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The Most Common CV and Resume Mistakes, Part 2: Ignore the Market

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By Shannon Houde

So, you've found a posting for your dream job. It looks amazing, you love the company already, it’s in your city, and you think you can do it well. What next?

If your answer is to draft an email to the HR department and attach a CV that tells all about who you are and what you’ve done, then you'd better keep reading. Because a winning CV is not a flabby, generic description of a candidate; it’s a ripped marketing tool that does the heavy lifting for hiring managers and makes it easy for them to see why they should call you for an interview. It makes them want to know you!

In the battle for dream roles, smart jobseekers know that ignoring the market in this way is a serious CV fail. I'm a sustainability career coach, talent advisor and former HR manager, and I often find myself sat at seminar discussions, high-level meetings and coffee tables with the very people whose attention you're trying to attract. Which is how I know that taking a strategic, targeted approach to job applications is the best way to land an interview.

In last month's post -- The Most Common CV and Resume Mistakes, Part 1: It's All About Me!  -- I explained why your CV should be all about the market: appealing to the market, meeting the market's needs, using the market's language, communicating what the market wants to hear. In this month’s post, I’m going to help you take a deep, analytical dive into the job description to figure out what the market really wants and tailor your CV to nail it.

It is absolutely crucial to translate your skill set to the job you're applying for. A hiring manager will spend 30 seconds reading a CV, so if you want to impress and get yours on the 'A-List', think like a salesperson and put the good stuff front row, centre. In my experience, the easiest way to do this is through what I call 'Mapping Your Skills to the Market': a process I developed to help clients and readers to make their skills and experience relevant to the job description. Here’s how to do it.

Map Your Skills 1) Translate the job description


The best way to get to grips with a job description is to set about translating it into bite-size chunks of role requirements -- streamlining and editing at its best. Cut out all of the repetitive fluff and confusion in the job spec. Copy and paste the essential criteria and the desirable criteria (along with any other nuggets you may find) into Word Doc bullet points, leave the rest behind, and proceed to step two below.

Map Your Skills 2) Get thematic


Take your bulleted list of key points and copy and paste each of their requirements under the headings of skills, values, traits or knowledge/issues. Under each heading, try to collapse their criteria and identify the main themes, for example: communications, strategy, impact measurement, fundraising, etc.

Look at the key words that re-occur most often -- these are likely to be the most important. If they mention project management six times, that will give you a major hint!

Map Your Skills 3) Look for the grey area


Now that you’ve stripped it back to the bare bones and got some thematic order on things, you can start to map your skills to the role -- bullet point by bullet point – and see how you match up. But don’t panic if you feel you’re coming up short: While a job description will contain well-defined role requirements, the parameters for meeting them are not always so well-defined.

This is where relevant versus literal translations of job descriptions come in, basically the idea that even if you haven’t done that specific thing, you might still have had exposure to it or have transferrable skills. Here’s an example: A role requires experience developing policies. You haven’t done that, but maybe you have exposure to the policy debate and current legislation, maybe you’ve engaged in that debate through social media or NGO affiliations, perhaps even written a blog about it. These things might not sound like much, but to a hiring manager, they show relevant exposure to a key job requirement, and that’s useful.

Map Your Skills 4) Sanity check


Now that you’ve broken down the job description, identified the key themes and matched up your relevant and literal skills, you’re probably feeling one of two things: a) satisfied and confident that you have what it takes to go for and potentially win this role (but make sure it is not below you), or b) slightly nauseous as you peer into the deep ravine that is your skills gap. If it’s the latter, take heart – at least you know early, and you’ve constructively identified the areas you need to work on before going for another role like this one.

If it’s the former, it’s time to dig out your old CV and move on to the next phase of the application process -- the writing, or spinning I sometimes call it – where all the hard work of mapping your skills will really pay off. If it’s the latter, make sure you have made an effort to translate tangible achievements that may fit to what they are looking for before you throw in the towel. Third-party perspective on this can really help so reach out to your trusted advisors.

Next month in Part 3 of this series on The Most Common CV and Resume Mistakes, I'll take you step-by-step through the writing of a killer personal profile that meets the hiring manager’s requirements while staying true to you. And Part 4 – how to wow a hiring manager with a killer achievement. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @walkoflifecoach to stay in the loop.

Image credit Ian Sane, via Flickr/ CC BY

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Shannon Houde is founder of Walk of Life Consulting, the first international career coaching business focused solely on the sustainability, corporate responsibility and impact fields.

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