We all know how important a CV is. It’s the first impression a prospective employer has of us; it is the shop window of our proposition, the advertisement for our skills. Why then are so many CVs positively cringe-worthy? If you employ people, it’s likely that you have seen a fair number of CVs in addition to your own. We’d love to know – what’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen on a CV?
And if you’re in the business of sending your CV out to prospective employers right now, how can you make sure you avoid these blunders?
“My hobbies are…”
One employer we spoke to regaled us with the tale of a CV that was not only photocopied at an angle on the page, but that contained the vital news that ‘my hobbies are watching TV and socialising’. Now we all like to spend time with our friends and occasionally escape with a bit of channel-surfing, but it’s hardly likely to recommend us as a candidate for a top position! Rather than hobbies, list your ‘other activities’, focusing instead on the things you do outside of work that serve your community, further your own personal development, etc. Chairing your church committee, coaching the local youth soccer team, studying another language…these will make you look civic-minded, socially responsible, or committed to lifelong learning and will also demonstrate skills and competencies that will be valuable on the job as well as off.
A picture is worth 1000 words
Do you include a photo? This is a controversial question. In the digital age it almost seems de rigueur. Yet a photo can prompt biases in the recruiter that you might prefer to avoid, at least until you meet face to face and can defuse them in person. However inappropriate, judgements can be formed on the basis of age, hairstyle, scars, even a look in the eyes, none of which will matter when they are attached to a living, breathing person. A photo is a record of only one moment in time and sometimes can capture a quality that misrepresents us. Whatever you do, if you include a photo, make sure it is of professional quality, you are well dressed in it, and the look on your face is natural and relaxed, whether smiling or not (avoid sporting a cheesy grin). Whatever you do, don’t choose a photo from your wedding day! (Yes, we have seen this.)
Achievements not duties!
Another employer told us of a 10-page CV that included, for several consecutive jobs, the task of ‘opening and sorting the mail’. This might be important for a job in the mailroom…but the position being recruited was a mid-level managerial post. Nothing in those 10 pages actually cited anything the candidate had achieved in his career to date; his CV might as well have been the job descriptions he was recruited into. State your accomplishments, not just your responsibilities, and quantify where possible. If you managed a large budget, say something about the savings you made or how the budget stretched to more line items than originally planned due to your efficient procurement methods. Anyone can manage a large budget…into the red! Stand out from the other CVs by showing how you do things differently.
Keep it simple, sweetheart. You may have fixed the IT problems of a dozen companies and have a fistful of accolades to your name, but no one wants to plough through a novel to work out if you are worth interviewing. Have you ever received a 20-page CV from a candidate? Did you read it? We have, and we didn’t. Two pages is ideal, three maximum. Many recruiters now specify a three-page limit. That’s because they will have a stack of CVs to read before shortlisting, and no one has time to read 50 CVs that are 20 pages long!
Your CV is a highlighted version of your career, showcasing your skills and major achievements. It should make the employer intrigued enough to want to know more about you – to learn HOW you managed those achievements, and to find out if you can do the same for his or her organisation. Don’t steal your own thunder by telling all before you even get in front of the employer.
It’s a crime…
We’ve seen precious space on CVs taken up with ‘Criminal record: none’. You must disclose a criminal record; but if you don’t have one, there is nothing to disclose! But you’ve just planted a seed of worry in the employer’s mind: ‘Did he narrowly escape having a criminal record?’ Don’t take up valuable space with irrelevant information. Likewise, evenings at the Zoroastrian temple might be a very important part of your life, but they are not relevant to your skill as an engineer or a Java developer. Religion, like sex, is best kept private, at least when it comes to applying for jobs.
A good rule of thumb to remember is: if a piece of information doesn’t 1) enable the recruiter to contact you or 2) relate to your ability to do the job (this includes qualifications as well as experience)…it doesn’t belong on your CV. If the job description does not specify that you must have a driving license, it does not relate to your ability to do the job, so it doesn’t need to be on your CV. HR will ask these details at interview anyhow. The job of your CV is to get you the interview, so you need to inspire curiosity and confidence in you as a professional. And you need to do it quickly and succinctly. The recruiter has another 49 CVs to read. You have two to three minutes to stand out from the crowd.
For employers too
If you’re the one with the job of wading through a stack of CVs, we hope these tips will also help you conduct that all-important review that results in your shortlist of candidates for interview. Very few people really know how to present themselves well in a CV, and so you will be faced with a lot of blunders such as those mentioned here. You may have blunders of your own, such as unconsciously reacting to a photo inappropriately. Hopefully now you will recognise them and be able to more quickly identify those candidates who really are worth your time, and vice versa.
Good luck to all candidates and employers alike! And remember to share your ‘worst CV ever’ with us at Consultnet. We want to know the best of the worst