The 4 Most Common CV Mistakes I See
Updated: Mar 14
A CV (or resume) is a super important document because it is often the only thing standing between you and securing an interview. This little slip of paper or digital file has a HUGE role to play because it's still the primary method that most recruiters or hiring managers use to decide if a candidate might be suitable for a role. Being an Executive Coach, I've seen my fair share of CVs and it's such a surprise to me that so often they are missing some critical items that can really be limiting the chances of my clients getting to an interview. With so many people looking for jobs due to the coronavirus crisis and the job market so tough, I wanted to give you practical advice to help you stop getting in your own way.
Here are the top 4 most common CV mistakes I see (and examples of how to do yours better!):
#1 You have a half-baked Executive Summary
I've seen one-liners and I've seen half-pagers but it all doesn't matter. An Executive Summary needs to be a mini-version of your whole CV and written very specifically. Being the foodie I am, think of it like the tasting menu of the restaurant. It should include your qualities, your years of experience, your expertise and the type/level of role you are seeking. Then briefly list roles and companies you've worked for, your qualifications and certifications, your top key skills, a few more qualities, and your availability. That's it. It's not hard. These recruiters and hiring managers are seeing HUNDREDS of CVs so you need to win them over by pretty much showing all you are and can do straight upfront.
Innovative and creative Customer Journey Expert with 5 years' experience seeking an Customer Journey Manager contract position in a team-focused culture. Previous roles in Customer Experience at Company A, Company B and Company C, with a foundation of Marketing at Company D. Qualified with a Customer Experience Strategy and Design Certificate from Institute X and a Bachelor of Economics (Marketing) from University Y. Key skills in: customer experience, customer research and interviews, team leadership and development, market research, journey mapping, persona development, digital transformation, and Design Thinking. Collaborative and positive with a passion for helping teams design for customer outcomes. Available 4 weeks' notice.
#2 Your Key Skills are miles long
When this section isn't completely missing, it can be completely wrong. The way we take in information has changed. Broadsheet newspapers have been replaced by bite-size posts on social media feeds. Trust me - I studied Media and Communications. I can see the difference. So we have to adjust everything we write to cater to this new habit of readers. Including your hiring managers and recruiters. Chunk your skills up from the tasks you do in your specific role, to the transferable skills you have that could be used in any role, any company, any industry or any country. Then bullet point these (please - a few words, not long random sentences). Yes - you might have a few role or industry-specific skills there, too. But the most should be transferable - highly adaptable to new situations. If you want to be ready for the future of work, you need to realise that 80% of the skills you need you already have and then go learn the other 20% of technical skills.
Instead of saying my key skill is "Beer promotions" (one of my old key tasks), I would chunk up and say "Consumer marketing".
#3 You're missing Achievements
When I've asked for Achievements, I've had clients say they don't have any. And I'm like... please tell me you are joking. If you think you have no Achievements, there are two things happening:
You've never measured the outcome, result or quality of your work, OR
You don't know how to reflect and celebrate the successes you've had.
As a Coach, I find this incredibly sad. One of the best parts of work is the pride that comes from a job well done. And verbatim feedback in the moment is all well and good, but it's the hard results that really matter when you're trying to explain that you did more than just a "good job" to someone who's potentially going to be paying you tens of thousands of dollars per year to work for them. It's not your boss' job to track your achievements - it's your career, it's your job to do this. What is an achievement? It could be a fantastic result such as a sales % increase or a cost $ amount decrease. It could be an external award or an internal recognition. It could be the scale of the project or the speed with which you delivered. Either way, it has be measurable in some way and be beyond the scope of your role. You are paid to do your work and do it well. An Achievement is above and beyond. And you need to have them articulated clearly in your CV because when you're being compared against someone with the same or more experience than you, it's your Achievements that could tip you over to the "In" pile for interview.
Achieved a 30% reduction in operating costs through process improvement over 2 months.
#4 Your CV is too long
I write long articles. I do. I have so much fantastic information and ideas that I want to share and so I write write write write. Your CV is NOT the place to do that. And I don't write write write write with my CVs. Yesterday, I saw a 7-page CV. In the past I've seen 14-page CVs!!! Remember my comment earlier about broadsheet vs social media feed. This is too many pages. If you've got loads of experience, your CV can be between 3-5 pages. More than 5 pages, and I'd be wondering what type of work you're going to deliver to me. Your CV doesn't have to tell me everything you've ever done and the name of your cat in Year 2. Just select the 3-4 most recent, relevant roles to expand out, and then list the rest. And with these 3-4 most recent roles, you also need to write the responsibilities of those roles up in a succinct and clear way. The number of times I've seen clients copy/paste their job description from the internal JD of the role is frustrating. That can be a guide, but is often longer and more information than required in your CV and also adds no flavour, lacks detail, and may not be what you actually did do in the role. So balance quality and quantity here, keep it relevant, and keep it to 3-5 pages and you're well on your way!
Obviously, this is impossible. Just keep your CV to 3-5 pages, mate!
And there it is. My top 4 tips to really nail your CV and use it as the launchpad to get you to interview. Now's not the time to be shy - we're in job loss crisis. You have to get this right, for yourself, your family and our community. I could have the best product in the whole, wide world but if no one knows about it - it's not going anywhere! You have the skills. You have the experience. If you have gaps, go get some training. And then write your CV with purpose, write it with pride, write it with passion and enjoy the clarity and confidence that comes with showcasing who you are, what you've done and what you want in the best possible light.
Lata Hamilton is the Founder & CEO of Passion Pioneers, an Executive Coach and Change Leadership Trainer. Sign up to her Change Inspiration mailing list here to get weekly goodies such as articles, templates, tools, videos and upcoming courses direct to your inbox.