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Can you spot a good CV over a bad one?

Kate Allen, Executive Chair and Marketing Director, Allen Associates

Receiving a high volume of applications for a particular role is a relief at first. After all, a hundred CVs is better than just one lonely cover letter landing in your inbox.

The good news is you’ve managed to generate significant interest for a current vacancy - in short, people actually want to work for your company.

The bad news is there’s a big task ahead in finding the right person for the role. Perhaps your dream candidate is sitting somewhere amidst the proverbial mountain of applications, just waiting to be found. Perhaps the pile predominantly consists of “no’s” or “not sure’s”. The only way to know is to start sifting through. With limited time, you need a screening strategy that truly works; one that gives you quick answers without missing out any important details.

The good, the bad and the ugly: the art of super-fast CV screening

With a digital pile of CVs mounting up, the pressure is on to build a shortlist of candidates in order to move forward with recruitment. Be warned: sorting through job applications is often a task that may seem small before you start, but it’s incredibly easy to find yourself four hours in and no closer to an answer. So, without further ado, it’s time to look at the four key stages of super-fast CV screening:

Their basic information

First things first: does the candidate provide accurate contact details and are they easy to find? It may seem like an obvious test, but you’d be surprised at the amount of job seekers who fail to give their basic information or make it extremely difficult for a recruiter to find them.

This initial stage will also enable you to do away with candidates with questionable information - after all, email addresses such as ‘’ or ‘’ say something about a person: they might be proud of their love of this particular Peter André song and feel the need to shout about it to prospective employers or they haven’t considered how it might be perceived by the wide ranging democratic that is the prospectice employer database.  Awareness and judgement are important qualities.

2. Their last job

Unless a candidate is fresh from school or university and has no previous experience, their CV should provide a clear account of their last role and what they achieved during their time with their former (or current) employer. For a job seeker, this space is incredibly important in proving how their prior experience has prepared them to take on the responsibilities advertised in your job description.

When a candidate uses the space to simply list off their skills with no context, it’s impossible to know whether they’ll be right for the role. For example, in stating that they are “proficient in Adobe CC”, the candidate tells you nothing about how they used these tools and what success they had in doing so. It’s easy for a candidate to paste desired skills into this area under the belief that it will get them noticed, so be wary of buzzwords and jargon. Only shortlist the candidates who paint a clear picture of their previous employment and demonstrate the knowledge to back it up.

3. Their presentation

You could debate at length with your colleagues about design preferences and whether any CV longer than two pages deserves to dive straight into the bin. However, it’s important not to get bogged down into subjective opinion and instead seek candidates who are clear. Yes, their CV may use a font you’re not particularly a fan of, but unless it’s Comic Sans, Chiller or Curlz MT, you’re probably overthinking it.

If a CV does go on for four pages, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are rambling to oversell themselves: they may just have extensive work history they feel is relevant. What you’re looking for is for a candidate to be clear and concise about their work history and reasons for applying. Those which say a whole lot of nothing deserve a one-way-ticket to the paper shredder or the rubbish icon on your desktop.

4. The final checks

If you’ve sorted through the pile and managed to draw up a shortlist - congratulations. However, before you proceed, make sure to double check the successful CVs for any unexplained gaps in employment or ‘red flags’ that could sway your decision. Nowadays many employers view LinkedIn profiles and check for any discrepancies with CVs, as this could reveal the little white lies that will ultimately determine whether or not they get the call.

For 20 years, the Allen Associates team has been helping employers in Oxfordshire secure the talent they really need. Can we help you? Click here for more information.

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