Ask the Career Expert Q&A Session – the 8 most commonly asked questions
If you’ve signed up for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants Global Career Hub, you’ll have observed a number of career development webinars that Association Members have been able to attend.
We’ve run sessions on CV/resume writing, LinkedIn, interview technique and more. During these live webinars, we run a Q&A session and common themes pop up time and again. This article, written by Matt Craven, Founder of The CV & Interview Advisors, aims to cover some of the most sought-after answers from commonly asked questions.
Q1: How long should my CV/resume be?
There are many opinions on CV/resume length and job seekers are bombarded with conflicting information that only serves to highlight that there is no definitive answer.
If you have been asked by a recruiter or company for a CV/resume of a certain length, then it’s best to comply with their wishes, but if you haven’t been given a steer (which you usually won’t have been) then a good yardstick is 2 – 3 pages.
A one size fits all approach doesn’t factor in different levels of seniority, so work on the basis that a more junior person’s CV/resume is likely to be no more than 2 pages and a more senior person would be nearer 3.
There are regional variations too; a UK CV is typically more detailed and longer than a US resume, and in the UK market, Contractors / Interim Managers are forgiven for having a CV up to 4 pages in length. South African CVs are usually very detailed and can sometimes be several pages in length and the Australian market is very much aligned with the UK. Most regions around the world stick to somewhere between 2 and 3 pages, so that’s a good a yardstick.
Obviously, writing War & Peace isn’t going to win over a recruiter or prospective employer, but you need to make sure you have included sufficient information for the reader to make an informed decision on your suitability for the role, and this includes making sure you have sold yourself. If page one of your CV does most of the selling, the length of the CV thereafter becomes less important.
Q2: How do I write a CV/resume if I am changing careers?
In a competitive job market where employers are looking for round pegs for round holes, changing careers can be challenging, but not impossible, as long as you are realistic.
The way to write your CV/resume is to focus on your transferable skills that are relevant to your new career. Carefully studying job descriptions and identifying the 5 most important skills that the organization is looking for is your starting point. Use these skills on your CV/resume as headings on page one and write some evidence underneath each heading that you have that particular skill.
STAR case studies are a great tool here, where you write mini case studies about projects or experiences in the STAR methodology. STAR is a simple acronym for Situation, Task, Actions and Result that provides a structure for writing case studies.
Q3: Should I write my CV/resume in the third-person?
This answer requires a slightly technical answer and we should first define what first and third-person style writing is.
Writing in the third-person is writing from a third-person’s point of view i.e. from the perspective of an external person. This style uses pronouns such as he, she or they. First-person on the other hand, is written from the writer’s perspective and uses pronouns such as I and my.
In actual fact, when we write a CV/resume, it is written in ‘implied first-person’, which is using the same grammatical structure as first-person writing, but the pronouns are dropped.
This more neutral style of writing is deemed more sophisticated than using pronouns throughout a CV/resume. Let’s look at an example.
- He is an experienced Accountant with a track record of… (third-person).
- I am an experienced Accountant with a track record of… (first-person).
- An experienced Accountant with a track record of… (implied first-person).
Q4: How do I prevent being discriminated against due to age?
Unfortunately, ageism is prevalent in many countries and sectors and can be a real hindrance for certain job seekers. It’s not just older people either, younger people can be discriminated against due to a perceived lack of experience and maturity.
The latter is harder to get around, but if you are suffering discrimination due to being longer in the tooth, here are some tactics to circumnavigate the issue on your CV/resume.
- In most territories around the world, there is no need to add your date of birth
- Refrain from adding dates against your education and qualifications
- If your career started a long time ago, create a section called ‘Relevant Earlier Career’ and add anything more than ten years back into this section. Because you have used the word ‘relevant’, you can start your list of earlier roles where you feel appropriate (the 1990s is the usual cut off point).
Q5: What should I do if someone I don’t know wants to connect with me on LinkedIn?
There are two ways to approach this; the first is to be very selective about who you connect with and the second is to take a more open approach on the basis that the person you are connecting with may add some value to your life.
I’m a fan of the book by James Redfield titled the Celestine Prophecy. It’s about the Celestine Monks who believe in fate and that some people are sent into your life for a reason, which may not be immediately obvious to you. If you embrace the opportunity, good things will happen.
There are certain situations in my life where I have engaged with someone that I didn’t immediately see the point of engaging with and good things have happened thereafter.
This is how I view networking – if you are open to connecting and engaging with people, who knows what opportunity might come your way as a result. It’s fair to say that the more people you have in your network, the more likely it is that opportunities will come your way.
My advice is to take the second and more open approach and see what happens. If someone proves to be a nuisance, you can always remove them from your network retrospectively without them being notified that this has happened. On the other hand, it may be a recruiter that wants to talk to you about an amazing job or it may be someone that ends up being of true value to your career of life.
Q6: Why don’t I hear back from agencies about jobs I have applied for?
To answer this, we need to understand how recruiters operate.
Recruitment offices are very fast-paced and highly competitive where there is little time for superfluous activities. Recruiters are paid largely on commission and they simply don’t have time to spend on activities that will not result in making placements and therefore fees.
Most recruiters are happy to provide feedback to job seekers, but if there are 100+ applicants for every role, it is simply impossible to contact all these people to explain why they weren’t successful with their application.
If, on the other hand, you were shortlisted, but didn’t progress to interview, or if you attended an interview but weren’t hired, it is good practice for the recruiter to give honest and constructive feedback that explains why your application wasn’t taken forwards.
Q7: How long should I spend preparing for an interview?
I always encourage job seekers to view an interview as a sales meeting.
If we work on this basis, we should consider the size of the ‘deal’ that the ‘sales meeting’ is there to pitch for.
I suggest thinking about the salary you are hoping for and the additional costs the employer will incur from hiring you (recruitment fees, pension, bonus, payroll costs, national insurance/taxes, training costs etc). Assuming the average employee sticks around for approximately three years, we then multiply this figure by three to get the real cost of hiring you.
You might be surprised by the number.
This puts into perspective the fact that a couple of hours of preparation is wholly inadequate and out of kilter with what a salesperson would do before a ‘real’ sales meeting if they were pitching for a contract of that size.
My advice, especially the more senior you become, is to do about 2 days / 15 hours of preparation for each interview.
This includes researching the company, researching the people you are meeting, studying the job description and requirements of the role, gleaning information from the recruiter, and last but not least, learning yourself and all the examples you will need to prove that you have the skills and experience to perform in the role.
Q8: Is a cover letter useful?
The short answer is that it depends on the role. Most online recruitment platforms have functionality that allows candidates to send a cover letter, but that doesn’t mean you should.
If the job description specifically asks you to write a cover letter then of course, you should. I would argue that in this scenario, you should think of it more as a supporting statement that lays out why you are a suitable candidate for the role. A cover letter, by definition, is more of a cover note that explains why you are sending your CV/resume, opposed to why you are an appropriate candidate for the job.
If there is no indication that you should send a cover letter, it is not going to do you any harm sending one, but it may be a waste of your time and effort, as in most cases, the recruiter will be more inclined to read your CV/resume than they will your cover letter.
In fact, I spent over five years in recruitment and never read a cover letter once, as I expected the CV/resume to tell me everything I needed to know. I did however ask shortlisted candidates to send me a supporting statement that explained how they matched the job description.
So, the answer is, send a cover letter if asked for one, but write it more as a supporting statement; if you are not asked for one, it’s not going to do any harm sending one, but it’s likely to be time and effort that has no bearing on your application.
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