Sifting CV Responses

Anyone who has personally had to write a CV will understand that there are many different approaches to take. This is confusing enough for the writer but equally challenging for the reader when trying to adopt a fair and equal recruitment process. This guide has been designed to help you to understand the best way to interpret CV’s so you don’t decline the talented applicant with an average CV or waste time reading lots of rhetoric.

What is the difference between a CV and a Resume?

A CV is typically longer than a resume and affords the writer more freedom to include activities and information from their whole life experience such as personal achievements hobbies and interests as well as additional awards or training. The shorter resume format is typically used in the United States and Canada and focuses on the formal education training and work experience. As more candidates are willing to travel internationally for work it is important you understand the difference between the two.

Reading between the Lines

A CV is a basic form of marketing. Essentially a person is trying to present themselves in the best possible light to secure a place on your shortlist. So how do you distinguish facts from creative writing?  All sections of the CV are important as they give many clues about the applicant’s suitability for the post. It is important that you try not to assume information and make your decisions based on the information available.

Contact Information:

Location: With internet advertising, it is easy receive CV’s from all over the world. If the candidate is outside a reasonable commute you need to query if they are willing to relocate or are aware of location. Out of the country? Are they eligible to work in the UK?

Email Addresses: There are some weird and wonderful email addresses out there such as “”. Try not to judge your candidate based on their email address, after all having a standard email address although advisable is rarely an essential job sift criteria!

Personal Statements

A personal statement is usually a few lines at the top of a CV. The idea is the candidate will tailor these statements to a job to provide you with a snapshot of their profile. Unfortunately, they are often too generic to draw any reasonable conclusions. Statements use positive words such as “A pro-active team player who works well independently and as part of a team” - look for evidence of this to ensure the statement’s accuracy. Statements can reveal clear aspirations “Motivated Marketing Graduate looking to develop Career within Product Marketing” which gives you a strong indication regarding the career interests of the candidate.

Work Experience

Look out for Gaps: Work History should be listed chronologically. Look out for significant gaps in the dates between roles. Some CV’s only provide years so you may wish to probe at the next stage of the process.

Relationship between Career Moves: If you are seeking to fill an opportunity permanently and have limited progression available look at the career history. What is the applicant’s average length of service with their permanent employers historically? Can you establish a rationale behind each career move or a general career direction? You may wish to probe on any roles that deviate from the general direction of the CV.

Relevance of the Work History: Job titles can be misleading. Check the detail of the duties carried out. This will provide you with the most relevant information to benchmark. Look for specific actions, responsibilities and achievements where possible.

          Example Competency 1: Ability to work to targets

          Good Evidence: “Consistently met monthly targets on call quality, I averaged 88% for     delivering a good customer experience”.

          Insubstantial Evidence “Worked to Call Quality Targets”

          You can assume the applicant has worked in a targeted environment but you cannot ascertain           whether they were successful or motivated in this environment.

          Example Competency 2: Assessing Computer Literacy

          Good Evidence: “I am familiar with all MS Office 2007 Packages particularly Word and Excel           which I use daily and I use a Siebel based database system at work”.

          Insubstantial Evidence: “Computer Literate”

        This tells you very little. You   can assume the applicant is familiar with computers but would     need to probe at next stage regarding their skill level and with packages you would use.


When the education history is straight forward; Degree, A Level or GCSE it can be relatively simple to assess whether an applicant meets your education requirements. However, education is not static and qualification trends have changed over the years with the increase in vocational related courses such as NVQ’s and Diplomas as well as the increase in workers who have been educated overseas. A useful site to benchmark qualifications is UCAS. A tariff system for was introduced to translate courses to assess a student’s eligibility or entrance to higher education courses but it is a useful tool for an employer to use to assess a candidates qualifications.

Hobbies and Interests

This allows you to gain a further insight into the individual who is applying for the post. As with personal statements these can often be very generic “Reading, Cooking or Socialising with Friends”. Once again try not to assume that “Football Fanatic Dave” will not work on Saturdays but you can use this information to ask Dave about his willingness to work Saturdays if required.

You can use hobbies and interests to draw out from a candidate at interview evidence of particular behavioural traits such as team work, competitiveness and resilience or persistence.

Efficient CV Sifting

Use a points system based on how well a CV matches firstly essential then desirable job specification criteria. Applying a score system allows you to look past the glossy presentation of the CV (important but rarely essential) and dig down into the suitability of the match.

Start with Essential Criteria: If you have an absolute requirement that applicants must have such as a professional qualification or skill sift on this basis first. This means that you do not spend too much time reading an application that is not going to make the grade. It is very easy to get distracted by non-essential details. Wasting a few minutes on a CV is not so bad if you have a handful but when application numbers rise to 20 plus you can count the lost time in hours. Caution: Make sure the essential criteria are exactly what the role requires to function, otherwise this is simply desirable criteria.

Look for Evidence: As mentioned in work experience above look for actual evidence of competence or experience rather than well crafted Buzz phrases with no substance.

Flexibility: As with any investment you make, you might need to compromise to make sure you get the best person for the role. Ideally you want to bring candidates for interview with as much diverse experience as possible whilst matching your needs. To achieve this, consider where you can compromise. Look for transferable skills and try to look at each application as well as focussing on individual match criteria.

Presentation: Pay attention to cover letters and CV presentation but ensure these factors are scored and weighted effectively along with your other criteria. Don’t throw a CV on the ‘No’ pile for a single spelling mistake! We all can make an error, simply use this as a flag to check the quality of the written communication in general.

For Further assistance:

RecruitSME CV Sift service: Are you expecting to receive a significant response to your recruitment advert?  The RecruitSME team can conduct the CV sift process for you. Use the link to make an enquiry: Candidate Sift Enquiry