The problem with CVs…..

My last few blog posts have focused on how employers can improve their hiring success but this week it’s time to turn attention to applicants and to look at the mistakes being made with the main method of presenting one’s self forward for a job; the CV (or resumé – but for the purpose of this article CV will do).

Now as Recruitment Consultants we spend 99% of our waking hours reviewing CVs (or it certainly feels that way) and so whilst many accusations can be levelled at recruiters one thing we can say for certain is that we know what a good CV looks like. We may not be experts in software engineering, accountancy, ice-cream construction or whatever business sector we happen to be recruiting in (we don’t need to be……another time) but we are experts in how someone’s career history should be described within a CV. So, as I close in on my third decade as a Recruiter let me share the following nuggets of wisdom gleaned from my career so far:

1 – The one-page CV is a myth

Whoever invented this idea either had a VERY limited career when they thought of it or they had amazing eyesight and loved reading documents in font size six. In short; KNOCK IT OFF! (-yes, I am shouting, it really gets my goat!). In reality, unless you’re fresh out of school or university then you are almost certain to have done enough “things” professionally to warrant at least a couple of sheets of A4. Referring to my specialist sector of software engineering the complexity of the projects our candidates work on necessitates reasonably detailed description and in 20 years I can’t say I’ve ever heard a hiring manager complain about a CV that even stretches to four or five pages. That’s not to say CVs should be padded with pointless info to create length for length’s sake, just don’t be shy of giving a bit of detail.

2 – ….but what did you actually do???

This sort of follows from my previous point; we see FAR too many CVs that are brief to the point where I wonder if the author was running out of printer toner! An example from yesterday; an applicant for a job described their last 10 years’ work in just two and a half lines the crux of which was roughly “various projects including web software for XX industry” – this will not get them hired ANYWHERE. Employers want to know about the projects, the teams the individual worked in, the technology used, the client/s (if there was one), the industry and so on and so on. Without more detail you’re just encouraging the recruiter or hiring manager to reach for the delete key.

3 – Lay off the damn graphics!

Yes, UX/UI people….I’m looking at you (although many others are guilty of this crime too)! Let’s be really clear about this, a CV should only be a typewritten document explaining your skills, career experience, qualifications and contact details (plus some interests….but we’ll get to that shortly) -a CV is not the place for you to demonstrate your design fu. No one really wants to see (and these are all things I’ve seen within the last month) your finger prints, you in Venn diagram form, you as physically compared to various animals found on a safari, a bar chart where you rate all your skills out of seven…and they are all seven out of seven! I get that this is eye catching but it’s also just a bit odd and wastes space where you could be writing about your actual skills and experience. Hello again UX/UI peeps, yes…clearly you need to be able to show your skills somewhere but that’s what your portfolio is for, put the link front and centre on your CV (literally, under your name) and hiring managers will always see it and visit it. You’ll also be showing you know when, where and how to convey information, which has got to be a skills in and of itself, right?

4 – Are you a human with a life or do you only exist to work?

This is something that many other people have commented on but can’t really be overstated, and I accept that it’s perhaps cultural thing but certainly in the UK it’s REALLY important to have some outside work interests listed in your CV. You never know, your interviewer might also be an amateur beekeeper, a follower of Notts County (You Pies!!!) or a fan of film noir. Interests can help you secure an interview (one of my team secured their interview at Novate IT by showing their love of Lord of the Rings!) and can also provide a great conversation starter to ease you into the interview helping you build the rapport that is crucial in any job interview. In the software engineering world employers are now becoming increasingly interested in the technical projects applicants take on in their spare-time; you might not have professional experience of Clojure but taking the time to develop a project or two using it as a hobby sends a powerful message to a prospective employer that you’re committed to that area of technology as well as self-development in general.

5 – Word vs PDF

This is a pretty simple one really; Word is good (alright…Word is OK-ish) at creating/editing word-processed documents, and PDF is good at presenting them as you intend them to look. So, by all means provide us with your CV in PDF format but please accept that if you’re using the services of a Recruitment Consultant we almost always have to do something to it before we can send it to the employer, which means converting it back into Word, doing what we need to do and then returning it to PDF. So PLEASE, if only for my sake and my diminishing volume of follicles please also have a Word version ready you can share with us. And don’t fret, we’re not trying to do anything sinister we simply need the ability to add a coversheet summarising the main points of your skillset and desired role (and pretty much every client I have worked with over the last 20 years has asked us to do this). We may even need to tidy up the formatting that your chosen job board has decided to sporadically tamper with (unless you meant every other paragraph to be justified to the right of the page?!?!) or we might need to correct your spelling or grammar (perish the thought you’ve missed this during your proof reading, or your computer thinks you are American and autocorrects you into working for an organization). Seriously, only providing a PDF CV means your recruiter is having to spend so much longer processing your application that they don’t have time to help other job hunters, so you’re basically standing in the way of other people getting jobs, and no one wants that on their conscience!

There are a multitude of other issues with CVs and I could easily vent on this subject all day, but this is supposed to be a blog post and not an encyclopaedia so I’ll leave it with one final message; if you’re working with a recruiter then listen to their advice about your CV, you might be an expert in glass-blowing, civil aviation or marsupial dentistry but we are experts in making CVs convey the right info in the loveliest way possible. And even if you don’t particularly trust the Recruitment Consultant you are working with (implausible as it may sound, there are bad Recruiters out there) believe in their desire to help you get the job you are applying for!

Stewart Smith – Self-professed recruitment expert and Bristol’s least hated IT recruiter.

– If you’d like some help with your CV, job hunt or any other career development matter DM or email me