Five minutes – that is the maximum time that 40 percent of German HR managers invest when reading an application for the first time. After that, it is often already decided whether the candidate stays in the race or is thrown out. This was the result of the "JobTrends 2017" survey by the Staufenbiel Institute. Another insight: The most important part is the CV – three quarters look at it first.
"The CV is the central document," says application coach Sven Emmrich, founder of the coaching portal "Karrierehelden". This document condenses the whole life experience into two pages. Emmrich sees application documents as marketing documents: "You sell your own working hours to a customer - your employer." Accordingly, the CV should draw attention to your own strengths as clearly and concisely as possible.
This is particularly successful if the CV fits the advertised position as well as possible. Applicants should therefore particularly emphasize the experiences that are required in the desired job - and above all the successes achieved. In addition to the company and the job title, Emmrich says that it should also say exactly what you have achieved.
“Certain metrics can be interesting: How many new customers have I reached? How many cases have I successfully processed?” explains the coach. The linguistic structure “X achieved through Y” has proven itself.
For example, next to the company name and job title, you can write: 30 percent increase in media response through intensified press work. Or: 10 percent additional business with existing customers through worldwide trade fair appearances and customer events. Or also: seven-digit annual cost savings through successful group-wide coordination of the group CIP program.
Experiences that did not fit the new position at all could sometimes be left out for reasons of clarity - as long as there are no large gaps in the CV. Ideally, the reader is distracted by unimportant things as little as possible. Information such as parental occupations that used to be included by default is no longer listed.
The personnel consultant Viola Hoffmann-Scheurer also compares the experiences with the profile of the respective position when writing a CV. "A clear and compact CV simplifies the task for the HR manager," she says. She also recommends a cover sheet that once again contains the most important information such as the name and the most important professional and educational experiences.
The actual CV should not be longer than two pages. A handwritten signature makes the CV more personal and is particularly popular with smaller companies. A no-go are spelling mistakes: "One is perhaps still forgivable, if there are several, the application will be sorted out." Applicants should also, if possible, not adopt online templates completely, but rather design the layout a little more individually.
As a rule, however, the design and structure should still correspond to the classic form. "I still recommend tabular, reverse-chronological CVs," says application coach Jürgen Zech from the Make-it-better agency. This means that the most recent work experience is listed first. In this structure there is simply the most clarity and meaningfulness, says Zech. Since the personnel managers often have little time, unusual shapes are usually more of a nuisance.
The tabular form is also recommended because CVs are sometimes filtered electronically today. The computer captures certain keywords and can thus carry out a sorting. This can be the case, especially in large corporations with a flood of applications.
A tabular curriculum vitae first gives the contact details at the top, then the experiences are listed one below the other in bullet points, with the most recent experiences first. Because these are usually the most interesting for HR managers. Below is additional information such as language skills, hobbies and interests.
"From my experience, HR managers look first at the last two professional positions," says Zech. "How long was the applicant working there, was there any internal promotion, were there any further training courses?" In the case of graduates, the final grades and the topics of the bachelor's or master's thesis are given particular attention.
The curriculum vitae in creative professions can deviate from the scheme, says HR consultant Hoffmann-Scheurer. She remembers an application for a marketing position, in which the candidate handed in his CV as an animated presentation on a stick – completely individually tailored to the company. "It was highly individual and was well received." In creative or media professions, it can also make sense to mention social media profiles in the CV - if the content is professional.
The experts recommend attaching a photo to the CV. "The picture completes the impression of the applicant, makes the document more personal and tangible," says Hoffmann-Scheurer. In Germany, the application photo is usually expected from companies.
It's different abroad: For reasons of discrimination, the application photo is frowned upon in many countries. "But I've never seen someone not invited to an interview because of their appearance, even though they matched the job profile," says Hoffmann-Scheurer. It is simply more authentic if you also have someone in mind - and rounds off the application positively.
Application coach Emmrich also sees the photo as an opportunity. "There is no reason to omit the photo." Applicants could use it to further optimize their personal marketing.
And the photo can also be adapted to the respective job: Anyone applying for a position with customer contact can stand out with a particularly friendly smile. If you want to become a laboratory assistant, you can certainly have your picture taken while using a microscope.
Read more articles from our CV guide series here:
This article was first published on May 2nd, 2020.