How to Optimise Your CV to Be Shortlisted for Construction Job Applications

Posted by Steve Thomas Construction Recruitment Director, UK & Canada on Monday, July 12, 2021

I wrote 6 pages of Career Advice for the Maxim website back in 2004 and have updated it a number of times since; and all the key points have definitely stood the test of time.  In early 2021 we completed the substantial task of migrating the Maxim Recruitment database of construction talent to Bullhorn, one of the world’s leading recruitment software providers. Our recruitment offices around the world now have a live real time integration with LinkedIn. We also have exciting plans underway to further develop our use of market leading software to ensure we can provide the very best job matches and relationship management with the employers and jobseekers we work with.

And so what you might say – as a jobseeker I just want to be helped to secure the job I applied for or to be headhunted your dream job!

All true – but… the mechanics of this don’t just happen by magic. 

In the age of short attention spans and rushed job applications that are encouraged by ‘Easy Apply’ buttons, we can all apply for hundreds of jobs within minutes - and this leads to more and more applicants and applications for recruiters to manage.  So as the jobseeker’s opportunities to easily apply for more and more jobs steadily increases, so the employer and recruitment agency’s need to filter and reject more and more new and historic applicants increases. The filtering task becomes more and more complicated and data driven – and sometimes a part-automated task.

My suggestion to construction industry jobseekers is therefore - why not combat this ‘fast food’ on demand way of working, with the equivalent of ‘slow food’ – a considered approach to make the most and the best of those CV flavours!!  Let me explain what I mean.

If you follow the time-served Career Advice steps we recommend, you will stand out as a candidate when you match the essential requirements of the construction job description you are applying for. 

Standing out as a candidate starts with a good CV – but many otherwise good candidates present poor quality CVs to recruitment consultants and employers – why do they do this and how can you be sure to avoid doing this yourself?

Let’s be honest for a second…. if preparing, drafting, summarising, collating, presenting, proof reading, checking, spell checking, seeking, and acting on a second opinion, amending for a specific purpose and being accountable for your written correspondence isn’t important to you and isn’t your thing, why are you applying for a job and a career as a quantity surveyor, engineer, project manager, delay analyst or claims consultant?  If you can do all this, then demonstrate this by presenting a CV that reflects your professional approach and your character traits. Fair comment?

Assuming you have written a suitably professional CV, there are then a number of other things to check before you submit it for review and consideration.

It’s worth noting that many employer and recruitment companies don’t have high tech recruitment databases and retrieval systems – even the best high tech recruitment systems like we have at Maxim will be useless for your purposes if you don’t provide a CV in a format that is compatible and can be added in a way that can then be shortlisted and prioritised.  Here are a few examples:

Document Format

In most cases, your submitted CV should go onto some form of database for review almost immediately but it will likely also be retained (according to the applicable company privacy policy) and will be retrieved and shortlisted in relation to future similar (or even better-fitting) job opportunities.  It therefore makes sense for your CV details to be presented in a way that is usable both now and in the future.  It is essential to note that some document file formats are much more problematic to ‘index’ and wordsearch from:

  1. Most employers and recruiters prefer a Word document format for your CV. This is the most flexible and accessible format to work with and allows amendments and adjustments to be easily made and for coversheets and project profiles to be added where appropriate

  2. RTF Files are often difficult to parse / index / search – if you have this format, consider re-saving the file as a .docx or .doc and resubmit

  3. If your CV contains images this can cause problems for databases in several ways
    (file size, indexing of text, page layout etc)

  4. If your PDF CV is saved as an ‘image’ the text won’t be searchable or retrievable at all
    (To check if the resume is an image PDF, use Select All (ctrl+a) and if the text is not individually highlighted, but the rather the whole doc is, then it's an image).

Document Layout and Presentation Issues

I am often baffled by the frequent obsession with CV appearance and presentation over substance and content.  A well-presented and smart looking CV is important, but for me that doesn’t mean using the latest fashionable Microsoft CV template or paying a CV consultant a fortune to present your competences as a bar chart or pie chart or graphic. You don’t need panels and colours and icons or complex formats and layouts to shine! For many years, a leading cost consultant insisted its employees prepared a corporate ‘Client CV’ that had 3 or 4 columns running down each of the pages, which for me made the CV almost unreadable.

To make your CV easy to read, skim and digest, and to allow your CV to be easily saved, indexed and retrieved consider the following advice:

  1. Avoid multi-column format

  2. Avoid tables where an alternative method of layout and presentation is possible

  3. Avoid mixed font types within a specific section

  4. Use section headers to list achievements under a job, instead of bullet points

Present Your Contact Information in a Standard Simple Format

There is an incorrect assumption that automated CV parsers and database administrators automatically know how to handle every piece of information on a CV.  Just as bookkeeping software can automate the expenses claim process when you take a photo of your receipt by relating data relating to the supplier, cost and category to the correct fields, the parsing (or extraction of) data from your CV will work best when the data format & presentation provides a bit of help to explain which data is the address and which is the cost and which is the VAT number etc.  With your CV, you can help the humans and the automated systems to help you most effectively by:

  1. Formatting your address in the style you would on an envelope to make the data categories (street/city/county/country etc) clear so that they can be correctly saved

  2. Putting your contact details in the main body of the document and not in a header or footer panel

  3. Avoiding the use of images and tables

Present Other Critical Information and Selection Criteria in a Clear and Interrogatable Format

  1. Avoid use of legacy Wingdings/symbols that can have random effects and cause problems

  2. Keep keywords and skills out of headers, footers, and tables (see above)

  3. Avoid unnecessary capitalisation (databases can interpret these words as being proper nouns and being a person name or company name and upload incorrectly)

  4. Check you have used capital letters for employer company names and have ended company names with common company name identifiers such as Ltd., Inc., Co., LLC., LLP. etc to make their meaning and context clear.

  5. Make sure the formatting of company names is consistent across your CV and isn’t ‘nested’ within the body text of the further details that follow

  6. Use a common and consistent date format for your work history dates so this can be easily skimmed and parsed into a database

  7. Label your Education and Professional Qualifications section/s with a distinct title and list all course and qualifications gained in a standard recognisable format with dates included next to each one


A well-qualified and experienced construction industry candidate also needs to take the time and effort to present their CV professionally and accurately to maximise their chances for consideration for the very best construction jobs available. 

The exciting and career developing opportunities open to candidates can be both immediately available at the time of application to Maxim or come at a later stage when a perfectly matched CV is expertly retrieved and shortlisted from a well-managed database (or talent pool) of candidates.

The optimising of CV and career chances is a joint effort between a candidate and a recruitment consultancy, and we are here to help and to work together with you.

Steve Thomas
Construction Recruitment Director, UK & Canada