To get a CV suitably slick I suggest spending at least 30 hours on it.
People don’t believe that it takes that long. But why not?
We’re cramming our whole professional and educational career into around 800 words – the same length as this article. When we start pulling it apart and constructing a descriptive and engaging picture of a person’s professional prowess, then people start believing me. It’s a craft. An art. One worth learning, to keep it updated.
The 2 main audiences for our CVs are: 1. Employers and 2. Recruitment consultants.
With the market being more competitive, it’s never been more important to present a polished version of ourselves. To hear first-hand how we could do better, I asked two trusted recruitment consultants for the most common CV mistakes.
Lilian Bishop leads UK-based Armstrong Bishop, which recruits lawyers for companies in the UK and on mainland Europe. Kraig Lenehan recruits IT professionals in Toronto for Robert Half. This is what they say about oversights in CV-writing:
1. Un-tailored CVs
When people say we should tailor our CV to each job description, they mean it. We can’t fit our whole career into 2 pages but we can pick out the prominent parts that are relevant for each role. If the CV mismatches the criteria, it goes in one direction.. the bin.
Employers want to see a “fit” and the CV is a communication channel where their language is the language to use. Adopting the company’s language and fitting to the advertised position is an easy win not to be overlooked.
2. Too long – 2 pages is plenty
Detail is important but, for many, more than 2 sides of A4 is a fuss. Who has the time to read it all? A CV is less than a 2 minute speed read! A first glance with an experienced eye takes only 40 seconds!
More than 2 pages might suggest that:
We can’t identify pertinent points;
We can’t separate the skills and experience from titchy tasks; and
We can’t be bothered to be precise and succinct.
We might anticipate that the human behind a verbose CV is someone who talks more than listens and doesn’t consider the context for their audience. Ouch! So if you run into 3 pages, be sure that they’re required.
3. Putting education ahead of work experience
Unless we’re still in education, then our work experience should be early on in CVs, with education and qualifications later.
After first and last name at the top, contact details closely below, a brief profile or snapshot follows and then work experience comes next. Even those with minimal experience may have part-time jobs or voluntary roles –indicating skills and qualities.
4. Not putting most recent role first under employment
The rule is “most recent first”. There’s no point in our favourite role being top, or bunching roles into “worked within sector” or “job type” groups. Reverse chronology is vital.
Text needs to be easily digestible, with easy-to-spot keywords and indicators. Sentences that take 2 whole lines are too much. Think “snappy”!
Formatting is key and a few bulleted highlights are helpful. Droning on in detail is a danger. It’s not an autobiography but a table of events telling a story.
5. Job content VS candidate capabilities
“It’s not about what the employer activities are but an accurate description of their job and the key achievements during their time there.” says Kraig.
A CV is a document about an individual, a person with a career. Thanks to Google it’s never been easier to look up a company. The job title followed by the name of the company and town/city/country is plenty. Full postal addresses and website links make for laborious reading. It fills up a page like unappetising food thrown together on an over-packed plate.
6. Spelling mistakes
One minor typo may be overlooked, but more basic language or spelling mistakes are simply shoddy. Recruiters consider whether they’d employ us. If not, then they won’t risk us showing them up in front of their client.
Even when people consider their CV a work of art, spending evenings and weekends perfecting it, we still find minor mistakes. Why draw attention to the wrong detail?
There’s an interview place. We get one shot at it – our CV – so we should care whether it’s a slick read or sluggish. Recruiters work for clients, not applicants. Why wind up one of them when they’re a route to a new role?
P.S. Waiting until we face redundancy or feel an impatience to move on is unwise. At the brink of a huge change we’re less likely to be calm and confident. By updating our CVs every few months we can add proud or notable moments, when they happen, to capture the rich context. It’s worth being ready for when we don’t feel so upbeat.