It may sound a stupid question. After all, a CV (Curriculum Vitae to the Romans and résumé to the French and Americans) is where you tell a prospective employer all about yourself, right?
Well, yes and no. The problem is that many of us don’t know how to talk about ourselves. Not in a way that wins us the job, that is. As a professional writer I’ve written CVs for a wide range of people covering all ages and stages of their career, and here are some of the most commonly made mistakes.
We Say Too Much
A CV should be a brief summary, covering no more than two sides of a sheet of A4 paper, and if it is substantially less than that, repetition will fool nobody.
If we have a lot to say that is relevant, bulleted lists are an effective way of reducing content and putting it in a format that is easier for the reader to follow.
On the other hand, if we are young and short on qualifications, skills or job experience, we can add substance by talking about our values, our personal and career goals and interests.
We Say Too Little
HR professionals are quick to pick up what we haven’t said. They will notice if there are large, empty periods in our career path due to unemployment, ill health, caring for a sick relative, taking time off to hike around the world or serving a custodial sentence. Let’s not fool ourselves that it might slip through unnoticed: withholding important information like this can have serious consequences.
They will also notice if we have got through a number of jobs in quick succession. This can happen even to the most employable workers and often for reasons beyond our control, but if the blame lies firmly at our door, we can redeem the situation by acknowledging why it happened and stating what measures we have taken to prevent a recurrence.
We Are Too Modest
A middle-aged gent found himself in the job market and for the first time in his life was faced with the task of compiling a CV. When listing his skills, each one was prefaced by “In my humble opinion, I think I am quite good at X” or “People say that I make a good Y”.
If you think you are good at something, ask a friend or colleague for their honest opinion and then make it your own – “I am good at X and make a good Y”.
We Focus On Responsibilities Rather than Achievements
While a list of responsibilities can give a picture of what our job role involved, potential employers will be interested in what we have achieved within those responsibilities. Compare these two sentences:
- “I was responsible for maintaining warehouse stock levels.”
- “While responsible for maintaining stock levels, I identified our top 20 slow-moving product lines and relocated them to higher shelves, creating space for faster-moving lines in more accessible locations.”
We Adopt a ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Approach
It’s a mistake to think that our CV should include every last detail of our personality, skills, interests, education and career history.
This can present a problem if we have had a long and varied career but if that is the case, we can tailor our CV to the position we are applying for. We can lightly touch on aspects that bear little relevance to the prospective employment and go into more detail where it is relevant.
We Get Obsessed With Jargon
It’s easy to get carried away with using all the latest career buzzwords such as ‘results-driven’ and ‘detail-focused’. I’m not saying you should totally avoid them, but they should be used with discretion and moderation, and only if they are a true reflection of who you are, not who you think your interviewer hopes you will be.
I remember being asked by a school leaver to check his CV. As I scanned the pages, I mentally ticked off in my mind all the popular phrases, but there was a problem. Some of these apparent skills could only come after months, or even years, of experience in the real business world. And I knew him well enough to realise that some of these attributes didn’t describe his personality or character.
I asked him why he had included them.
“Because our careers teacher said we should put things like that in our CV” was his plaintive reply.
We Try To Be Creative
Free design software and decorative fonts have made artists of us all, but unless we’re pitching for a career in the creative industry it’s better to keep CV design simple. Creative tastes can be very subjective, and our masterpiece may not be appreciated by interviewers, particularly if we submit our CV in a format that they can’t open.
Even if they can open our CV, unsupported fonts have a disturbing habit of transforming to an illegible array of strange characters and wingdings, or lines of sentry-like hollow rectangles.
I know it’s boring, but universally accepted fonts such as Arial or Times Roman really are the safest option, and if you create it in .doc file format you stand the best chance.
We Make Mistakes
Accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar may not be high on our list of skills or priorities, and we may reason that the job doesn’t require it. That may be true, but it is a good reflection on how seriously we are taking the job opportunity.
It’s always a good idea to let a trusted friend or colleague read your CV before you send it; a second pair of eyes will often detect mistakes that we have missed.
Using a Professional CV Writer
If you’re unemployed or facing redundancy, paying for a professional to write your CV for you can feel like an unnecessary expense. You may think that only career professionals can justify that kind of investment. But like the suit you buy for your interview, you can choose a CV that fits your budget.
At The Write Company, we can give your existing CV a ‘health check’ where we simply correct any obvious mistakes and advise you on where improvements can be made. If your budget allows it, we can make these improvements for you, or you can take away your corrected CV and make the changes yourself.
Our full service can be adapted to your needs. We can work from the raw information you supply and create a finished, emailable document. We can even manage your CV for you, creating variations that are tailored to individual job applications.
If you think your CV might need a health check, updating, creating or managing to optimise your re-employment or career advancement prospects, send your contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be in touch.