As the use of e-mail increases, so employers seem to set less store by résumés, writes Hazel Davis

If you were watching BBC2's The Apprentice recently, you might have noticed the cocky headhunter Paul Tulip boasting that he hadn't needed a CV for his past two jobs. His competitor, Ansell Henry, also confirmed that he hadn't been asked for one for years. And a recent poll commissioned by Employment Law Advisory Services (ELAS) in Manchester has revealed that almost half of small and medium-sized businesses don't insist on seeing a proper CV before hiring a new employee.

This will probably make you wonder why you bothered to spend so much time and effort putting together your CV. And what about the thousands of books telling you how to write the perfect CV, what colour paper to print it on, and how many pages it should be? And, crucially, how on earth are these CV-less people getting the jobs?

Many small and medium-sized businesses rely on word-of-mouth to recruit new staff members and, as more and more are relying on e-mail correspondence, some CVs are falling by the wayside when an initial e-mail fails to impress, or impresses so much that the accompanying CV never gets printed out.

Dan Jeffrey, editor-in-chief at the Leeds magazine group Leeds Guide, agrees that the job market has seen a shift away from the formal CV. "A CV doesn't actually tell you much," he says. "I certainly think it's true that they are on the way out. In this industry, you are far more likely to get a job by recommendation anyway, and, if I'm honest, if someone has come through word-of-mouth, I am probably going to be more open to them in an interview."

The workplace is so dynamic these days that employers increasingly want to cover their backs when it comes to trusting new staff members. Many employers are also starting to feel that they can't rely on a CV as much as they can trust their instincts, so many would rather offer a job based on an interview or an on-the-spot test. Of course, this inevitably means that the people getting the jobs will be talkers and networkers rather than quiet, hard-working high-achievers, who can fail to impress in an interview.

Anna Wood, 26, internal sales co-ordinator for Sheard Packaging in Halifax, got her job in 2005 through word-of-mouth. "I heard about the job via the woman that used to do my old job," she says. "We had a mutual friend and she mentioned to her manager that I was looking for a new job. I quickly received an e-mail asking if I'd attend a 'site visit', and I felt that I had nothing to lose.

"I had a brief chat with the works manager and operations director about my work history and my general interests, and then I was shown around the site. I came back into the office after about 20 minutes and they offered me the job right away. I accepted and started work there a month later."

This approach has worked so well for Wood that she has secured a new position the same way, as assistant manager of a care home. She says, "I'm going to college in September to do an NVQ 4, and then next year, I'm doing an RMA (Registered Managers Award) so that I can take over when the manager retires. Again, I got the job because I know the manager through a friend. I would definitely say word-of-mouth is the best way to find employment. It has worked for me!"

But if you think that this means that only the well-connected can get jobs, don't panic. According to Jeffrey, it just means that applicants will have to step up on the opening letter or e-mail rather than concentrate on the CV. "Because employers are realising that a CV isn't always necessarily truthful or accurate, job seekers need to pay more attention to their opening pitches and focus on networking," he says.

In response to the changing dynamic, the European Business School in London, for example, is running regular networking events attended by headhunters; and the University of Derby Career Development Centre has produced literature explaining how to make the best use of contacts, how to network, and how to put yourself in a good position to be headhunted.

Careers services are realising that it's not what you know but who you know that counts now. To stay ahead of the game, job seekers need to capitalise on this.

How to get on in a CV-less world

If you want to ensure that you are one step ahead of the "insider" job market...

Join www.ecademy.com, a social business network, with over 70,000 members worldwide, connecting business people and sharing contacts and support

Visit www.derby.ac.uk/Careers/students/careernetworking.htm for a guide to effective networking

Buy Diane Darling's excellent book, The Networking Survival Guide: Get the Success You Want by Tapping into the People You Know (£9.99), to find out how to maximise contacts and then use them to get your dream job

Talk to friends and family about your job requirements, exploit the "six degrees of separation" rule and try to find a link to someone in the field you want to enter

Brush up on your writing skills so that you pack a punch with your speculative letter or e-mail. Avoid careless spelling mistakes and clichés, and research the company or individual thoroughly before approaching them.

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