CV Tips: 20 Things to do…..20 Things to avoid!
Let’s start by blowing a myth away. The 2 page rule is nonsense. Do NOT try and fit 20 years into 2 pages by using font size 4 and margins measured in millimetres. Follow the below rules and your CV will be the perfect length, whether 1 page or 7.
Your CV is your Sales Document, it is not your opportunity to demonstrate how easily you can rival War & Peace, nor your chance to use every one of the over-4-syllable words you learnt from your word-a-day thesaurus desk calendar.
Your CV will get 20 seconds, if you are lucky, before the reader decides if you are worthy of a 2nd view, or destined for a polite (and politically correct, EU legislation appeasing) “Thanks but please don’t contact us again” rejection email.
Think of the best Sales Literature you have seen, and why it worked. Chances are it was simple, informative, credible, accurate, factual, objective, captured your attention and told you just what you wanted to know without waffle, or children’s names.
Your CV should be the same.
A professional CV is the absolute key to a successful job search; fall at the first hurdle and you are out before the tournament as started, a bit like Man City. Be Relevant, Be Credible, Be Professional.
Structure should be simple. Don’t try and overcomplicate: Personal Details (and contact details!), Qualifications, Career History, Achievements, Interests.
Personal Details: Name, Contact details(!), Date of birth (controversial – see below).
Qualifications: Professional Qualifications (real ones). Masters/Post-Grads/Degrees, A-Levels/O-levels/GCSEs/etc.
Career History: Reverse chronological order, Keep it simple: What you did, where you did it, when you did it, what you were responsible for, what you achieved. No gaps, no stories, no humour. Consistent format. Relevant info only. Include facts & figures, show growth/change in % terms. Show all detail for last 3 roles/10 years, then decreasing data.
Interests: Relevant, interesting, concise. Be aware what it says about you (Female shot-putters/male-flower arranger). Chose interests which have added to your character, and where you have achieved or committed.
- Keep it simple. Straight and to the point
- Tailor your CV for each role you apply for, ensure responsibilities/achievements are relevant
- Use a sensible, modern font and a small to medium font size
- Make sure your CV gives the right impression of your skills and achievements
- Be positive: do not give details of anything you are not good at
- Focus on quality not quantity (forget 2 page ‘rule’)
- Be clear and concise, use note form English, not prose
- Use bullet points where necessary to reduce blocks of text and word count
- Include your Date of Birth (see below)
- Detail qualifications & grades, but only A Level subjects if relevant (and not O’level/GCSE)
- Include relevant, recognised, vocational training courses. (Don’t include LearnDirect ‘Intro to IT’)
- Check thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors (don’t just rely on spellcheck)
- Give a brief description of each business you’ve worked for
- Focus on achievements, detail the (positive) impact on the organisation
- Ensure transferability of skills without referring to them as ‘Transferable skills’
- Decrease the information detailed in more distant career history
- Check how your CV displays on another computer AND on an iPad/Tablet
- Get someone who doesn’t know you to proof read. If they don’t understand, change it
- Assume your CV will initially be read/assessed by a 16yr school leaver in HR. Make sure key data is obvious
- Turn ‘track changes’ off – it will highlight all your draft mistakes
- Put ‘Curriculum Vitae’ as the title, use your name
- Forget contact details on the CV itself (be wary of Social Media ‘names’ unless content appropriate for prospective employers to read)
- Put a photograph on your CV (and if you must, make it from the current decade)
- Include your children’s names/ages/education/career objectives
- Include non-academic/non-professional qualifications unless relevant. No Age7 swimming awards!
- Include any qualification you have to explain i.e. XXXX – seen equivalent to an MBA in Liechtenstein
- Use inappropriate email address (Jimmy5Bellies@… Looks crass; JobResponses@… Looks desperate)
- Use a profile unless VERY relevant, VERY succinct & VERY accurate
- Summarise 20yrs achievements together then repeat in career (lose the summary – looks like you are hiding something)
- Use tables/Textboxes/bizarre spacing – it is unlikely to retain its formatting
- Try and squeeze too much on a page. 3 sensibly spaced pages looks better than 2 crammed/4 over-spaced)
- Actively seek to hide your age by removing dates/omitting earlier positions/tweaking qualifications
- Don’t use abbreviations or jargon, unless sure the recipient of your CV understands
- Use the word ‘I’ too much
- Use logos/hyperlinks – they can get blocked by email servers and/or cause formatting issues
- Leave gaps in timeline, if earlier career not relevant, show by title only
- Be negative about anything – i.e. reasons for leaving/highlighting where achievements went un-rewarded
- Explain why your experience is relevant, if it isn’t obvious, it won’t count
- Include bland interests. We can all read/swim/socialise. It isn’t noteworthy
- Blindly upload your CV to Job Boards/Public websites – anyone can see it
Date of Birth
The Human Rights brigade will bang on about NOT putting ages on CVs due to Age Discrimination. Age Discrimination is wrong, and the measures to avoid it are just and correct. However, the issue is discrimination over age, not the knowledge of. If you wilfully (seek to) hide your age, it gives the impression you have the issue with your age – it also runs the risk of annoying the reader.
My advice: be straight. Be proud of your age and the experience it means you have. Stick it on (Date of Birth, NOT age).
A comparatively recent trend, telling me what you think of yourself. In theory, a great strategy; in reality, highly risky. Profiles always read too positive, demonstrating an extremely high, one-sided opinion and being wholly non-objective. CVs should be factual, objective & historical; Profiles seldom are. Even if the reader does like it, you will have a far harder task of matching let alone exceeding expectations. Furthermore, if your career history and achievements do not leave the reader with the same impression as you profiles dictates, either your achievements, or your profile are poorly written!
My advice: If you want a profile, put a factual one-line summation – an elevator pitch, or even just a Tweet size
Many will tell you that they are irrelevant on a professional/exec/C-Level CV. I disagree. The biggest challenge in recruiting talent is finding that chemistry fit (hence why human, professional head-hunters will always beat CV factories/automation…but that’s another blog). Interests give that insight into the person behind the professional; i.e. the person the reader will be working with, spending 10/12/14 hours per day with. It is also your chance to standout and/or be memorable. Your interests can demonstrate great social responsibility, charitable action, strong teamwork, natural leadership, energy, a sense of adventure, motivation etc. It also makes you seem human. If nothing else it is a conversation starter for a nervous interviewer and a way to build rapport.
My advice: Put interests down, as long as they are appropriate, give a positive message, are something notable…and can be quantified. If you have nothing notable to put down…..do more with your life!
For Pro-Bono, basic CV advice/comment, please feel free to contact me.
For more comprehensive, bespoke advice, career planning, interview training and assessment see here
A recent Survey amongst over 1000 HR Professionals also made the following CV recommendations:
*Incompletely or inaccurately addressed CVs and CV cover letters were rejected immediately by 83% of HR departments.
*72% of HR departments said they didn’t like (or ignored) personal profiles on CVs.
*62% of HR departments said they ignored summaries and relied on relevant information being in the body of the CV.
*68% of HR professionals admitted they didn’t read covering letters/emails.
*CVs and cover letters addressed to a named person were significantly favoured over those addressed to a generic job title by 55% of HR departments.
*63% of HR departments said that the inclusion of a photograph with the CV adversely affected their opinion of the applicant.
Great Advice Gary, very good tips. Never been a fan of Dates of Births being a ‘young-at heart’ 52 yr old, but your argument makes sense. Well done on another great insight.
Great blog and tips. Thanks Gary
Great tips. So much advice given in CVs seems counterintuitive or over complicated. These points all make sense.
Do you offer a service to help new graduates?
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Great tips Gary. Real food for thought and a far bigger subject that I had given credit for. You have caused me to rethink my own CV. Thanks.
You give very dangerous advice here. It is illegal to put your age or date of birth on a CV. Asking for it, or putting it on risks prosecution.
Great tips. Sp pleased you covered the profile issue. So many people have told me it should be a page long and that it is the most vital element. Your description fits in with my own thoughts.
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Love this. Fantastic tips.