How important is format in a resume? What about format vs. content? Are Video CV’s the future? What can you do to improve your chances?

BBC columnist Elizabeth Garone questioned Grégoire Depeursinge, VP EMEA and Managing Partner Switzerland at AIMS International as well as other executive search professionals about this topic. Read the BBC article here and the full text of Grégoire’s statement below and make up your mind:

Question: what has been the evolution of CV’s over time in terms of format and content?

Gregoire Depeursinge: There has not been a very great evolution: content and format are still what they were years ago when they were done with a typewriter. Of course, the importance of private information in a CV has declined for legal as well as societal reasons and we are no longer expecting candidates to tell us about their religious beliefs or political orientation, but the content is still essentially the same it was 10-15 years ago. What has changed is that CV’s are now present on multiple platforms like social networks, candidate databases, etc. and can easily be adapted somewhat to suit a particular application.

Question: what about new formats like multimedia CV’s?

Gregoire Depeursinge: In my opinion, they can at best be a complement to the classical documents, except for very specific professions (maybe in design or art-related jobs). What any recruiter needs is to know rapidly if he is in front of a potential match for the position or not. For this, he needs a document he can scan fast in order to gain an impression in under one minute. This means that any alteration to the classical format, for instance presenting one’s experience by function rather than following the timeline is not a good idea. The video CV for example does not meet this requirement and does not replace the personal interview anyway. What is essential to be preselected is to match the criteria defined for a specific role, not the format of the CV.

Question: can you still give us a few tips about the format?

Gregoire Depeursinge: I could say the following:

  • Whenever possible/legal, include a good (made by a professional) picture of yourself taken in a business setting. The picture adds a personal and emotional touch. The impression given can of course also be negative, but it is better to make a negative impression than no impression at all
  • Use international format for your phone information, do not assume people will know how to call you from another country and do not show that you are “only” local. When listing your personal email address, make sure it is one that does not create a bad impression due to the wording
  • Do not try to keep your resume down to one or two pages if you already have a long career path. Do rather have a first page that captures essential facts like contact data, family situation, job history with title, company, industry, location, dates and a few relevant keywords for each role, languages and education and elaborate in much greater detail about the different roles you have held in the following pages. If the recruiter is interested after glancing at the first page, he will be happy to have complementary information
  • Do not assume that people will understand acronyms and abbreviations or know about your company, your industry or your job title. In a global world, you can no longer expect everybody to know your specific market. If, for example, your job title is unclear, you should describe the role in a few short words or change it to something more common meaning the same • Stick to facts and don’t put too much soft stuff into your CV. It doesn’t add any value to fill summaries with superlatives like “Widely respected and innovative people leader and recognized strategic thinker with a global footprint”
  • Cultures differ and you should adapt your CV in consequence: in an Anglo-Saxon environment it is expected to list one’s achievements with numbers and using superlatives (as a matter of fact, the advertisements and job descriptions are also often exaggerated), whilst in continental Europe for example, a more modest approach will be preferred. This cultural difference also applies to companies in the same country: an American company’s expectations will differ from a European one’s • When replying to an advertisement, check the requirements before you write: industry and functional experience as well as languages are normally killer criteria, so don’t bother to apply if you do not match those. Flexibility should be higher in terms of education requirements. Adapt your CV to underline the points you think will show the recruiter that your profile is actually a good fit
  • Don’t invest too much time in the cover letter. Most recruiters will not read it at all and go directly to the CV. You can have a few lines with essential facts for this role in the email you send with your CV
  • Check your document for spelling mistakes and bad formatting and always send a PDF and not a Word document. This will be nicer to look at (no hidden characters visible) and the recruiter will not be able to see how advanced you are in the use of the word processing software
  • When you are sending supporting documents with your CV (work certificates as they are common in certain countries, reference letters, diplomas or articles about you), make sure you merge all documents into a single PDF of maximum 5MB. At all costs, you should avoid sending a zip file with 30 files inside which the recruiter has to open one after the other!

Question: What about presenting the CV on social networks?

Gregoire Depeursinge: Basically the same rules apply, but clarity of information is even more important as people are going to search for you with keywords. Let’s take an example of unclear information: job titles are typical of this. What is a “Talent Development Officer EMEA” or a “Digital Distribution Strategy Specialist” and who is ever going to type in these titles as a search keyword? Or: Who is more senior, a “Commodity Leader”, a “Global Lead Buyer” or a “Procurement Director”? There is no way to tell without taking a close look at the organization they work for and the same keyword search will not find all of them, which is why you should list every possible equivalent of your job title in your summary. The same goes for industries. It is essential to mention not only your specific industry, but as many related ones as possible. If a recruiter is searching for somebody in nonwovens, the basic material to produce wipes and other hygiene products like Pampers, he might be looking for people in plastics, textiles, nonwovens, packaging, film, etc. You can find more information on how to work with social networks and which ones to use by viewing the video I made with IMD Business School:

Question: what could you say to summarise?

Gregoire Depeursinge: You should not invest too much time in the format of your CV. Just make sure you have a professional, clear document and invest the time gained in selecting the right jobs to apply for or the right target companies and understanding what your strengths and weaknesses really are for a specific role. It is also important to invest a lot of time in networking (physical and on the web) and to contact the recruiters by phone whenever possible to make sure they will remember you when they take up your CV. They might just invest a few more seconds and become interested.