Can we talk about your CV, please?

By: Manji Cheto

22 November 2022

This blogpost is intended to be the first in a three-part series on helping jobseekers excel through the job application process. It focuses on mistakes jobseekers should avoid on their CVs , with the goal being to scale through to the next round of the hiring process i.e. securing the job interview. The CV Creation Guide and Template, which is available for FREE, is aimed at helping anyone get started with the process of writing (or rewriting) a CV.

I looked at your CV for 6 seconds. Or maybe it was 5 seconds. Who is really counting? And then I moved on to the next CV.

The paragraph above is illustrative of the thoughts of a Hiring Manager before s/he decides to send your CV to the 'no' pile. Does it sound unfair? Maybe. But that doesn’t matter. It’s generally how anyone in charge of the hiring process assesses your CV.

When short for time, Hiring Managers will look for ways to speed through the process of reviewing the hundreds – if not thousands – of CVs they receive for a job vacancy. And if you give them any excuse (which most times you do) to pass up on you, they will gladly take it. This is also the case with CV-scanning software. And if you don’t know the tricks and tips on how to get your CV noticed, you won't secure a job interview, even if you are qualified for the job.

So, you may be wondering what you are doing wrong that results in your CV being passed over. What excuse are you/have you been giving Hiring Managers to pass up on you when applying for jobs? Let me help you unpack this below. But before we dive it, let’s establish two key facts:

  • Fact 1: Hiring Managers decide within seconds of glancing at your CV whether you are worth them spending a little more time reviewing your application.
  • Fact 2: Even when Hiring Managers take the few extra seconds to review your CV, they won’t read every word from top to bottom.

Now that we’ve established the two points above, let’s explore five common mistakes, which you must avoid to reduce the chances of your CV being passed over. The list is not exhaustive, but it highlights some of the most common mistakes that people make when submitting their CVs.

1. Awkward formatting

The first thing that will likely put off anyone from taking extra time to review your CV is poor formatting. This problem takes many forms – including but not limited to - the use of ‘exotic’ fonts; inconsistent spacing (of letters, words, lines, and paragraphs); unnecessary use of italicized, bolded, and underlined text and indentations; and font colour clashes. The moment Hiring Managers spot these problems, you can assume that your CV is going to the trash because it is very distracting.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend using either Arial or Calibri fonts in black colour, at size 11 or 12 for the main body of your CV. However, your name can be in a slightly larger font size i.e. 16 or 18. If you are applying for a more creative role, some of these ‘rules’ can be broken, but needless to say, the format must look consistent and visually appealing otherwise, your CV will be trashed.

2. Poor spelling and grammar

This should be obvious to a lot of people, but it surprisingly isn’t. So, my simple advice on this is to:

  1. download a writing assistant software like Grammarly on your computer and ensure you review the grammar and spelling suggestions; and
  2. review your CV after it has been written (as a rule of thumb, I like to wait 24 to 48 hours after updating my CV to proofread it; and
  3. ask a third-party – preferably someone you know who speaks and writes well – to review your CV.

Whatever you do, do not – I repeat, DO NOT – submit a CV with spelling and grammar errors.

3. Submitting a generic CV

We’ve all heard it said before to “tailor your CV to the job description” but we are all guilty of not doing this at some point – maybe even always. Well, if you have been missing out on jobs that you really wanted, then I urge you to reconsider your decision to send a generic CV for every job opening you see. In fact, it is better to send in fewer, but good and tailored CVs than many generic CVs. The latter strategy may get you a job interview, but it will probably not be for the job you really want, while the former significantly increases your chances of landing a job interview for the job you’ve got your eye on. One way to expedite the process of tailoring your CV to every job is to begin by creating what I call the ‘Blueprint CV’.

The Blueprint CV should capture ALL your work experiences and skills in as much detail as possible. Don’t worry about this CV being too long. This is your opportunity to show off. Once you create a Blueprint CV, you will be able to extract the relevant parts of your skills and experiences from this document to create a CV that is tailored to the job you are applying for. I’ve used this trick for years and it has worked like a charm – although, only in cases where I had the requisite skills and experience for the job in question.

On the point of relevance, if you’ve once held a job as a Gardener but you are now applying for a job as an Executive Assistant, there is no point including a long list of responsibilities in your gardening job, especially if they have no relevance to the expectations of you in the job as an Executive Assistant.

4. Failure to demonstrate your skills and experience

If you are someone who just cobbles together a bunch of soundbites in your job applications because you think they sound nice, PLEASE STOP! Saying things like ‘I am hard-working’ or ‘I am a team player’ may sound harmless or like something you are supposed to write in the job application, but it’s not the hot take you think it is, and let me tell you why.

Everybody else is telling Hiring Managers they are ‘hard-working’, ‘a team player’, etc in their job application so why do you think you are special or that you are going to stand out? Besides, do you really think anyone is going to say they are lazy and not a team player? So, instead of making generic statements like these, DEMONSTRATE your traits by referencing specific examples from your past or current role that show the Hiring Manager that you are these things. So, expand phrases like ‘I am a team-player’ with demonstrable evidence such as ‘I regularly coordinated cross-departmental research on…’ The latter clearly demonstrates that you are a team player without you needing to say you are a team player. See the difference?

5. Not bothering to include a cover letter

Many people do not bother writing a cover letter or cover email, and this can often lead a Hiring Manager to conclude that you could not be bothered with the job application and therefore you just rushed to submit an application. So, tempting as it is for you to just get the application process done and over with, please don’t skip sending a cover letter or cover email. But before you think that the cover letter or cover email is just another opportunity to regurgitate the details in your CV, it isn’t!

The cover letter should be a nice complement to your CV, giving you the chance to provide in greater detail relevant examples of skills and responsibilities from your past or current jobs that demonstrate how you meet the requirements of the job you are applying for. For example, if a job description states that you need to have a positive, can-do attitude, your cover letter is a great place to show the Hiring Manager that you have this. You can do this by stating: ‘I am not afraid to take up challenging responsibilities. I have demonstrated this positive, can-do attitude several times in my current role including recently when I volunteered to create a new framework for qualifying sales leads. Although I had never done this before, I put my name forward to execute the task. The framework I came up with became the foundation on which my team collaboratively built our new leads qualification process.’

Can you see how with a couple of sentences, you were able to show off your positive, can-do attitude AND also show how your work fostered teamwork?

Wrap Up

Give these tips and try and I’m certain that you’ll start to see better results in your job applications.

If you found this article helpful, please like below and share with family and friends who you think need to read it.

Lastly, if you would like help with getting started on the process of writing (or rewriting) your CV, follow the link below to access our FREE CV BUILDER GUIDE.

When short for time, Hiring Managers will look for ways to speed through reviewing the hundreds – if not thousands – of CVs they have received for the job vacancy you’ve been eyeing up. And if you give them any excuse (which most times you do) to pass up on you, they will gladly take it.

One way to expedite the process of tailoring your CV to every job is to begin by creating what I call the ‘Blueprint CV’.

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