Five things that are annoying to see on a CV
Posted on 25th June 2018 at 10:10
When writing some blurb for the new website, I was trying to work out how many CVs I had written over the years. It has to be around 1000. Even though I loved sifting through hundreds of CVs on an extremely regular basis, there were – and still are – some things that really got my goat. And if they got my goat, they will be getting other recruiters’ goats too.
There are lots of CV guides out there. You can give your CV to five, ten or fifteen different people for an opinion and they will all say different things. The observations in this blog are based on almost twenty years’ experience of writing, reading and using CVs to recruit for positions I’ve needed to fill and apply for positions I’ve wanted to have. So, as with any guide, take the bits you like and ignore the bits you don’t….but these are very tried and tested!
If the company you’re applying to has given you a person specification or even just an advert, they are telling you what they want. This sounds obvious, but so many people simply send their generic CV in for jobs, without really looking at it and seeing whether it matches what the company wants. Sadly for job seekers, gone are the days when you’d rejoice when reading the words “apply by sending a CV to…” because you knew you could just print one out and chuck it in the post… now we really need to check it and possibly rewrite it for every single job we use it to apply for. Yes it’s effort, but employers need to feel special and really get the feeling you want to work for them, which they won’t if they see a CV that doesn’t match any of what they’ve asked for. And that can be really annoying.
The longest CV I ever received was 8 pages… the candidate was 23 and that was 15 years ago, so I can only imagine her CV is now around 24 pages by now! When writing a CV it is tempting to write about everything you’ve done, particularly if you feel it is relevant to the job, but realistically an employer is not going to read your CV if it is over two pages. CV stands for Curriculum Vitae, which means course of life but that’s a bit deceptive because employers only really want to know about the bits that are relevant to them. Hobbies and interests should only be listed if they’re relevant to the job. You only need to detail the last ten years of jobs. If you have higher level qualifications, an employer doesn’t need to know about your GCSE in Needlework (unless it’s relevant!). Think about fonts: sometimes reducing your font by just one size will bring you back on to two pages. Plus, you should always be sending a cover email with your CV, so if there’s information you really want the recruiter to know about (not the Needlework GCSE) but there’s no room in the CV, you can always put it in your email.
Of course you want your CV to be unique – more on that in point 5 – but when it is too weird, it can really wind an employer up. Employers have cited things such as when candidates print white text on black paper, producing a CV in an unusual shape, mixing up the order of information and using a rare font as some of their biggest aesthetic annoyances on CVs. There are some professions for which this type of CV may be better appreciated, but if you are applying for something where you do not have to be a creative genius, it is better to stick to a standard format. When I ran Job Clubs years ago, we used to say that the average time employers would spend initially reading a CV was 15 seconds. I recently read that it is 8 seconds! I don’t know how we’d ever get an accurate number of seconds, but it’s safe to say that the average time an employer spends initially reading your CV isn’t very long. Therefore, if they can’t see straight away who you are and what your last job was, they are likely to lose interest, even if you do perfectly match their person specification.
If it isn’t working, it’s not The One. You might think your CV is strong but if you’re not getting responses then it needs a rehaul. If you are applying for jobs that you don’t have work experience in, your CV may need to be skills based rather than chronological. If you are applying for jobs that you have loads of experience in, but your CV isn’t yielding responses, it may be your phrasing or layout. Ask someone else for an honest opinion: preferably someone who knows about CVs. There are lots of services out there. Some you will pay for and some you won’t. It can be hard to take when you get rejection after rejection – or worse still, no reply at all – but if this is happening, it’s time to take back control. You may even need to delete the CV from your laptop and just start again. I had the same CV from school that I had simply added to until I became a careers advisor in my mid twenties. I hadn’t even thought about it: the template had been given at school and I assumed that was just how it was done. Once that was deleted, it gave me the freedom to write something that was nothing like the one my 16-year-old self had produced.
At the risk of contradicting point 3, when your CV reads the same as everyone else’s, it can be annoying for a recruiter. A standard CV will have a personal profile and skills section where you take some time to describe to your future bosses what you can bring to the role and their organisation. This can be really difficult to write and it can be tempting to throw in standard words such as “hardworking” and “honest”: these are some of the worst descriptions to use because everyone thinks they are hardworking and honest! In a CV session recently, I was working with a group of students and they were jotting down some adjectives that we thought employers might want to read about them. We then went around the table and everyone had to say whether they thought that word described them. Everyone said yes to every word. It was a great exercise because it really showed how, if all of those students used those words on their CVs, they would be completely indistinguishable from each other. Use actual figures and truths in your personal profile and skills sections that apply only to you. Maybe you increased profits by 17%. Maybe you supported a team that achieved Outstanding with Ofsted. Or you counselled 3 departments through 2 rounds of redundancies. Those are the things that demonstrate that you’re hardworking but are not on every other person’s CV.
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