clients who are looking for AAT qualified staff want up-and-coming people who will progress through the ranks. They want people who are bright, engaged, knowledgeable and professional. These are the kind of qualities you need to get across in an interview’.

Preparation is key to making yourself stand out to a recruiter says Owen. ‘Appearing confident, well prepared and in possession of the skills the job requires are essential for standing out in the right ways. In addition, show you are passionate about learning and developing in the role and let your personal qualities come through. The recruitment consultant will typically begin streamlining potential candidates when it comes to a shortlisting process therefore it is essential you create a positive impression at all times’.

Brown says that a recruiter is looking for job candidates who ‘show interest in the role. So ask questions: show you are interested in the business. Don’t just talk about yourself. And treat an interview like a conversation. People are too often petrified, but confrontational interviews are in the past. These days, interviews are a two-way conversation: you need to find out if the job is for you just as much as the recruiter needs to decide whether you are fit’.

But how much is down to personality? Does a recruiter need to like a candidate? No says Brown. But they will be trying to decide whether the interviewee’s personality will fit in with the culture and working practices of the company. So someone who expresses their love for the world of fashion may not be a good fit in the exacting world of a law firm. ‘You’re thinking will this person fit with the client? Can they do the work?’ says Brown.

Finally, all might be different in the future. Swedish scientists are developing a robot which can perform unbiased interviews, but will the robot be able to detect if you’ve got sweaty hands or spinach in your teeth?

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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