Job-searching can be quite a stressful process, and often disheartening at times. Sending your CV again and again, and not getting a positive response, if any, can be particularly demotivating for any job-seeker. If you’re not getting any response, particularly from online applications, it will generally be for one of three reasons:
a) Your CV was good but there were more suitable candidates
b) Your skills and experience were irrelevant to the job advertised
c) Your CV is letting you down
To tackle points a) and b), especially when applying for jobs online, focus on applying for jobs where you match the criteria exactly. This will increase your chances of getting a call from a recruiter and keep you motivated. If you want to make a career change or go for a job you are not fully qualified for, your best chance is an introduction through your current network (for more information, read my article on Job Search Strategies).
To address point b) make sure you are not making any of the 10 mistakes below, which drive recruiters crazy – resulting in your CV being thrown in the bin.
1) Trying to be different – in the wrong way
Of course, making your CV stand out from the crowd is important. But it has to be done in the right way. Filling your CV with different colours, multiple fonts, boxes and borders only makes your CV messy and difficult to read. Many recruiters have happily admitted that even just seeing the colours red, green or orange will annoy them so much they throw the CV on the reject pile – without even reading it.
If you’re applying to a role within the creative industry, you might get away with a bit of colour. But for everyone else – keep your CV clean and simple. Remove the boxes, stick to one font (e.g. Times New Roman, Calibri, Century Gothic, Arial) and go with black text. If you want to add a bit of colour, dark blue is a sensible choice – but keep its use minimal.
Remember, the easier it is to read, the more the recruiter will love you. Ask a friend or colleague for their opinion if you are not sure – they will spot things you haven’t noticed.
2) Copy-pasting of job responsibilities
This used to drive me crazy as a recruiter. If someone sent me a CV where they had clearly just copy-pasted their responsibilities from either their job description or a previous role, I would reject them immediately. Recruiters want to see that you have really thought about your previous jobs and understood the vital roles they played within each specific company. Copy-pasting implies sheer laziness and will irritate most recruiters. Don’t do it. You have been warned!
3) Too much focus on duties and not achievements
In light of the above, it’s crucial to be aware that the current trend in CVs is moving away from the ‘responsibility’ CV to the ‘achievement’ CV. Long lists of trivial duties, especially where the bullet points contain only one or two words (e.g. ‘filing’ or ‘data management’) can bore recruiters to tears. They show no consideration as to how that particular responsibility affected the bigger picture. Ask yourself – what was the result of that responsibility? This is what recruiters are looking for. This is the achievement.
In an ‘achievement’ CV you can still have one or two bullet points highlighting your key responsibilities. The main focus though is on your achievements, with a list of 4-8 being sufficient. It’s your achievements that are going to differentiate you from your competitors, not a fancy border or a few lines of red text here and there.
It’s easier to list achievements in roles where the results are quantifiable, e.g. in Sales or Marketing you could say ‘grew sales by 30%’ or ‘grew sales by $100,000’. But for others, it’s not so simple. As I mentioned in a previous post, the key thing to remember is that any time you built, created, redesigned, organised, re-organised, developed, initiated, changed, improved or COMPLETED something – you achieved something. Write down all the tasks you were given that you successfully completed – as well as any you initiated yourself – and quantify them as much as possible (e.g. saved or made the company $x, saved the company y amount of time or increased efficiency by z%).
Again, as mentioned in my previous article, using the STAR Format is useful when building a list of achievements. Here’s an example:
S (Situation) = The Finance Director communicated his goal of increasing efficiency for all financial processes to the finance team.
T (Task) = Reduce month-end accounting by 24 hours.
A (Action) = I developed and implemented a new finance ERP system within 4 weeks.
R (Result) = I reduced month-end by 36 hours.
For the purpose of the CV, As space is limited, I would simply describe the achievement using the ‘A’ and ‘R’.
In this example the R is stated first, followed by the A:
“Successfully reduced the month-end accounting process by 36 hours, 12 hours over the 24-hour target (R), by initiating and executing the implementation of a new finance ERP system (A)”.
4) Listing irrelevant experience
Sending your CV to a job where your experience clearly does not match the given criteria of the job advertised will annoy any recruiter. They have enough CVs to go through – adding to their workload unnecessarily could get your CV put on the ‘blacklist’ and blocked from future jobs. Save yourself and the recruiter time and only send your CV to jobs that you are qualified for.
If your experience and skills do match all the given criteria, make sure you only include the responsibilities and achievements relevant to the job advertised when writing your CV. For example, if in your first ever job 8 years ago you organized your manager’s diary, but this is not relevant to the job being advertised – don’t put it in your CV. Focus on the skills and experience that which will add value to the role you are applying to. This will increase your chances of getting called for an interview. You only have two pages – leave out anything unrelated to the job you are applying for.
5) Unexplained gaps in your CV
Unexplained gaps in your CV or inaccurate/confusing dates can drive a recruiter crazy and might make them give up looking at your CV altogether. If you have any gaps in your CV, either due to a redundancy, taking time out to have a family or for personal reasons, it is better to explain them than not. You don’t have to go into detail. One short simple sentence will suffice e.g. “Nov 2012 – March 2013: actively seeking work after redundancy”.
6) Using paragraphs instead of bullet points
Recruiters like CVs that give all of the relevant information in a quick and easy-to-read way. Large, dense blocks of text (e.g. paragraphs) can take a long time to read and put many recruiters off. Writing your responsibilities and achievements in bullet point format will allow you to give the information you want, with less risk of sending the recruiter to sleep.
7) A CV longer than 2 pages
Again, recruiters don’t have a huge amount of time to go through pages and pages of information. Anything longer than 2 pages will be considered a pain in the backside to read and could end up on the reject pile.
8) Poor grammar and spelling mistakes
If your CV is full of spelling and grammar mistakes, recruiters will assume the quality of your work will be similar. If you don’t give your CV the level of attention it deserves, then how much attention will you give your job? Note that many recruiters have admitted that just one mistake could get your CV thrown in the bin, so always use spell check and review all the text several times to make sure it is free of mistakes. It is sometimes easier to spot mistakes when reading a printed copy.
9) Graphics and/or irrelevant pictures
A recruitment manager at a global technology company recently told me he had received a CV with a huge picture of a pair of eyes on the front page. The individual was going for a Business Analyst position and needless to say the CV went straight in the bin.
Unless designing graphics is relevant to the job you are applying to, keep them off your CV. They are a waste of space and some recruiters will see them as pointless and unprofessional.
10) Poor formatting and bad use of space
I have received several CV where the margins have been way too big, and most of the text has been crammed into a thin column in the centre of the page. Not only does it look messy, it often drives the CV onto 3 pages. Remembering you have to keep your CV to two pages, it is essential you make maximum use of the limited space. Simply reducing the size of the text is not a good solution, as this can make the CV harder to read. Keeping the font size between 10 and 12, make use of the full page and keep margins to 0.75-1 inch (2-2.5 cm).
Your CV is the first chance you will get to impress a recruiter or potential employer. Make sure it’s not your last chance by taking note of all of the points above and writing a CV that will communicate your value in the best possible way.
What have been your experiences of applying for jobs, particularly online? Have you ever received feedback or advice on how to make your CV even better? Please feel free to share your experiences, past and present, in the comments section below.
To find out whether or not your CV is up to an excellent standard, or to enquire about career coaching, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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About the Author
Zeta Yarwood is recognised as a leading Career Coach and NLP Life Coach in Dubai, helping individuals across the world to achieve success in all areas of their lives. With a degree in Psychology and over 10 years’ experience in coaching, management and recruitment – working for multinational companies and award-winning recruitment firms – Zeta is an expert in unlocking human potential. Passionate about helping people discover their strengths, talents and motivation, Zeta lives to inspire others to dream big and create the life and career they really want.