Get back in the driver's seat

“I feel completely lost Becca, I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I’m getting nowhere. Can you help?”

That was the start of my call with a friend last week.

The last time I saw her she was a workaholic who seemed so outwardly sure of herself and her purpose. Then she lost her job, and everything changed Initially she remained positive, posted daily updates on LinkedIn and shared success stories to keep herself busy.

Then about three weeks later she started to panic as reality set in – I don’t have a job and we’re in the middle of a pandemic! As a recruiter, I knew exactly what was coming next. And because I’m her friend I could give her my honest (if at times brutal) advice when she sent me her CV and covering letter and asked “what am I doing wrong?”. But it’s not really a case of right or wrong. It’s the little things, the nuances and interactions between job seekers, recruiters and employers which can be the difference between landing that job, or not.

This blog was actually her idea. “I wish I’d known all of this a few weeks ago. It’s just stuff I’d never really considered but it all sounds so obvious now. Maybe you could do a Vero blog for job seekers?”.

Before you read on, I need to be very clear; I’ve never been made redundant. Although I work with people on a daily basis who have experienced redundancy and I have an insight into what this looks like, I have absolutely no idea how it actually feels.

My aim here is to try to provide some clarity and structure to allow you to better understand how to effectively manage your job search and to avoid the common pitfalls. Whether you’re out of work or employed but actively looking for your next opportunity, the core advice remains the same. And remember, I’m an accountancy recruiter; you’ll probably get different advice if you speak with someone who specialises in engineering/technical recruitment, so bear that in mind.

There’s lots of great advice out there and probably far more concise than this blog (I apologise in advance) but here’s my tuppence worth.

How to get back in the driver's seat.

Think you've got a plan?

First things first. If you’re in the headspace where you think it’s all a numbers game, you need to get out of that. Would you rather apply for 50 jobs and get one interview, or apply for five and get two interviews? It’s all about how you spend your energy. Psychologically you might feel like you’re keeping busy because you’re applying for lots of jobs and therefore think you’re making “progress”, but that’s not always the case. By taking that approach it’s difficult to retain quality in your applications.

My advice, although a little unconventional, is not to start with your CV. Get a sheet of paper (or open an Excel spreadsheet if you’re like me) and block off the following sections:

Likes and dislikes – specific duties, management styles, people and behaviours, company cultures etc. This can also include hobbies and passions. Who’s to say you can’t find a job as an Accountant working for your favourite craft beer brand 😊 win win!

Key skills – what am I really good at (even if it’s not something I enjoy)?

Environments – where have I done my best work and came home feeling like I’ve achieved something. Likewise, where has this not been the case, and why?

Companies – who do I admire, who is doing great work I’m interested in/passionate about? Who are the clients I have worked with and really enjoyed the experience?

People – who have I worked with who I admire? Who do I admire that I’d love to work with/for?

Once you have this, you have a much clearer picture of where you should go and who you should target. Now you can tailor your CV and make targeted approaches for roles you’re actually interested in (and have a chance of securing…more on that later).

Let's talk about CV's

Over the years I’ve had to re-do hundreds of CV’s for people who have spent hours (sometimes days) pouring over them, following templates online, and in some cases reaching out to folk online who will “give you a CV which will guarantee you interviews for as little as £50”.

One of the biggest pitfalls job seekers fall into is making their CV too generic. Profiles which read “I work well under pressure”. “I adapt well to change”. “I work well on my own as well as in a team environment”. Sound familiar?

Even if it’s true, if it’s on your CV, take it off. What are you really trying to say? Instead, could this read “Having worked in a highly regulated environment under significant pressure and constant change, I have proven my ability to adapt well and make decisions with a level head”? How does that sound? Oh and talking of profiles, you should always have a profile or summary at the start of your CV. You don’t have to be a wordsmith; you just need to be true to yourself and make your CV more personal.

Oh, and let's not forget the "two page CV" rule. Personally, I think it's nonsense. But that's just me.

The thing is, every recruiter/hiring manager/HR professional will have a different opinion. Personally, I'd rather read a four page CV full of interesting and relevant information than a two page CV stripped of any real originality or relevant content. Bottom line, if it's important, relevant and highlights your suitability for the role/company, it needs to be in there.

But it’s not just about the CV…

First impressions and spelling mistakes

I remember working a VERY difficult HR job a few years ago. The company is well known for their somewhat unorthodox style. They needed an HR Manager who really embodied their culture. The job description clearly stated that they wanted someone highly personable, who thinks outside of the box to achieve outstanding results, and with very high attention to detail.

The internal recruiter told me she’d received the CV of someone who looked great on paper, but she was a “1 click” application through a job site, there was no covering letter (which she’d specifically asked for), her profile and CV was too corporate and generic, and to top it off, her CV had spelling and grammatical errors.

Her CV was put to the side.

You know the saying “you never get a second chance to make a first impression".


1. Choosing a recruiter

Firstly, I’d say this depends what type of role you’re looking for. For example, if you’re an engineer my advice would possibly be different. But let’s say you’re an accountant looking for a new permanent role.

People buy from people. It’s not about the recruitment business itself, it’s about the individual consultant (or consultants) you’re working with.

If you’re not sure where to start, research your discipline and use LinkedIn to map out recruiters operating in your area. It’s also the time to start asking people you know for recommendations. Focus on real recommendations from people you know. Recruitment agency websites usually have a recommendations/testimonials page which is a good place to start if you’re not comfortable asking friends and peers. Years ago, LinkedIn was great for this, but there are issues with that now. One – the confidentiality aspect often holds people back from publicly endorsing recruiters. Two – most of the endorsements are bull***t. I know this will raise an eyebrow, but you’ll notice that people have started removing this section from their profile. I had to remove mine because random people I didn’t know were endorsing me, sometimes for things I’d never done. I mean hell, what do I know about “petroleum engineering”???

2. Making the first move

My advice - don't solely rely on a a “1 click application” via a job site to get a recruiter engaged. Pick up the phone or send them an email to express your interest in working with them. Start a conversation. The worst thing you can do is sit firing off applications for multiple roles with the same recruitment company across multiple disciplines. I’ve sat in an open plan office when these applications start pinging in. Applications for everything from an AP role to a Cost Engineer and Technical Author, all from the same person. It’s not the right first impression.

3. What no one else dares to say...

I have to hold my breath while I write this next bit, but I think it’s important.

Please remember that recruiters don’t have to work with you. They choose to.

Recruiters are paid by end employers when they fill a vacancy. How they do this differs company to company but one thing is for certain - if you make a bad impression they’re not going to work with you. If they think you’re only interested in a quick-fix and will leave their client high and dry, they’re not going to work with you.

We all get annoyed from time to time, let’s face it there’s little more annoying than being rejected for a job you think you’re perfect for, or receiving zero feedback after an interview. But there’s a time and a place, and a manner in which you should express frustration.

Also, make your own judgement on whether a relationship is serving you or not. If a recruiter isn’t replying to your emails, if they’re not returning your calls, and if they’re sending you emails on a regular basis with unsuitable jobs, are they really going to help you find your next job? Regardless of what their marketing machine says, the internal workings of recruitment agencies vary dramatically; they have different approaches, different priorities and target their consultants in different ways.

At Vero, we’re very up front with job seekers about the way we work, and our limitations. We also spend hours every week supporting our candidates with direct job applications (not through Vero), introducing them to employers who are hiring directly and connecting them with other recruiters.

Our approach is holistic. But it’s not for everyone, and that’s ok.

It’s important to find the right fit for you.


1. No one size fits all

Much like engaging with a recruiter you need to make the right first impression.

There’s not a one size fits all approach to engaging with an employer. Look carefully at their job adverts and their company jobs page (if they have one) as most will have clear instructions as to how they want applicants to approach them. If your application is speculative (i.e. there’s not a live vacancy posted), you want to take a considered approach. The last thing you want is for your CV to end up in a black hole.

2. Research, relevance and remembering to follow up

This is where a bit of research comes in. Use LinkedIn, press releases, company website etc to find out who the correct contact is. Do you know them? Do you have LinkedIn connections in common – could someone introduce you?

If there is a company on your target list, follow their social media pages - interact with their content, be seen.

Then make your approach - clearly detail why you’re interested in their business, what you could bring to the team and, if you're not applying for an advertised role, acknowledge the fact that you’re making a speculative application.

And importantly…ALWAYS remember to follow up, and do this religiously.


It’s great, but it’s also a pain in the backside. Algorithms change and formats change. All. The. Time.

There’s conflicting advice everywhere you look (I know I’m maybe adding to the problem, sorry). My advice is simple…

Make sure you list your education correctly, under “Education”. For example, if you’re a CA, and write this in your wonderfully curated bio, but fail to list ICAS under your education profile, you’re not coming up in any recruiter searches for qualified CA’s.

Ensure the dates on your LinkedIn profile match the dates on your CV. For obvious reasons – any irregularities arise suspicion. Make sure it matches.

It doesn’t need to be war and peace, keep it simple. An overview of each role or key achievements is enough. We don’t need your full page corporate job spec copied and pasted.

Bio – just like your CV, this should be highly personal to you and clear of any generic buzz words and phrases. If you’re actively looking for work, make sure that’s in your bio.

Rants – There’s a time and a place and an audience. It’s all about making the right impression again. Save it for Facebook. On that note...

Social media footprint

I could write a page on this alone (but Andrew won’t let me and I’d probably offend half the town). So let me keep it simple.

If you’re on social media, and you have strong views (about anything), keep your profile private.

Social media snooping is great for recruiters – it allows us to find out if we have any friends in common, and it often gives us a sense of what you’re like as a person. But that picture of you breaking lockdown rules arm in arm with your mates, it probably won’t go down well with a few people. And one of those might have your CV on their desk. Set your profile to private and share your views and pictures in peace.

Do I really have to tailor every application?

It’s essential, not a nice to have, and far easier to manage if you’re taking time over your applications rather than the mass approach we discussed at the start. Make sure the bio on your CV is tailored for the role and company you’re applying to. Also make sure you add any key achievements to your CV of relevance to the role. E.g. you’ve maybe worked on a specific client project and you know this company has taken over the contract. Important to note I think. Also, if they ask for a covering letter please make sure you give them one.

But hey, who am I to preach...

In 2007, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I spent hours curating (what I thought was) a perfectly worded covering letter highlighting my personal attributes and transferrable skills for a Trainee Recruitment Consultant role. I was applying to two companies, so naturally copied and pasted the same “perfect” email, attached my CV and hit send. Shortly after I received an email I’ll never forget. I’d forgotten to amend the company name on the second application, and oh boy, was the recruiter happy to give me some “advice”! I’m glad she did. I got the other job and I’ve been terrified of that recruiter ever since.

On the other hand, I know people who’ve fired off a dozen CV’s in the space of 10 minutes, full of spelling mistakes and ended up with a few job offers. It happens. It’s timing and it’s luck. But I’m a firm believer that you can make yourself luckier by taking a more focussed approach.

I’d love to know what you think?


Before you go...

In the meantime, if you're actively searching for work, I'd recommend following the folk below who share great content and advice about searching for work, finding your purpose, and general life stuff to get you through the tougher days:

Ross Jolly - AYP Founder, Business Owner and Recruiter.

Lee Clark - Recruitment Manager and Brummie...but don't hold that against him.

Stacey Kincaid - Recruitment Manager with a passion for diversity and inclusion. She's also a pie chart enthusiast (girl after my own heart) and has her own unique style for writing job adverts.

Gavin Oattes - He changed my life in 2005 when he visited my secondary school with his fledgling business Tree of Knowledge. Now #1 Best Selling Author and International Keynote Speaker.

Rich Tinto - Purpose driven, visionary architect, and all round good guy. We love him, and his honest vlogs.

Mike Scotland - Founder of manUp speak UP and Community cleanUP. Personally I think everyone should be following him - read his content and you'll see what I mean.