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 game as started. 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 (Fantasy Game Fanatic/Beer Ping-Ping regional champion). 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!
We’re all going data mad protection at present. Post Facebook/Cambridge Analytics, in the midst of GDPR and in a world that seeks to find potential areas for discrimination. However, if you are seeking to engage with a potential employer, or a headhunter to locate a potential employer, you will need to have a little a) Trust, and b) comfort in being open about your background. Every piece of information you chose to withhold is an area a CV reader may see as something you have an issue with. Take it too far, and the CV reader won’t have any basis for progressing you, and their default position will be reject. I had this application latter, with a one page summary CV attached. The sender refused, after two subsequent emails, to be more open about his/her background leaving me with no option but to reject. Make sure you give sufficient information for a reader to base an informed opinion.
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 Tips Gary
Why reverse chronological order? And why name as title? Just interested.
Thanks, you can expect my effort in this year!
Reverse chronology so that most recent (and most relevant) is first.
Name as title as it makes the document cleaner and it’s obvious it’s a CV!
Great blog. At what point do you think age starts to work against?
Candidly, it depends on the role. Age is more about attitude & demeanour. People can be ‘older’ at 30 than others are at 50. It’s also about the onward career progression. I placed more over 50s last year than I can ever remember, and the average age of placements has increased every year for the last 5.
Great Guide Gary.
What is the optimum length in your opinion?
A page per 10 years of your career, plus a page with general info is a very very rough rule of thumb. Much more that 4 pages and it needs to contain a lot of VERY relevant data
Great tips Gary, really interesting to get the take from someone who is trully on the inside.
What kind of fonts would you recommend? (and oppose?)
Avoid standard fonts. Ariel/Times/etc. Definitely avoid ComicSans!!
I like modern fonts like calibre, cambria and some more off-the-wall traditional twist ones like georgia and garamond.
Great blog Gary, some really good tips there.
Not sure I agree on the age thing, but some great advice!
HNY all the same
Thanks Mandy – age is always contentious. I always promote honesty. Happy to chat through the subject though. email@example.com
Happy New Year to you too!
Good common sense advice Gary, luckily I follow more of it already.
Are CVs a thing of the past though? what do you think about Video CVs? are they the future?
CVs are still vital. Basic data. Video CV can be fun, but only in very specific fields. I can’t see them ever being widely used for general role.
Supplementing a traditional CV however…….?
Why is summarising experiance such a bad thing? If you have the skills, you have the skills. What else matters?
Your industry is too hung up on findng reasons to reject people and ignore skills because they are a few years out of date.
It is important to understand what you have done, and when. Something critical that you have not done for over 20 years can often be less relevant than if you were doing it yesterday. Some skills never wain, but with most things, there has been huge development in the last 5 years, let alone 20/25/30.
My industry is here to find the best. The professional that has bang up to date exposure is likely to be more relevant than the professional whose experience is a decade out of date.
As i’ve said in another blog. If your child needed knee surgery – you would rather have a surgeon that had done the procedure every day for the last 5 years than the guy that hasn’t done any knee surgery for 20 years!
Useful article Gary. You’ve caused me to re-write my own CV! One question, you say no stories. How is it best to detailed an 8 year career within one business? It does seem like a story!
Notes and bulleted information – easier to read, better to understand!
Great blog, great read. What are your tips regarding covering letters? Seems even more important in this day of emails and remote access?
Covering letter are best kept short, but due to the prevalence of email, a very short attention grabbing cover email is vital. But brief. If I need to scroll, I probably won’t!
Putting a date of birth on a CV is now illegal. Recommending people do it is very foolish.
Monica (HR Director)
I have always been told the same. Disclosing ages is illegal.
Hi Monica. Sorry, but putting your date of birth on your CV is NOT illegal. Indeed, for the reasons I explain above, I would strongly recommend it.
The only legality comes from age discrimination – it is now illegal (in most cases) to discriminate based on age.
It’s the same thing. Only if you wish to be party to discrimination based on age would you include your age or date of birth, which make you complicit to an illegal act. No DOB its the law. My staff retold to reject any cv that includes one.
Sorry Monica. Dates of Birth are not only legal, they are recommended. Advising the removal of age to prevent age discrimination is the same as removing your name to prevent sex discrimination.
I’m happy to chat this through with you. You can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
LOL at illegal. I can see the SWAT teams knocking on your door and taking you away for illegal use of your age on your cv. HAHA
Great blog Gary. Very useful.
What is your opinion about temporary roles on CVs?
Include everything Dave! Never leave gaps!
Gary, great piece, thanks. It’s pushed me into lookng at my own CV.
One question. I work on the board for a listed business and many of my current achievements are centred around sensitive information. How would you suggest I detail my experience without breaching confidence.
Readers will respect sensitivity. Detail what you can then either redact the crucial elements, or disclose in general terms.
Great Tips Gary, the best and most common sense guide I found. My question, should you have a different CV for agencies compared to companies directly and/or advertisements?
Always tailor your CV for every role to sell the more salient and relevant points. An agency CV (i.e general approach) should be a generic CV that covers all aspects.
Thanks for the article! It opened my eyes about many things I didn’t know about writing a good CV!
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Hi greetings. I hope you are well. Many thanks for your update. I think I almost comply with your recommendations. All good wishes.
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