Page last updated at 08:38 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

James Caan's CV workshop

By James Caan
Dragon and recruitment expert

James Caan
Do it right and the job may well be yours, says Mr Caan

It is crucial, particularly during a recession when competition for jobs is fierce, to make sure your CV gives you the best possible chance of getting the job you need.

Your CV is your shop window

The first thing you have to remember when you are working on your CV is that this might be your one and only chance to sell yourself to your prospective employer.

When you write your CV, it is just a document, but when you send it out it becomes your sales brochure.

The employer is probably going to be wading through hundreds of CVs so you need to make yours easy to read, interesting, and memorable. Here are some ways to achieve that.

What to put into your CV

Try to keep your CV short. If you can get it down to a page or two, then it is going to be much easier for the employer to read.

Some pieces of information are vital. Make sure you include all your contact details, your career history and a good section on your relevant skills and strengths.

In addition, make sure you write a few lines introducing yourself and tell the reader what your career ambitions are.

Your covering letter will explain why you are applying for the role, but it is good to outline where you want to be and how your experience fits into that.

Write a few bullet points with your success and achievements for each job you have had, such as winning major accounts or exceeding key targets.

If you have worked for one employer for several years in a number of different positions, group them all under one title in order to keep it brief.

So for example, if you worked for one retailer for 10 years as a shop assistant and then as a stock manager and then as a store manager; block this whole section down under one title and explain the various roles you held underneath. This will help you to pare down the amount information you are including.

What not to put in

Do not include lots of irrelevant information. No one wants to wade through pages of details on your primary school education.

And there's no need to include all your interests - unless they are relevant.

If you are applying for a job as a walking tour guide in a library it is good to know that you read a lot and you enjoy walking; but if you are applying for a job as a sales manager, it is less relevant.

Sending out your CV

When you write your covering letter to accompany your CV, I advise you to do your research.

You should always include information about the company that you are applying to.

You need to write something like, "Dear Mr Blogs, I understand you are looking for someone to fill such and such a position.

Your organisation is one that I've always been very impressed with and I've admired. I understand the business was established 20 years ago and you operate in 50 countries."

Information like this can be found really easily on any company website, and it will make your covering letter come alive.

Another important point is to spell check your letter and CV.

In fact, I would recommend that you check it, check it and re-check it and then get someone one else to check it too.

Do not send out your CV with spelling or punctuation errors in it.

If I am wading through 200 CVs for one job, the easiest way to discard CVs at a first pass is if they contain errors.

When you are printing your CV and letter, print them on the best quality paper you can afford. It helps to improve that all-important first impression.

And do print and post your CV, do not email it.

Nowadays, 90% of job applications are sent by email. When I get a CV in the post, I am much more likely to read it, because it seems more personal.

How to get that job

Obviously, your skills and experience are of the utmost importance when you go for a job, but ultimately companies are employing people, not skills.

When you go for your interview you need to be positive, dynamic and interesting.

One of the key ways to demonstrate this is to do your research.

One of the most memorable interviews I ever had was when a man came in and quizzed me about something that had happened in my company 10 years earlier.

It put me on the spot, but it made me realise that this guy knew what he was talking about. And more than that, he showed me that he cared about the job opportunity enough to do his homework.

Finally, dress appropriately. When in doubt look smart. No one ever got marked down for wearing a suit, but you can lose credibility if you haven't made an effort with your appearance.

If you show your prospective employer that you care about this opportunity then you are much more likely to get the job.

James Caan is chief executive of private equity company Hamilton Bradshaw and on the panel of BBC Two's Dragons' Den.

Money Programme: James Caan's Jobs. Broadcast 1930, BBC2, Thursday 26 February 2009.

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