James Caan CBE was an investor on BBC Dragons Den for three years from 2007-2010
As someone who has been investing in the recruitment industry since the mid-1980s, was the co-founder of corporate head-hunter Humana International and was an investor on BBC series Dragons’ Den for three years, James Caan has probably flicked through more CVs than most of us have had hot dinners.
Which means when he reveals secrets to what you should put on yours, it will be worth reading.
For a special entry in our interview cheat sheet series, This is Money is delighted to bring you six top tips from James.
He says: ‘Like them or loathe them, CVs are an essential part of landing a job.
‘An excellent CV can be a ticket to lots of incredible opportunities, while a poor CV may do more harm than good.
‘When an employer scans over a CV, they’ll decide within a few seconds if they’re going to invite the candidate for interview.
‘Because of this, it’s vital that your CV sends the right message.
‘You need to show them you’re the right candidate for the job – at a glance.
‘That’s not all. The internet has made it much easier to submit job applications, but because of that, many top jobs attract hundreds of applicants, making it even harder to get noticed.’
Here are James Caan’s top six secrets to make your CV stand out:
1. Make a bespoke CV for every application
James says: If you really care about getting a job, it’s worth tailoring your CV to their needs.
No two jobs are exactly the same, and therefore each CV you send should be optimised to show your prospective employer exactly what they’re interested in.
When you describe your prior experiences, draw out specific details and relate them to the skills described in the job spec.
Make sure your best and most relevant experience is at the top, and be aware that what is “best and most relevant” for one application may not be the same for another.
Ultimately, your prospective employer has put out a job ad because they have a problem. Try and understand what that problem is.
If you use your CV to present yourself as the ideal solution, your chances of success will be much higher.
2. Take the old-fashioned approach
My mantra has always been ‘observe the masses, and do the opposite’.
While many people restrict their job hunt to the internet, you can make a great impression combining your online job hunt with a more old-fashioned approach.
If you have the name of the decision maker for a job, rather than a generic HR executive, and you want to send them your CV, send it by post (alongside any formal online application you are asked to make). You’ll be one of the few who do.
That’s a good step forward, because it automatically picks you out, but if you are able to easily travel to a company’s HQ, you can set yourself apart even more.
3. If possible, deliver your CV by hand
When you walk into a company’s reception area and hand deliver a letter, what happens?
It doesn’t get put in the post tray with the letters. It gets hand-delivered in turn to the person it is addressed to.
Imagine you have decided to hand-deliver a CV to me. The point is not hand-delivering it to me personally; the point is you want to get my attention.
So, if you think about how to do it, you will not deliver the CV first thing in the morning.
If you do that, you have blown your chance, because the letter will be mixed in with my post tray.
However, by 11 a.m. I have already received my post, and that makes your CV stand out even more.
4. Using the web? Hone in on specialist job boards
The internet may make job-hunting more crowded, but it is also full of opportunities for those who know where to look.
A lot of people spend time uploading their CVs to online databases, without any real benefit, because they never get looked at by anyone.
Others take the easy route, thoughtlessly applying for online jobs on sites like LinkedIn because it only takes a few clicks, without tailoring their application for the specific role and company.
When job hunting online, I advise you to seek out specialist job boards which cover your particular niche – whether that’s for a specific kind of job, like secretarial work, or a particular sector, like the finance industry.
On sites like these, you will find the most appropriate opportunities for your skillset, and it can be a much better use of your time than sending out applications on more general job boards.
Top tips: Writing a good CV is essential when it comes to getting a foot in the door
5. Use CV to showcase high profile in your industry
If a candidate’s CV demonstrates that they are well-known and respected within their industry, then my view of them is immediately more positive.
Include a link to your LinkedIn profile or an article you have written in an industry publication.
Not only is this a good way for candidates to stand out, but there’s an added benefit.
I know that a high-profile applicant will be visible to my competitors, and that incentivises me to act quickly if I decide to give them an offer.
It may even affect the salary I’m willing to pay: I know my competitors could be interested, so I need to ensure the applicant’s remuneration is in line with the market.
6. But remember, the CV isn’t everything
Lastly, it’s important to remember that your CV is only part of the process. If your CV has helped you land an interview, that’s great. But you haven’t landed the job yet.
In my mind, it’s a good thing that there’s more to a job application than the CV. The interview allows you to prove yourself in ways that a CV doesn’t.
And if you don’t have the perfect CV, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do the job. Use the interview to showcase your passion, and you’ll be well on your way to landing that job.
What to do next: If you’re stuck, This is Money’s cheat sheet series has covered multiple aspects of the interview process, from how much research you should do beforehand, to how to answer some of the more difficult questions like ‘tell me about yourself’.