What constitutes a good CV? Are you making any of these mistakes on your resume?
We are often asked to look over someone’s resume to give them an opinion. There are all sorts of truths and myths surrounding what you should and shouldn’t include on your CV and essentially the more people you ask, especially recruiters, the more differing opinions you will find. The one constant that we always point out, and that many people tend to forget is that essentially a CV is a marketing document with you as the subject. Many people take the view that their CV is a historical log of everything that they have done and go looking for the perfect format in which to present it – tweaking and re-tweaking the presentation and the format to make all their information fit. What they are forgetting is that the prime purpose of the CV is marketing – to sell the skills most relevant for the sort of job they are applying for – and to do it clearly and concisely, because people love to hire people who can communicate clearly and concisely.
This is not intended to be a perfect guide, but here are some CV tips that deal with some of the key areas we are often asked about and highlights some of the common pitfalls you should look to avoid. There is also a list of red flags which many CV’s will contain. If you recognise any of them from your CV then be prepared to be quizzed further in these areas during the recruitment process.
Tips and Advice
- Don’t let your resume read like a job description. True, there are similarities, but there are also distinct differences. If you write, “Responsible for EMEA sales,” that tells us nothing about what you accomplished. It tells us what you should have been responsible for but nothing about what you actually did.
- There are no numbers on your resume or no context for the numbers you write. If you write, “Increased revenue,” that’s nice — that’s a good thing. If you write “Increased revenue by £1m that’s even better but if you were expected to increase revenue by ten times that then maybe that’s not so good. If you write, “Increased revenue by 25 per cent over a three-year period,” then that tells us a lot more about what you did. If you context that against a target of 10% over those 3 years then that is even better. How many people did you supervise? How big was the budget you managed? By what per cent did you increase efficiency? How many clients did you have? all indicate the size and scope of what you have been dealing with and what you achieved.
- Your formatting only works on your computer. Not everyone uses the same word processing program that you do, meaning your formatting may not translate. Bullet points disappear. Tabs get shifted. Check how your document relates to other formats, poor formatting just makes you look sloppy. Basic Word format is the most accessible and workable format that translates to other formats and systems – most recruitment company systems only accept CV’s in word format and anything else causes them a headache to process. Showing that you can use Excel, PDF or Powerpoint formats is all very well but not for your CV – your future career depends on it.
- It’s too long or too short. No, there isn’t a secret, perfect length for a resume. But if you’re a new college grad with two full pages, you’ll look pretentious. And if you’re someone with 15 years of experience with everything crammed onto one page, you’ll look like you haven’t done anything. Scientists and academics need extra pages for their publications. The point is, figure out what is standard for your industry and your time working. The general guideline is one page for new grads, two pages for experienced employees, three if you have a lot of managerial /executive experience and extra pages for people with publications.
- You have an objective statement / profile. We don’t read them and have never seen a situation where this has helped someone get the job. We know what your objective is — to get a good job with good pay in an environment where you can learn and grow, you are dynamic, hard working and blah, blah, blah. If you have something unique to say, put it in your cover letter. Take it off your resume. Fire any career coach that tells you to include one.
Useless phrases to avoid
- “Completed all financial duties as required by the role.” Blanket statements and generic wording make your resume much more likely to end up in the recycling bin than in the “must call” pile. An interesting way to look at what constitutes a blanket phrase is to apply the logic recommended by a number of CV coaches and delete ‘anything on your CV that could have been written by the person who did the job before, with, or after you.’ Instead focus on your achievements and populate your resume with numbers and data that supports your claims.
- “Responsible for…” This commonly used phrase is boring and vague. It is important to outline the scope of your responsibilities but beware a huge list of things that came within your remit. Ask yourself what you actually did and try to focus on what you actually contributed and then support with strong, descriptive examples of your experience.
- “References available upon request.” Honestly….. Why waste the valuable space. It is a given that you will undertake the necessary steps required to get the job – if not you are ruling yourself out of the running anyway – and providing references further down the line is a given.
Does your CV contain any of the following red flags?
The truth is that many if not all CV’s will contain some red flags that will form points for further investigation in the recruitment process. Failure to prepare for this will undoubtedly be detrimental to your chances of being hired and if possible explain any resume red flags in your cover letter as this demonstrates a level of self-awareness as much as it provides context and reasons. There is no such thing as a perfect applicant and many applicants may have issues or red flags on their resumes, much of it as a result of the volatile economic times we live in and changing patterns of work and lifestyle. But, the best applicants should be aware of these red flags and will make an attempt to explain these in the cover letter. A failure to do this is a clear red flag.
- Changing jobs too often. This is still a red flag to many employers as changing jobs too often can still be seen as a sign of instability in an applicant, but the parameters have changed dramatically given the economic climate and more flexible nature of today’s workforce. The question is, how many moves is too many? Recent reports have suggested that the average worker will change jobs between 9 and 15 times in a lifetime. All this points to increasing volatility in the job market and suggests the average employee might be changing jobs every two to four years or so and arguably, that red flagging shouldn’t start until a candidate starts showing an average tenure of two years or less, perhaps.
- Lack of bullet points and too many paragraphs. Goal-orientated applicants will know that the best way to present their actions and achievements is in concise and precise bullet points, rather then paragraphs. Failure to use bullet point format suggests they have few worthwhile achievements to be proud of or do not know how to clearly explain their achievements/sell themselves, both of which are red flags in today’s job climate.
- Lack of numbers. Resumes that contain achievements that lack supporting numbers, without pound values, numbers of people, etc.―lack credibility and mean that those achievements should be called into question, especially in today’s competitive climate where employers are more achievement orientated than ever.
- Lack of specificity. Achievements, duties or responsibilities that are generic, hackneyed statements which are lacking in specificity, e.g. they fail to specify direct reports, budgets held, products managed, and/or revenues, lack credibility and should set the alarm bells ringing.
- Multiple layoffs. Even in the current climate of increasing redundancies, this can still be a red flag. This is because the very process of selecting people for redundancy is very much like a reverse recruitment process where the least equipped employees are let go. So, whilst there are many examples of businesses closing sites beyond any employee’s control , being selected for redundancy on several occasions is still a potential red flag in the current climate and you should be prepared to be questioned further about it.