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Avoid dropping a CV clanger

CVs can have a reputation of being something between ‘aspirational’ and a work of total fiction – but if you want to be taken seriously, your CV is important.

Filed in Changing jobs

As you can imagine, we process a large number of CVs every year. Despite many technical changes, the humble CV remains a key part of securing an interview (and, hopefully, a job).

Yet many CVs contain basic errors or inaccuracies which can very easily be challenged. And for those who change or embellish their work record, it's getting easier for companies to verify the truth online.

Those basic mistakes

Many CVs still contain basic mistakes which ensure that they are thrown out at the first hurdle. Spelling and grammar mistakes are things on which you will be judged - especially in a senior role. Just one mistake can raise serious doubts and a few can ruin your credibility. You can't proofread and polish your CV enough - it's one of the most important documents you'll ever create, make sure it doesn't let you down.

Make sure your facts are correct

Every CV lists the owner's jobs, hobbies and so on - with dates next to many of the items. For those who have (perhaps) a history of job-hopping, it's been common to stretch the dates of the better roles a little. Or perhaps the job descriptions have been given far too much of an optimistic rewrite, with 'reorganised the filing system' becoming 'introduced a new data management paradigm which revolutionised productivity'. Perhaps your hobby is listed as 'action sports' where in reality the closest you've ever got to a ski slope is looking at the one on your 42-inch television.

Either way, this kind of information is now easily checked. It's becoming very common for companies to look at your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages to see how closely they match the description offered by the pieces of paper in their hands. Yes, parts of these profiles may well be restricted, but it's also common in interviews for potential employers to ask you to login to your account for a reality check - and you don't want them to get a little too much reality.

We'd always counsel using LinkedIn as the place to initially build and maintain your CV, pulling off the text as needed when you're applying for jobs. That way, everything is consistent. You can even use LinkedIn to quickly generate a PDF CV, though you've got more control over the layout if you handle that yourself.

Be aware of what you leave on the Internet

As a general rule, you should at least be aware of information you're placing in the public domain. Social networking can leave a very large and sometimes uncomfortable footprint. What you post to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, whatever, is going to be around for years to come. Employers are real people - they're not going to be challenged by holiday or party photos - but some situations and comments may work against you for a long time. Having a mate take a video of you while you streak through the city centre might seem like a brilliant idea at the time, but 100,000 YouTube hits later, you might change your mind - especially if you have to explain it during an interview!

Leaving gaps in your CV 

Not everyone's career is a steady, successful progression to the top. Sometimes, you have to take a less-than-great job. Well, that's life - and the best way to deal with it is to be open about it. The alternative is to lie - and, as we've said above, this is very easily found out online. Tell your CV the way it is. Unless you were an assassin for a spell - that's possibly best brushed over.

Don't bad-mouth previous employers

There isn't really a solid reason for listing why you've left each job you've ever been in - it's understood that people want to progress their careers. It's generally something to leave off your CV, though the question can come up in interviews. We've seen CVs citing "poor leadership" and "lack of strategy" as reasons for leaving - these don't give the impression of someone who's taking the high ground, rather someone who's potentially arrogant and not good at understanding the needs of his/her employer. On top of which, the potential employer will be thinking, "What will he say about us, perhaps to a competitor?"

Tailor your application to the company and role

Your CV (and accompanying letter) should really be viewed as a starting point, rather than something that's set in stone. After all, there's only so much detail you can use to describe a role, so a single paragraph won't tell the full story - and it should be written to appeal to the potential employer. This means fully understanding what they are looking for in a person and from the role, then adjusting your CV to suit. That doesn't mean lying, it just means changing the focus to suit the role - what was, for example, a supporting or minor part of one role could be a key asset in the eyes of another employer. It's worth taking the time to review what's needed and tailor your answers to fit, as best you can.

There's never been tougher competition for jobs, so every aspect of your application - from your initial enquiry to the shine on your interview shoes, everything counts. Nothing counts more than your CV, so it's worth the effort to not only remove the bloopers but also to make it sparkle.

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