Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

25 Things You Should Be Checking, When You’re Assessing CVs!

By Anthony Hughes | Feb 29, 2016 | Assessing Applicants

Curriculum Vitae type on old typewriter machine, vintage retro toned hipster style for job application, selective focusCV assessment: it’s not easy, it’s not exciting (for most people), it’s not glamorous, but it’s absolutely dead important!

Done well, you should be culling unsuitable candidates early on in the process saving time and money. Done badly, you could be wasting hours interviewing irrelevant ones.

Now as you can imagine, at Coburg Banks, we know a thing or two about the topic (it’s an integral part of our day job…)

So we’ve written you a checklist this week, highlighting the 25 things you should always be looking out for when assessing CVs.

That may seem like a lot, but I promise you, making that extra effort now will save you time & money in the future!

The Cover Letter.

1. Have they included a cover letter?

99% of job seekers know that they should be including a cover letter with every application (it’s an unwritten rule).

So you’ve got to wonder why some don’t…

  • It could be an immediate sign of laziness, disinterest and a lack of commitment.
  • It could just be that they are new to job-seeking and not yet aware of “the rules!”
  • It could be that they’re playing a numbers game; sending out masses of CVs in the hope that one recruiter will eventually bite, cover letter or no cover letter.

If you’ve only received a few applications and this candidate is one of the best, then it may be worth giving them the benefit of the doubt.

However, if you’ve received loads of amazing applications and the majority have included a cover letter, it could be a good way to rule people out.

It’s up to you!

2. Is the cover letter bespoke?

Have a quick read – does the language in the cover letter sound generic?

I’m interested in THE ROLE because I’d love to work in THE INDUSTRY…”

If so, then they’ve probably sent the same cover letter to a few different companies.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; of course, in a competitive job market many jobseekers will apply for as many roles as possible to increase their odds.

But, if you have to choose between them and a candidate who personalises their entire application with your business, role and industry in mind – who do you think is going to be more committed, determined and passionate?

The CV.

The Personal Statement.

3. Are they a good candidate?

The personal statement is your candidate’s first real chance to WOW you with relevant skills, knowledge and experience – while, if possible, adding a touch of personality!

(Not too much to ask then – right?)

So, is there personal statement appealing? Do they have the right skills? Are they distracting you with interesting, but meaningless facts?

They may be an amazing juggler but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right for your role.

4. Are they ripping off old clichés?

Are the attributes they mention even remotely interesting?

‘Hard-working,’ ‘passionate’ and ‘results-driven’ are just meaningless clichés, ripped off from hundreds of other candidates.

Yes, if a candidate were all of the above, they’d be a damn great candidate, but because the phrases are SO generic and used SO often, they don’t really mean anything anymore.

5. Do they have evidence?

Now, as you’re working your way through the CV, keep in mind some of the key skills your candidate had mentioned in their personal statement… does everything match?

Is there real evidence of the candidate using those skills time and time again?

Candidates could say any old thing about themselves, but can they prove it?

6. Do they seem passionate?

You’ll have to try and work this out for yourself, using your gut.

Does their language seem passionate? Have they done their research on your business? Does their experience show that they’re clearly enthusiastic about this type of role and industry?

Work History.

7. Have they got the right work experience?

When it comes to work history, it’s a good idea to come up with a benchmark, prior to CV assessment.

What would the ideal candidate have? For example, “3 years’ experience in a fast-paced sales environment.”

Be fair though! (You can’t exactly expect a graduate to have years and years of experience).

8. Are there any gaps in their work history?

I personally always advise candidates to explain gaps on their CV – unless something bad happened.

If a candidate doesn’t have an explanation and they’ve been out of work for a long time it could be a concern.

(It could also be nothing, but it’s worth flagging and questioning at the very least).

9. Do the dates add up?

If the dates don’t quite seem to add up or they’re left very vague, then it could mean one of three things…

  • A candidate has merely made an unfortunate mistake (a forgivable offence).
  • A candidate just couldn’t be bothered to check the dates.
  • A candidate is purposely lying to you.

It’s important to use your intuition – does the rest of the CV seem OK?

10. Is their experience vague?

If their actual information is vague – for example, if they’ve merely stated each work experience, without explaining what they actually did during – that’s slightly worrying.

Are they too lazy to expand? Is there simply nothing else to say? Are they just a bad CV-writer? Or are they bending the truth?

Again, you’re going to have to use your initiative and targeted interview questions to find out.


11. Have they got relevant qualifications?

First things first, work out what you think would be the minimum educational requirements for the role…

Again, remember to be fair; don’t expect a Masters, unless you need one.

12. Do the dates add up?

(They may have had to retake a year…)

It’s not necessarily a bad thing if a candidate had to retake a year – it at least shows determination and as it’s only a CV, you have no idea about their personal circumstances.

But it is something to bear in mind for the future and you should bring it up in the interview.

13. What subjects did they take?

Not everyone will include the topics/subjects they’ve studied in their CV but if they do, it can be very illuminating.

Someone who’s REALLY passionate about a certain industry or profession may have studied something relevant before.

For example, someone interested in social media marketing may have taken a specific module at university.

14. Have they taken part in any other relevant courses?

When you first come out of education, it can be really difficult to get a job, especially in the industry you want.

Often the best, most committed candidates will have taken courses to improve their skills (outside of formal education/work).

This is a big positive that you should be on the lookout for.

Key Skills.

The key (‘transferrable’) skills section is really important for candidates who don’t have a particularly impressive work history or education.

15. Are the skills mentioned relevant/ transferable to the role?

(I know – that’s pretty self-explanatory.)

But it is important to look out for:

  • Those good old clichés (like ‘communication’).
  • Those impressive but irrelevant skills (like knife-throwing).

Often used when candidates have little-to-no actual experience to talk about.

It’s your job to try and pull out the positives from the CV…

16. Can they prove it?

A great way to separate the gobbledegook clichés (and lies) from the genuine skills and attributes is to find points of evidence throughout the CV.

As far as I’m concerned, the most impressive CVs are often packed full of stats, percentages and examples to back up a candidate’s claims.

It’s all well and good saying ‘I made my clients loads of money’ but to actually state ‘I made Client X £100K richer using one email campaign’ (with further details) is much more reliable.


So many recruiters feel like this section doesn’t matter, but it really, really does!

17. Will they fit in with the company culture?

The answer to this question will vary as it’s entirely dependent on what type of company you work for (eccentric and loud, corporate and quiet etc.)

Handcuff collecting (yes this is a real hobby) might put YOU off, but could absolutely intrigue someone else. Each to their own, I say.

18. Do they clearly have a good, solid work-life balance?

Sure – you don’t want an employee who leaves at 5pm on the dot every day, whether or not their work is done.

But you also don’t want an employee who gives their entire life to work, with no relief.

Employees need balance.

What you’re looking for is a candidate who takes part in some activities outside of work, but not so many that they’d clearly be overwhelmed and struggle (for example, if they had a voluntary job every evening and weekend, as well as went to work).


19. Have they included references?

Including references adds credibility and shows that a candidate is willing to let you contact former employers (or personal references).

(It also means one last thing you have to chase for!)

If they include references, but not from their most recent employers, then that’s definitely slightly worrying.

General Admin.

20. Is the CV bespoke?

As we mentioned earlier, in such a competitive job market, candidates will often send their CV out to heaps of employers.

That makes it pretty difficult to write a bespoke CV for everyone.

However, there will be superstar candidates out there who do and when you find them, you’ll know that they’ve spent more time applying and are more likely to be passionate and committed to the actual business and role.

21. Are there any mistakes?

There are no excuses for bad spelling, grammatical errors, typos and mistakes in a cover letter or CV; it’s as simple as that.

It doesn’t take much to ask a friend to check it, does it?

(Ok, maybe one or two mistakes are permissible…)

22. Is their CV formatted in a neat, chronological fashion?

In a similar vein, it’s pretty important that a candidate can put together a structured CV, especially if the position requires someone organised.

It could spell laziness and/or disorganisation if your candidate’s CV is confused and unchronological.

To be fair, you’ll probably be put off anyway if you’re finding something really difficult to read!

Use Your Gut Instincts.

23. Do they seem friendly?

Or do they seem hard-nosed? Stern? Unsociable?

Do you feel like they’d be a good fit for your team? And your company culture?

You really don’t want to hire someone who’s going to irritate the rest of your staff!

24. Do they seem honest?

Generic clichés, lack of detail, hyperbole and vagueness might be subtly urging you to question the authenticity of the candidate’s claims.

To find out some of the top things candidates lie about, check out this blog post.

25. Do you want to interview them?

This is a question that only YOU can answer.

(But hopefully, this blog post has helped you to do that…)

Ready to Start Assessing CVs?

As you can probably tell, there are a LOT of things you need to check, when you’re working your way through those CVs… (and this blog post is just the tip of the iceberg!)

But once you get the hang of it, you should really be spending no more than 2 minutes per CV (during that initial screening stage, anyway).

(Of course, you could always just get a recruitment agency like us, to do that for you!)

Recruiter Pro Tip.

CVs really are just half (if not a quarter) of the story – so it’s important not to be mega-judgemental when you’re assessing them.

Remember, candidates (probably) won’t have read a blog post like this and won’t necessarily know exactly what you are looking for!

Use the above checklist to structure your assessment process, rather than as an overruling set of standards.

If you’re unsure about someone (and obviously, haven’t received thousands of applicants) there’s no harm in giving them the benefit of the doubt and a chance to prove you wrong in a telephone interview.

If you’d like to read more top advice on how to successfully assess CVs, interview candidates and find the perfect new employee for your business, click here to sign up to this blog.

- Anthony Hughes

Anthony Hughes

Anthony is a recruitment veteran of 18 years and is also one of the original founders of Coburg Banks. He now trains recruitment consultants on the best methods to utilise when sourcing and assessing applicants for their clients. 


> More blog posts by Anthony Hughes

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