Searching for a job 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.
To address point c) make sure you are not making any of the 12 mistakes below, which drive recruiters crazy resulting in your CV being rejected 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 GHC100,000’.
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
Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter. They want a nice punchy CV that quickly gives them all the info they need, they don’t want to plough through long paragraphs, nor will they probably have the patience to do so.
Your CV needs to be easy for the reader to scan and it should quickly get to the important meaty bits regarding your job history, skills and accomplishments.
Try and ensure that your paragraphs are relatively short and bulleted. Use plenty of white space, which will make your CV easier to digest.
7. Too Much Personal Information
Just like the pointless process of attaching a picture to your CV, including too much personal info that is unrelated to the job is a waste of space and could be harming your chances of getting a job.
You’re not pitching for a date, so does a recruiter need to know your age, height, weight, religious or political affiliations, marital status or sexual orientation?
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.
11. Writing your CV in the third person
Although actively encouraged by some recruitment agencies, writing a CV in the 3rd person is simply seen as extremely annoying by the majority of recruiters.
An example of writing in the third person on a CV would be, “Baker is a strong manager, admired by all his colleagues”. This will just make you sound a bit odd. A much better way of stating the same fact would be to put, “A strong manager, able to lead teams in achieving goals”. I don’t think you need to specify who the strong manager is on your own CV!
And finally, you should stick to a sending your CV over in a word format and not a PDF or a ZIP file, etc. Give the recruiter a valid reason not to open up your CV and they’ll take it! And remember that it will be the Word based CV that gets onto to the recruiters HR systems and posted on to the job boards.
And if you are a graphic designer or multimedia developer, try and resist the temptation to simply send a link to download your CV from your homepage. Again, just a simple Word based CV will suffice and you can always direct a recruiter towards some supporting material once you grab their interest.
12. A Ridiculous Email Address
Email addresses are free. Recruiters as well understand that everyone has the right to choose whichever name they want to be identified with for their addresses.
However, leave this for the informal social networks. Emails like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org should not be found anywhere in your CV.
Get an account that is just your name or as close to your name as possible, and use it for job applications. Show seriousness and professionalism to the employer before they even get to know you.
In a nutshell:
A good written CV accompanied with a cover letter should always be what you're submitting to an employer. showing seriousness and being professional is the key to getting your CV not rejected.
Take your time to write your CV and Cover Letter.