Whether you’re a graduate or a senior executive, writing a CV is not an easy task. There are thousands of so-called ‘CV gurus’ out there (some even have the nerve to charge you for their services!) and if you type into Google ‘How to write a good CV’ you’re presented with no fewer than 61,900,000 results.
What’s the biggest reason for a bad CV? You are coming at it from the wrong angle! It’s not about knowing what makes a great CV, it’s about understanding what not to do and this is the feedback that rarely gets given.
I’ve seen a few CV’s in my time and whether it’s a graduate looking to work for Faststream, or a senior executive I’m working with, the same mistakes are being made. Here are my top 10 tips of what not to do:
1. Don’t complicate things
The majority of CV’s I see are too complicated, too confusing or just too much. There is no hard and fast rule for how long a CV should be (ignore the advice about having it on one page of A4) but you need to make sure that what you say makes sense. If you can’t explain what you currently do, your key skills and your past successes in simple terms then your CV won’t be any good. Think about this first before you put pen to paper.
2. The strange format
The crazy fonts, funky colour schemes, nice graphics and unusual formats are the start of something truly dreadful. It detracts away from what you’ve written, the recruiter or hiring manager will often have to reformat it anyway and CV parsing software (the technology used to put your CV onto a database) will spit it back out. Use normal fonts, no graphics, neutral colours (black and white is fine!) and make sure your drop the clip art.
3. It read-proof
We know you won’t purposely fill your CV with typos and spelling mistakes, but I could still pick apart most of the CV’s which I get sent with these basic errors. If I see these mistakes my immediate thought is that this person either can’t be bothered, or has a poor eye for detail – neither leaves a good impression. The CV gurus will of course tell you to proof-read your CV multiple times, which is correct, but have you ever thought of reading it back-to-front? It really works – the mistakes you don’t see when you proof-read your CV the normal way are often picked-up when you read it backwards.
4. Drop the buzz words
Using buzz-words at the top of your CV may make you sound like a super-hero, but they don’t get read and distract from the good stuff. My advice – don’t use them at all.
5. The 1,000 word summary
The aim of the summary is exactly that, so make sure it summarises you! Nobody wants to read a full-page ‘summary’ which lists everything you’ve done in your career, adulthood, childhood and anything else in-between. A summary should be exactly that so keep it short, simple and snappy. A couple of sentences really is fine.
6. The job-hopper
OK, so this isn’t exactly related to writing a CV itself, but if you have had lots of jobs and not stayed anywhere for more than 5 minutes, don’t be surprised if this is the first question you get asked to explain after submitting your CV, so be prepared. Job-hoppers usually have lots of reasons (some valid) for changing jobs frequently, but the reality is that it puts employers off.
7. The lost years
Nobody likes the unknown and this is certainly the case when a recruiter or hiring manager reads a CV with unexplained gaps in your dates. Take time to check the dates of your previous employment (even if it was 15 years ago). The majority of the time I pick up gaps in dates on a CV is down to human error and not that the candidate has been on a 6 month holiday in Asia. If you do have genuine career gaps, give a genuine reason for them in your CV.
8. Your dates on your CV don’t match your LinkedIn profile
That’s right, we do look! Once you’ve got your CV correct, make sure the dates of your employment match your LinkedIn profile. If they don’t then the immediate thought is ‘are they lying’ even if you are not.
9. The 30m swimming badge
It’s great that you received your 30m swimming back in 1984, you were player of the year for your local football club as an 11-year old and you are a keen squash player, but it’s really not relevant. Unless you’ve won an Olympic gold then keep these off the CV.
10. Your CV is like your shopping list
Your CV is a chance for you to sell yourself, so make sure it does. What about all your great achievements? How you delivered a certain project under budget and on-time? How you saved money for your business? Make sure you sell and not just tell.