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Employability - How to stand out in a crowded market

During lockdown, the Technology recruitment team at Woodrow Mercer brainstormed different ways that we could assist job seekers in the search for work. In essence our role as Recruiters is to match suitable candidates with their ideal jobs. Sounds simple when you put it like that doesn’t it? The reality can be somewhat different.

After Covid hit and the number of people looking for work rose sharply, so did the messages we received from people looking for support in presenting their CVs effectively. It’s not as simple as submitting your CV for a job and expecting the phone to ring. It really should be, but the competition for some jobs can be extreme now, with upwards of 200 applicants a common occurrence now.

So, we created TA Talks; a way to connect Talent Acquisition teams with job seekers. These are the people who’s job it is to screen CVs and create shortlists of relevant candidates to present to hiring managers for review – they’re not agency recruiters like me, they actually work for the companies you’re applying to. How does the screening process work? What do they expect to see on a CV? Do covering letters really get looked at? Is it time to start creating your very own Video CV?

To attempt to answer some of these questions, we held 5 webinars within the space of 2 weeks and gathered feedback from over 25 Senior Talent Acquisition Mangers from highly reputable businesses in both the UK and US.

And so, the result is this neat document that we hope will help people who may be struggling to write their CVs or who are unsure about the best or most effective way of making themselves stand out in a crowded market. Maybe you’re on a journey of writing your CV from scratch, or perhaps you’re just wondering whether to include that skills summary or extra paragraph about your education history.

None of the below should be treated as gospel – it’s merely the opinions of people who have a significant say in hiring for Technology talent. We hope you find it useful.

Good luck with your search for work and keep an eye out on a website (or right here on LinkedIn) for Technology jobs via Woodrow Mercer Tech.

There are 100 applicants for a job. What are the main criteria you use to screen these and whittle down to a shortlist?

  • Always include your location (This still matters – WFH opportunities have increased significantly but you still need to ensure it’s easy for people to understand where you live relative to the company you’re applying to) + if you don’t live locally and are applying to a role that involves relocating, why?

  • Achievements – shout about this, be loud and proud! Have you done online training courses outside of work? Presented webinars, at conferences, blog, write articles in industry-specific magazines

  • Use a specific, relevant and targeted opening statement – if you match the requirements of the spec, talk about it! How, why!

  • Talk about outcomes – it’s important to mention the projects you worked, but what was the purpose of the project and what did this achieve? What did you overall contribution help to deliver for your company?

Covering letters - A thing or the past or a way to really sell yourself?

  • The aim of the CV should be to grab attention and generally you don’t need to write a covering letter too

  • If you lead with achievements on your CV, you shouldn’t need to write a covering letter

  • If you’re only planning to regurgitate what’s on the CV, then don’t bother, spend the extra time improving your CV

  • If the job you’re applying for involves you writing a lot of content and requires you to have very strong literacy skills, then it’s something worth doing

  • Don’t use a generic cover letter, this will end up just being an extension of your CVs

  • If you’re applying for a role that will require you to regularly have f-f interaction in a sales, business development, client facing position consider using a short video introduction but only do what feels natural

Education History – If applying for a Tech role, how important is this? Front cover or back page news?

  • This will always vary between companies, but often this isn’t as important as your work experience so highlight your skills, experience and personality first.

  • Industry qualifications are more relevant and important

  • It’s more about proving you can deliver, not about what you achieved academically

  • Companies often care more about your passion for the role you’re applying for

Skills Summary – is a candidate listing a big list of skills useful?

  • Avoid using skills matrix and grading your own skills. This is clearly very subjective – perhaps try including a link to your github, hacker rank results, or other methods of showing clear examples of your skill competency

  • Where and when have you used that skill

  • Only include technologies that you’re prepared to talk about in detail in an interview

Video Interviews – what expectations do companies have on how candidates should present themselves?

  • Try to find a quiet place where you will ideally be uninterrupted if possible, but seeing you in your personal environment, probably at home, is a good thing. Don’t worry if the cat runs past the screen 😊

  • Use the same common practices that you would use when preparing for a face-face interview and dress accordingly.

  • If you’re not comfortable with your background, then you can always change this on applications like Zoom, Teams and Skype

  • You have a little more opportunity to show off who you are, feel free to use it


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