New year, new job search? How to update your CV in ten steps (especially if you’re over 50)

Whether you want to change jobs or are returning to work, one thing is for sure: you need a bang up-to-date CV – and all the rules have changed since the last one you did. By Claire Mason

As the silly season fades away, many people naturally take stock of their careers and consider a change of roles. Others are looking at returning to the world of work after raising children, being a caregiver, or a career break.

Whether you use job websites, the careers supplement in newspapers, or set up a relationship with a recommended recruiter, you need a good – make that great – CV to hand.

It’s best to maintain your CV throughout your working life, updating it with new skills, qualifications and experience as you progress through your career. If, however, yours hasn’t received any attention for a long time, these are my top nine tips to get recruiters to even look at your CV.

Spelling must be perfect. Recruiters, be they external or in-house, have become ruthless in their methods of separating CVs that get a second look from those that go into the bin. One spelling mistake and it’s on the scrap heap.

Keywords, keywords, keywords. If it seems like the world rests on keywords these days, that’s because it does. But don’t despair; it’s not as difficult as you might think. Recruiters, and companies doing their own hiring, who expect a deluge of resumés for vacancies, use software that picks out the key skills they’re looking for.

This is for the sake of efficiency but has the added bonus, for them and you, of building up a database of potential employees. It’s therefore imperative to create a CV that is as keyword-rich as possible; if you’re not successful for a current role, you could be for a future one.

How do you know which keywords will get you noticed? Look at the job ad, and examine similar roles on LinkedIn and other professional websites. Generally, these are packed with the keywords to use that are specific to your industry. However, merely stuffing your CV with keywords won’t get you anywhere: couch them in relevant examples of your own skills and experience. Context matters here.

Keep it brief. Brevity is the way forward. While you want to provide as holistic a picture as possible of your working life, placing the emphasis on the most recent ten to 15 years is the way to go. For job candidates over 50, this is the ideal opportunity to trumpet your valuable experience while letting your age be nothing more than a number.

Don’t include jobs from 20 years ago or every school qualification (and education should go at the end). No one will read that far and it may stop them reading anything. Don’t include every exact date; years are enough. Likewise, ‘References upon request’. Everyone knows that.

Most advice now is to keep it to one page. It’s an excellent exercise in brevity and makes it crystal clear that you only have room to include what the employer wants – your skills, experience and achievements – and not for a waffly statement about what you want.

Keep it active, and quantify your achievements. Use verbs such as created, improved, managed, influenced and launched, rather than calling yourself a creator, team player, motivator, etc. Then back it up with a specific, e.g. a 30% increase in unique visitors, rather than “the website’s traffic increased”. Use digits and the percentage symbol rather than ‘thirty per cent’, as this stands out far more when someone is scanning your CV.

If your most recent experience doesn’t match the position you’re applying for, make the CV functional rather than chronological, i.e. emphasise your skills and achievements rather than the dates they took place, with your experience further down.

Be honest about age and dates. Age discrimination is a valid fear, but it’s best to be upfront about the dates you received your degree, diploma, etc. Leaving dates off your CV smacks of something to hide and that’s not a perception you want to create for yourself.

Keep the design simple. Do away with gimmicks. Don’t fill your CV with text boxes, colours and different fonts. Write bullet points rather than long paragraphs of text. Establish a smart, simple template and stick to it. Don’t use photos or visuals; they take up space and you can’t control how they print out on the recipient’s printer. If you are asked to provide hard copies of your CV, print it on a good quality white paper with black ink.

Highlight your digital and software skills. To counterbalance any possible age discrimination, highlight tech-savvy skills from the start. You don’t need to be abreast of every social media phenomenon, but you do need to assure recruiters that you have the software and digital nous to do the job.

A LinkedIn profile that you keep current works wonders in this regard. A blog you write is an even better example to use if it is of a professional nature.

Many workers in their fifties and beyond don’t give themselves credit for skills they’ve accumulated through the course of their working lives. People in admin and sales roles have developed proficient Excel skills, for example, but will see this as part of the job expected of them, rather than as the valuable skill it is. A lot of workers will have worked on a specific software package to their industry. You may have set up your existing company’s Facebook page, or write all its tweets, even though it’s not apparent from your job title.

Even if you’re not working you may be proficient in these and have set up pages for friends. Make sure you mention these abilities. Not only does it tell the recruiter you’ve got the skills to do the role advertised, it also speaks of a mindset and personality that moves with the times and stays current. That’s a positive in any recruiter’s book.

Tailor your CV for each job you apply for

Beyond the CV… lie many more CVs! If you apply for 100 jobs, you need 100 tailored CVs. The content of your resumé will always be the same, but how you customise it will change according to the role you’re applying for. One role’s job description might place a higher emphasis on project management experience; another might require experience in managing a sales funnel. Adapting your CV to the job’s requirements enhances your chances of success, first to get the interview, and then possibly to get the job.

How to write the covering letter/email

This is vital. With the CV needing to be as concise as possible, the cover letter is your chance to provide more information in a less brief manner. A well-worded paragraph or two about a team you managed or a target you met will grab the interest of the recruiter and ensure they look at your CV.

If you are trying to get back into full-time employment after a period out of work, a cover letter is the ideal opportunity to elaborate on projects you may have been involved in that don’t translate directly into keywords, but do speak of skills gained; for example, setting up a PTA at a child’s school, or fundraising for a local charity.

Don’t write the email in capital letters, block caps, colour or a wacky font. (Including the email subject line, as it may not even get opened.)

Give links to your online presence

Include links to your digital presence, such as your LinkedIn, Twitter, website or blog. But first scour them to make sure that they’re professional to the core. This is a good pre-emptive measure to do anyway, even if you don’t provide the link (like your personal Facebook page). More than two-thirds of recruiters admit to finding candidates on Facebook.

Crafting your new CV could take a few drafts – and a few days – before you’re happy with it. That’s fine. It’s a process of discovery, as you take stock of the value you offer a company, and put yourself forward in the best light possible.

You might even get so much from the process that you ditch your potential new employer, and start your own business, with the best candidate around: you!