Get shortlisted for job interviews

The top ten CV mistakes that stop you getting short-listed

The top ten CV mistakes that stop you getting short-listed

If you are applying for lots of jobs but not getting shortlisted for interviews then maybe you need to look again at your CV. Here is my list of the top ten CV mistakes that may stop you getting selected for interview.

A ten-page CV!

Well maybe not ten pages but having a very lengthy (wordy) CV is going to put off a lot of employers and recruiters. Recruiters simply don’t have time to wade through a very lengthy CV and additionally being able to express yourself clearly and succinctly is (in my opinion) a key management skill. My advice is to keep your CV to a maximum of 2 – 3 pages. If you have had a lot of jobs consider cutting out the descriptions of those jobs that are more than ten years old and list them with just your job title, the employer’s name and relevant dates as part of an ‘Early Career’ section of your CV.

Typos and grammatical errors

You would not believe the number of people (including senior managers who should know better!) who apply for jobs with CVs that are littered with typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Most employers and recruiters will bin CVs that contain mistakes, thinking that if you are so careless with your job application then that is likely to carry over into your work. Use a spell checker and get a family member or trusted colleague to check your CV before you send it out. If you’ve been working on your CV for several hours consider leaving it until the next day and then check again. Don’t send your CV out with mistakes!

Filling half of page one with your address and education

 The top half of page one of your CV is prime selling space and although you obviously need to include your contact details here, the information about your education can be placed elsewhere on the CV. This important area of your CV should be reserved to highlight your key skills and experience and also include your achievements that are relevant to the job that you are applying for. Imagine that someone is reading your CV on a laptop or tablet, what they see when they open your CV document will most likely decide whether they hit page down and keep reading. Make sure you use this space well.

Not using the right key words and phrases

 I can remember reading an application for a Change Manager position and realising that the candidate had not used the word ‘change’ or the phrase ‘change management’ anywhere on his CV. Luckily, I had the patience to read through the CV in detail and picked up the candidate’s very relevant business transformation, process management and business restructuring experience. That example highlights the importance of using the right key words in your CV. Remember that a lot of recruiters rely on computerised searches and key word searches to identify candidates. Make sure that you include all of the relevant keywords from the job advertisement (or even better the detailed job specification) in your CV.

 Sending out the same CV for every job

When people tell me that they have applied for ‘fifty jobs without a single response’ I invariably find that they have been sending out exactly the same CV for every application. You really need to take the trouble the customise your CV (and the covering letter if required) for EVERY job application. This means carefully reading the job advertisement (or more detailed job specification) and making sure that all the key requirements are covered in your CV. If the job spec asks for ‘five years’ experience of digital marketing’ then you need to include examples of this in your CV and highlight the relevant experience in your covering letter. As job descriptions often don’t include all the requirements for a job, give yourself a break and (if possible) call the recruiter and ask for further details. Very often this conversation can provide you with further information about the job and enable you to add your relevant experience and then get a head start on the other applicants.

Not including your relevant achievements

It’s important to highlight all of your relevant skills, experience and, where required, your qualifications. But you should also include relevant achievements that provide the evidence of your expertise in different fields. Use the STAR model (SITUATION, TASK, ACTION, RESULT) to describe your achievements clearly and succinctly on your CV. For example, if you are a Project Manager with a requirement for delivering international projects ahead of schedule you might include an example like this. ‘Managed the full life-cycle of multiple international projects at ABC Company. Tasked with upgrading the company network and messaging systems. Developed the business case, assembled the project team and implemented the structured delivery plan. Completed the full project across ten countries within budget and three weeks ahead of schedule’.

Including lots of totally irrelevant achievements!

In general employers and recruiters want to see achievements that are relevant to the job that you are applying for, they also tend to have a preference for fairly recent achievements (say in the last five years). Writing at length about your Y2K project 18 years ago isn’t going to get you shortlisted. Think about the three ‘Rs’- that’s Recent, Relevant and Rare (as in a special or unique achievement). Put yourself in the shoes of the employer, what achievements would really impress him or her in relation to this job?

Not thinking like a cynical recruiter!

I had a cynical recruiter colleague who used to ask the question “So what?” after every weak statement on a CV. So, for people who write “Managed a team” or Delivered a project” I ask, “So what?”. Much better to write: Managed a team THAT CONSISTENTLY MET ALL REVENUE TARGETS” or Delivered a project THAT SAVED THE COMPANY A 100,000 DOLLARS”. Try to ask yourself this question after every bland statement on your CV and really think about how you added value to the business. Thinking about your achievements in this way can be a really useful exercise and you will be surprised at how many achievements you can write about in your CV and then talk about at interviews.

Adding non-existent qualifications or exaggerating your experience

 I know, I know! You wouldn’t ever do this but it’s truly astonishing what people include on their CVs. Stick to the facts and be sure that you can back up all the statements on your CV with hard facts. Obviously don’t include qualifications that you don’t have (that would be fraud) but also don’t exaggerate team size or sales figures. You will almost certainly be found out at the interview or worse when you have already started a new job. Stick to the facts!

Poor formatting

Think about the format of your CV document. Use fonts that are easy to read on screen. I recommend using Arial, Calibri or Helvetica in 11 or 12 point. Avoid using columns and tables that can lose their formatting when the document is opened in a different version of Word or maybe on a Mac. If using Word then save in the standard .doc format or if you want to be absolutely sure that your CV retains its formatting then consider saving it as a .PDF document.

Finally make sure that you actually include your contact details on your CV, I receive a surprising number of CVs that have absolutely no contact details included! That said, be professional about your choice of email address – just doesn’t send out a great message to potential employers!  You might want to consider having a unique email address and mobile number (with an appropriate professional voicemail message) that you use just for your job search.  It’s easy to set up and ensures that you keep all of your job search related emails separate from your personal emails. Having a dedicated mobile number means that all calls on that number should be related to your job search and you can therefore answer appropriately.

Avoid these mistakes and you may significantly improve your chances of being shortlisted for job interviews. Good luck!


About Jeremy I'Anson

Jeremy I'Anson is the author of You're Hired! Total Job Search 2013 published by Trotman Education. Jeremy provides one-to-one career coaching to job hunters at every level from graduate to CEO. Jeremy writes career related articles for the national press including Computer Weekly and The Guardian. He is the official Career Coach at the Daily Telegraph. View all posts by Jeremy I'Anson

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