Is your CV failing you? Here’s 8 important details you might be missing…

January is a peak time for workers to consider seeking out a new job, with back-to-work blues driving many of us to start polishing up our CVs.

But is your resumé letting you down? According to research carried out by recruitment firm Michael Page, there’s often a pronounced divide between what jobseekers think is important in a CV, and what employers are looking for.

A survey of 2,000 members of the public and 480 recruiters, conducted by Mortar London for Michael Page, has compared what each group thinks is vital.

According to the research findings, jobseekers tend to underestimate how important it is to list on your CV every role you’ve had within a company. “It gives a clearer indication of how your career progressed within that organisation,” Michael Page says.

[READ: The best employers to work for in the UK]

Many people fail to give enough emphasis on detailing their achievements: “To stand out from other candidates, it’s important to be clear on how you contributed and where you added value while in previous roles.”

Another common mistake is failing to adopt a professional tone: “You’re being hired as a professional, you should show you can present yourself as one.”

For a comprehensive view of the survey’s findings, Michael Page has put together the following infographic:

Eight bad habits to avoid in your CV

Rebecca Burn-Callander recently collected some insider tips from recruiters on question-and-answer site Quora to stop your resume failing the “first glance” test.

1. The wild goose chase

Employers want to see your current role at the top of your CV to work out what skills you’ve been using most recently.

Many candidates attempt to order their CVs so that the role that is most relevant to the job they are applying for appears on top but this is confusing and annoying, according to Quora posters .

“I’m generally trying to figure out what this person’s current status is and why they might even be interested in a new role,” says one. “Is there a career progression? Do they have increasing levels of responsibility?”

If you are currently working in a field that is unrelated to the profession you want to pursue, don’t try to hide it. Explain why you made the move and what skills you are leaning in your current job that could be useful in your new position.

Lee McQueen, a former Apprentice winner, famously lied on his CV, claiming he studied for two years at a university, when in fact, he was only there for four months.

If there are gaps in your CV, don’t try to cover them up either.

“I don’t mind gaps so long as there’s a sufficient explanation,” says a recruiter. “Oh, you took three years off to raise your children? Fine by me, and might I add, I bow down. You tried your hand at starting your own company and failed miserably? Very impressive! Gap sufficiently explained.

“Whatever it is, just say it. It’s the absence of an explanation that makes me wonder.”

2. “I like books, films and spending time with friends and family”

So does almost every other human being in the western world. If you’re going to talk about your personal life, at least make it interesting, beg Quora recruiters.

“List key personal projects,” says one. “I ask this in almost every phone interview I do: “What kind of stuff are you working on in your free time?”

“It shows me that you have passion for your field beyond your 9-5.”

Other advice includes: “We recruiters are staring at these missives all day long. Talk about how much you love Nutella. If you’re a rock star, throw some cheeky self-deprecation in there if you can do so elegantly. I think it’s important to keep the work experience details as professional as possible, but trust me; there are ways to have fun with it. I love an ‘Easter egg’ buried in a resume.”

However, avoid too many personal details. You could leave a recruiter feeling like they could be leaving themselves open to a discrimination case.

“I learn to tune out certain things like marital status, whether or not a person has children, or references to health or medical issues,” says one. “But it seriously makes me uncomfortable when people include photos with their resumes. If I want to see what you look like, I’ll stalk you on LinkedIn.”

3. No link to your Twitter?

Do you have your own website, blog, Twitter account, or meaty list of glowing testimonials on LinkedIn? Include a link on your CV so that recruiters can do a little digging.

“I almost always click through to a candidate’s website or Twitter account. It’s one of my favourite parts of recruiting,” says a Quora poster.

And when was the last time you Googled yourself? One recruiter says, “Typically the first impression an employer is going to get of you is from a Google search. Make sure you have an excellent online presence.”

4. Failure to namedrop

If you have only worked for obscure-sounding companies, brand snobs may dismiss you out of hand.

Try to give recruiters a frame of reference. Instead of just putting down the name of the company, give a little detail that adds credibility. “X, which built the iPhone app for [insert well-known brand here]”, for example. Or “y, the biggest supplier of z to [insert brand]”.

5. A lack of keywords

Human beings are all scanners now: instead of painstakingly reading text, they scan the page looking to relevant or familiar words.

Make sure that your CV is loaded with keywords that show your skills.

“I Command + F the cr*p out of resumes,” says one Quora poster. “On any given day I’m searching for things like Ruby on Rails, Mule, Business Intelligence, MBA, Consulting, POS, Cisco, JavaScript, and seriously, anything you can think of.”

Keywords aren’t just useful for lazy readers, they are essential for many of the automatic CV parsing software tools that leading recruiters and big companies tend to use.

“Make sure your job titles match their job titles,” recommends a recruiter. “Even if they don’t have your exact job title for a previous job, try to get as close linguistically as you can to help those resume parsers.”

6. Using MS Word templates? Stop it

This familiar CV format is a huge turn off for recruiters, who end up seeing the same layouts again and again.

While most warn against using too much fancy formatting, or loading a resume with colour, being creative about how your experience and skills are presented can win you a lot of points.

Some good typography can go a long way, they advise. But nothing can make up for poor spelling and grammar, or a poorly ordered CV. So focus on those key aspects first before adding bells and whistles.

Whatever you do, make sure that your CV reads clearly when all the formatting is stripped out, warn Quora recruiters.

“It’s important to keep in mind that if you’re applying to a position online, whether it’s a PDF or not, most companies’ applicant tracking systems parse your resume for information and convert it to pure text as the most immediate viewing format,” says one.

“The original file is usually there for us, but most recruiters aren’t clicking through to that. If you’re going to do something fun with your resume, I recommend having a clean text resume as well whenever possible so it doesn’t come through our system looking wonky.”

Philippe Dubost built his online CV as an Amazon page complete with product dimensions, five star ratings and the byline: “Only one left in stock order soon”. His “CV”, created in January last year, had 1.3m unique visitors and more than 100 job offers within two months

7. No cover letter or a bad one

Recruiters on Quora unanimously agree: if you’re not going to make your cover letter interesting, packed with extra detail, and tailored entirely to the company you’re applying to, then it’s not worth having one at all.

“Reading a paragraph about why you want to work here versus why you just want to work anywhere could very well be the difference between being passed over and being called for an interview,” says a recruiter.

“But anything generic that appears re-used across many job applications or focuses only on your background (which I could just glean from your resume) is useless and detracts from any genuine or specific interest you might actually have in the specific company.”

8. Mixing your personal pronouns

Never talk in the first person on a CV, Quora recruiters advise. But if you must, at least make sure you’re not mixing your first and third person pronouns.

“Pick a voice, pick a tense, and then stick with it,” says one poster. “I suggest third person and past tense.”

Using the first person is, generally, reserved for talking about personal experience, so should be avoided in a professional resume although this is fine for the cover letter, of course.

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How Not to Hate Job Interviews

Many of us have a serious reservations about employment interviews. I assure you, that I do as well. My reasons for concern may be a little different than yours. (For example, they can serve as an excruciatingly poor selection tool if used unwisely). However, your reasons for disliking interviews are every bit as valid. I’ll venture to say, that on some level you probably dislike interviews because of how the interview — or the interview process — makes you feel. You are not alone.

I am extremely sympathetic. (I’ve been there many times.) There are so many unknowns; Did I present myself well? Did I ask the right questions? Will I make it to the next round? How long until I hear? All these questions can contribute to what I like to call “interview panic”.

Indeed, interviewing can be a nerve-wracking experience. But, let’s go out on that limb and face your concerns (and your emotions). I’d like to take one step back to challenge your current mindset, and suggest that you begin to look at the interview experience differently. You see the funny thing is, as much as I have always questioned the merit of employment interviews — I’ve never hated being interviewed. That lack of hatred has everything to do with how I view the process. More specifically, accepting the things that probably will never change about interviews, and re-categorizing the experience as one tremendous opportunity to listen and learn.

In most cases, we cannot personally impact the mechanics of the interview process itself — or control how an organization behaves. Although we can every make every effort to be well prepared (see here and here), we must still operate within the confines of that system. However, we can affect our own attitudes concerning the process.

Here is what I mean:

  • Embrace being “judged”. Being evaluated can be difficult to handle.While being interviewed, others will certainly form opinions concerning your skills, abilities — even your personal demeanor. Tell yourself this is just fine; remembering that when people cross your path, you will do exactly the same thing. During the course of your career, managers and co-workers alike, will make judgments about you on a daily basis. So what? Convince yourself to view each of these judgments as a challenge to effectively tell your career story and build your own “brand”.
  • Be astute and “try on” the organization. Remember — this may be the company with which you forge a long-term relationship. Consider that point very carefully, and be thankful you have the chance to gather as much information as possible. Take the opportunity to size up their direction and where the organization is really headed. What is your impression? Do you see yourself working there long-term? Do you understand their vision? Getting a bad vibe? Explore this — as it may be the only forewarning you’ll receive.
  • Say “thank you” to organizations behaving badly. Has the organization not acted as you would have expected? Unprofessional? No follow-up? Don’t let these behaviors derail you. Welcome this type of behavior as a clear and present warning. If an organization doesn’t seem to show concern for you from the start, this likely serves as a glimpse into your future. I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s discussion with Oprah, where she explained, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” The same premise extends to an organization. Unless there is some remarkable explanation as to why they have not bothered to contact you (for months afterward), be grateful for the realistic preview and run in the opposite direction.
  • Accept ambiguity. Even though there is an ever-present possibility that an outcome will not go in our favor, attempt to embrace the opportunity. Unfortunately, “not knowing” is simply part of the process. But to be completely honest, the world of work is full of ambiguity. It is best to try adjust to it and attempt to remain positive while you are waiting. Nothing is set in stone after you complete an interview — but at the same time, this makes the possibilities endless.

The interview process will likely never be perfect. However, if you change your own view of interviews — you may have an easier time processing the accompanying negative emotions. I’d like the experience to be easier for you to handle in the future. But, that will be at least partially up to you.