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4 min read

What to look for when screening CVs

The average job advertised on totaljobs receives 20 applications from qualified candidates, driven to relevant jobs by a clever traffic strategy and advanced search and match technology.

While deciding where to advertise, we know that the number of applications you can expect to receive is often a deciding factor, but sometimes it’s hard to remember what this actually means.

20 applications means 20 CVs on your desk, which means 20 potential interviewees, and you being tasked with deciding which ones are the most qualified, relevant and best to contact.

While we don’t envy you, we can give you some tips to help you pinpoint the ideal candidate.


What to look out for in a candidate’s CV:


Many recruiters are suspicious of job-hoppers, and there’s a reason.

If a candidate seemingly changes roles every few months this could well indicate they don’t settle in well with employers, their team or an increased responsibility.

Ambition is of course a factor, but if alarm bells ring when you read their work history, perhaps you should listen, and with 1 in 3 employees leaving a new role within the first 6 months of joining, it’s important you consider your cost per hire and your own reputation and try to limit the chance of a short-term hire.

Career changes

Equally, consider doubting the sticking power of a serial career changer.

Career changes can be brilliant, as employees can transfer experience and skills across industries and function in the search for their calling. They can help remedy skills shortages, and improve the overall output of the workforce. However, if someone is a prolific career changer, it can also indicate that they are rash, and unlikely to be with your organisation long term.

Too many career changes suggest a lack of commitment, or impulsiveness that you may well want to avoid. So perhaps they have been making ends meet, but one alarm bell may be unrelated courses and professional qualifications, as they may be an accountant now, but if they also have qualifications in hairdressing, hypnotherapy and human resources, you may have a flighty candidate on your hands.


You’ve written your job description, and have a view of your ideal candidate, but be sure to take the time to outline the skills, competencies or qualifications that you simply cannot do without and keep these at hand when perusing CVs.

If you’re drawing up your shortlist on a computer you can even search documents using CTRL+F to find specific words and save time finding the best-fitting candidates.

A one-size-fits-all CV

Obviously as a recruiter, you want to receive an honest account of a candidate’s work history and expertise, but don’t forget to check whether they have tailored their application to your vacancy.

If you believe a candidate has sent you a one-size-fits-all CV, it could suggest that they have not fully bought into what you do, but instead they could be sending CVs with a scatter-gun approach to see what may land.

Do they mention your company in their cover letter? Does the language and formatting of their CV mirror your job advert?

These little clues could help you pinpoint a candidate whose application is earnest, as opposed to someone sending quick-fire applications.

That’s not to say that someone applying for more than one role wouldn’t be a good hire, but someone who has taken the time to research your organisation and your working practices could well be a stellar interviewee.


With plenty of applicants all showcasing a range of great skills, one differentiating factor could be – evidence!

Once you have an initial shortlist of candidates, check through their CV and read between the lines. Say they have acted as team leader – how did the team perform? Say they have built entire websites – where are the links?

A good candidate will share their successes as well as their skills – and this could be a key tool for helping to separate anyone who walks the walk, as well as talking the talk.

Once you’ve found the candidates you’d like to progress to interview, remember the benefits of acknowledging all applicants, whether or not they were successful. Someone may not be right for your company now, but in two years’ time they could be perfect, and this boost to your employer brand could be vital for getting them in the door when the moment is right.