The day has come – we come to the conclusion that it is high time we changed jobs. We start browsing through advertisements, looking for a contact to a HR consulting company. We remind ourselves of an old CV, which has been stuck in a long-lost folder on our computer. It is time to dust it off or write a new one. There is no one-size-fits-all standard for creating a CV – it is not an official document. How do you go about it to avoid CV traps and make a good impression? Here is an overview of the most common mistakes and a handful of practical tips on how to create a CV that represents you with dignity.
A CV is not a work of art, so an excess of colour and graphic elements are not viewed as good. A CV should be as clear as possible and logically lead the eye of the person viewing it. Avoid too many pieces of information, especially this which has not develop you professionally. Concentrate on the most important aspects. Some people say that the more extensive the CV, the higher chance of getting a good job. They are wrong. Others believe that you should fit one page. That’s the way it used to be when CVs were printed and the pages could have mixed together. It’s an outdated approach. Beware of attachments, especially in creative industries – when a file is too large, it often lands in spam and that’s the end of the adventure. Don’t add attachments that you have not been asked for – diplomas and awards will come. Your CV is likely to be viewed by a number of people holding different roles in the company, so make sure all the details are clear. Give it to someone from outside the industry you work in to read and ask if everything is clear.
This is usually where the recruiter’s first glance goes. What should the photo be like? The times when a formal suit was mandatory are gone. The photo in a CV has two main purposes – to present us well and to associate a name with a face, i.e. to build recognition. This is why a photograph in informal but neat attire in which we feel comfortable will work better than a version in business attire with a serious, grumpy face. Use a common sense – a barbecue or holiday photo is a bad idea. But a smile is absolutely essential in a photo!
Putting age on a CV is not necessary. By law, an employer cannot ask us how old we are. Age should not be a reason for evaluating a candidate. Putting it clearly on CV catches unnecessary attention and exposes us to possible discrimination. A sixty-year-old manager managing a team of sixty-year-old employees may not be keen to work with a candidate who has just graduated from university. A team of young start-ups may look unfavourably at a fifty-year-old candidate. Often, however, the opposite is true – a manager in his or her prime time managing his or her peers has a need to rejuvenate the team, while the start-ups need a mentor with several years of professional and life experience. Bottom line – it is better to target our experience and skills. Anyway, an insightful consultant will be able to, without much effort, determine the approximate age of the candidate based on his/her education.
The same applies to nationality and marital status – we do not include it.
There is no room for creativity here. Write truthfully whether you are a master, doctor or engineer. Titles matter – in some industries they are necessary to be able to legally perform duties. If your studies did not result in a defence, you need to write this clearly to avoid misunderstandings. Including primary and secondary education makes no sense – it brings nothing, it is a standard not to include. Exception: the candidate graduated from a technical school whose profile is related to the profession.
Ensure that the description is logical and coherent. There is no specific one way of presenting the level of languages levels, although the most common is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe scale). Avoid contradictions – don’t declare that you understand a language at A1 level but write at C1. Don’t overestimate your skills – this is very easy to verify them.
Name the positions and describe the responsibilities precisely. Key account manager or marketing specialist can mean anything – write down what you do, what you are responsible for, what are your competences and decision-making capabilities. Identify your position in the company structure, who you report to. Avoid meta-language – particular industries or companies use distinctive terms and phrases. As time passes, using work jargon becomes natural to you it may not be understood by people outside the organisation. If the company you work for is not widely known, describe it in a few words – what industry it operates in, what processes it deals with. The person reading your CV won’t have to search for this information online.
Avoid trivialities – operating a computer and office equipment is not something to brag about. Specificity must be present in this category. Write what you can actually do that makes you stand out from other candidates. If you are familiar with systems and softwares relevant to the industry you want to work in, list them – this is an asset. Be mindful of the position you’re applying for – it’s good if your competencies correspond logically with your future responsibilities. Don’t boast about your communication skills, your resilience to stress or your ability to work individually and in groups. Everyone writes about it; it adds nothing to your CV.
If you want to boast about them, do so in a covering letter – there is no place for this in a CV. A well-described range of previous responsibilities will signal to the recruiter what qualities they can expect from you.
If they don’t appear in your CV, nothing bad will happen. This is a risky category – you can win or you can lose. If your passion is of interest to the employer, it can become a platform of understanding and a touch that makes your candidature memorable. Worse, if the said hobby is, for various reasons, badly associated to the future boss – you may then damage your image without even realising it. A much better idea is to focus on your professional interests – this way you show that you are not accidentally working in a certain industry, you are developing yourself, you are exploring your knowledge in order to be a better expert.
If it is or has been sustained, it will be an interesting item on your CV. Doing unpaid work for others is always a learning experience, broadens perspectives, teaches empathy. It shows that we are not selfish, looking only after our own interests. Volunteering helps you take a broader view of business, it makes you notice people, not just numbers. It says more about who we are than listing personality traits.
When creating a CV, it is important to remember that it is, first and foremost, a tool in the hands of the consultant and the employer. It must fulfil its function. That’s why it’s worth stepping into the role of devil’s advocate and checking that it’s definitely logical, that the descriptions are accurate, and that all the details are in line with reality. It is a good idea to consult it with a few people working in different industries and, ideally, with a recruiter.
Let them give their opinion and point out any ambiguities” suggests one of Associate Manager at Goldman Recruitment, HR consulting company. When a CV is well designed and executed, it will become your ally. Otherwise, you'll have to explain what’s in it, if you get to an interview at all.