Your CV is a marketing tool that needs to stand out. This document will be the first impression the recruiter or employer has of you. Large corporations, as well as smaller organisations, are using an application tracking system (ATS) to screen candidates’ CVs. To get through to the next stage of the recruitment process, your CV needs to be tailored to the role and employer which can be done by focusing on the experience, qualifications and skills sections.
This video by Andrew Fennell, founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV, will identify 8 common CV mistakes that you might be making that are causing your CV to be overlooked, and will give you advice on how to fix them. Or keep reading to find out what ‘CV clangers’ to avoid that will help keep your CV IN the in-tray and OUT of the bin:
It is important to be realistic when searching and applying for jobs. Therefore, you should invest time in reading beyond the job advert. Read the job description carefully and consider what you find interesting, have experience in, and could find a challenge. Familiarise yourself with the person specification to identify what essential and desirable criteria you meet. Are you under or over-qualified? How does this job relate to what you have done previously? How can you demonstrate to an employer that you are the right candidate? Research shows that women are more likely to apply for positions if they meet 100% of the criteria, whilst men will apply if they meet 60% of the criteria. Potential factors here include confidence, self-doubt, age, years of experience, fear of rejection.
There will be some positions that need specific qualifications and / experience e.g. a doctor, CEO, a solicitor and an accountant. However, if you are looking for a new challenge and see a role that matches what you are looking for it could be worth applying. You need to demonstrate on your CV with confidence, that you have the transferable skills, a genuine interest in and potential to do the job and a willingness to learn.
So here they are, 10 things not to do on your CV:
1. Providing irrelevant personal information
The personal details you are expected to include on your CV will vary in different countries. It is important to consider what information you are sharing with employers. In the UK, avoid a CV with a photograph, date of birth, nationality and marital status. Similarly, if you have social media accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook for personal use, you do not need to share these. This is another opportunity to make a positive impression.
Think about the position you are applying for and how your interests and achievements relate to it. An interest in the exhibitions would be useful to mention if you want to work in the arts sector; community engagement activities would be suitable if you want to work in the charity sector; involvement in sport activities would be advantageous if you want a career in the sports sector. You can highlight other activities that demonstrate transferable skills and your values.
2. Burying important information
Your CV will have little time to impress. The recruiter will look at your CV and think ‘Why should I interview this person? What will they bring to the organisation?’
Make relevant information stand out on your CV. This could be through some information in bold and persuasive language i.e. action words and achievements.
3. Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors
Always double-check the spelling on your CV. Ensure you are writing in the correct tense and if you are using the third person, stick to it throughout the document. Avoid Americanisms and use the spell-check. If you struggle to spot mistakes, ask a careers professional, mentor or friend to look over your CV or use spell-checking software like Grammarly.
4. Unexplained gaps in employment
Having unexplained gaps in your employment history raises questions. It makes recruiters nervous. If you are lucky, they will briefly wonder what you were doing during that mystery period as your CV is folded into a paper aeroplane and whizzed towards the trash can.
5. Lying or misleading information
Recruiters can spot information that does not stack up. For example, they are always on the lookout for inflated:
- Job titles
Employers are conducting increasingly vigorous background checks on candidates. This can range from conducting a Google search on you to employing a specialist candidate checking service. Something that you think is just ‘bending the truth’ could really trip you up.
6. Adding references to your CV
You may be thinking, “What? Why not? References in a CV are surely standard practice?” References are generally requested further along in the recruitment process, so there’s really no benefit to adding them to your CV, and they just take up value space. And according to StandOut CV, “the benefits of leaving your references out of your CV, far outweigh the benefits of including them.”
7. A long, waffly CV
Keep your CV concise and to the point. It should be no more than 2 pages of A4 unless you are applying for an academic / research post.
Focus on your recent and most relevant experience and achievements. The employer wants to read a tailored CV focused on transferable experience, skills and achievements. Think about what you have demonstrated in different roles that the employer would be interested in.
This rule applies to qualifications too. If you studied a subject many eons ago then, unless you have kept your skills up to date, it’s probably no longer relevant. For example, if you studied French to degree level in 1986 but have maintained your levels of fluency by visiting France every year then great! However, if you’re applying for a job in Web Design because you took a home study course in HTML in 1998 then don’t be surprised if the recruiter doesn’t call…
If your CV is too long, try these 6 effective fixes.
8. Badly formatted CV
These days your CV will most likely be read on-screen before it’s printed off. If indeed, it is ever printed. Therefore, format your CV so that it is easy to read on a screen.
Stick with fonts such as Calibri or Arial at font size 11 or 12. Use italics, bold text and colours sparingly and avoid borders and boxes as these can all distract from the content.
If you upload your CV as a Word document, the employer could have a different version, and this could make the document looked poorly formatted. Uploading a PDF can be more reliable.
However, you may need to submit your CV via a web form. Most likely is that these web forms will strip out your document’s formatting anyway. It’s even more important, therefore, to ensure that your CV is laid out and formatted to look good stripped bare of its ‘bolds’, sub-headings and even bullet points.
9. Meaningless introductions
Does your CV have a paragraph at the top that goes something like:
“Dynamic, enthusiastic, sales-oriented I.T. literate, results-driven manager with several years people management experience seeking exciting and challenging new opportunities in the blah blah blah…”
Your CV has got to hit the recruiter smack bang between the eyes! It has got to make them sit up, spurt hot coffee from their mouths as they scramble across their desks for the phone to call you and appoint you on the spot!!
Or, to put it another way, your CV has got to get you noticed and invited in for an interview. So an opening paragraph that says everything and nothing at the same time is not going to do it.
In its place, consider crafting a short, simple and benefits-focused headline about yourself. For example, “Senior Librarian with 10 years’ experience of managing online resources in the health sector.”
That will do nicely. It might not be perfect, but it is better than what you had before.
Journalists do this all of the time of course. They write headlines that tell you what the story is about but tease you just enough in order to encourage you to read on. Your opening, personal headline should do just the same.
10. The ‘So What’ CV
We end where we started. Your CV has a tough job. It will probably be in the hands of the recruiter for a very small amount of time – unless, that is, you smeared it in Super Glue before you sent it (that would be an inventive touch but is also a ‘no-no’).
To give yourself the best chance of it actually being read, make sure that it ‘looks right’. Make sure that it is not too long, that it is laid out correctly, is properly formatted and so on. If you do all of these things then you have a chance. The recruiter will lean back in his or her chair, take another sip of coffee and start to digest – not scan – what you’ve written.
So do not throw this moment away!
Making sure you do not do the CV ‘no no’s’ simply gets you to the first base. Whilst this is an achievement in itself if your CV does not convince and persuade then you have again wasted your time.
Your CV has to sell you.
It has to make you sound interesting. It has to make you sound as though you will fit into the organisation and that you’ll make a quick and substantial difference.
Because if all your CV does is make the recruiter think, ‘so what?’ you will have dropped the biggest CV clanger of all.