The deadliest CV mistake and three steps to solve it

I went to visit a small business about a month ago. It’s a small engineering firm but it has a fair few students apply speculatively to ask for internships and work. The person who looks at these CVs had some strong opinions. His biggest criticism was for one of the most common mistakes – which is also unfortunately quite a major error that will almost certainly stop you getting through to interview.

The mistake is this: The person writing the CV hasn’t stopped to think about the person reading it and hasn’t done enough to try and understand what the recruiter is looking for.

So what is his advice?

When a recruiter looks at a CV, they do so fairly systematically. They have a list of things they are looking for. The process of shortlisting candidates is not rocket science. If the recruiter can see evidence of these criteria on the CV, then they go through to the next round, if not, they go in the bin.

Three step solution:

1. Find out what the criteria are:
For most jobs this is fairly easy, the criteria will be shown on either the job advert, the job description, the person specification or the company website. If not, then you could either just think about what the job involves and try to predict the types of skills they will look for, or alternatively you could look at similar jobs elsewhere to see what skills they ask for.

2. Make sure that throughout your CV you include evidence for ALL of the skills they have asked for:
Saying “I am great at customer service” is not good evidence. You need to write something that will persuade them that you are good at it, such as “I have over three years experience in customer facing roles and have received excellent feedback from my manager for my positive attitude and friendly manner.”

3. Make your skills OBVIOUS:
A recruiter won’t spend hours reading and analysing your CV. They simply don’t have time. If they can’t see evidence for the skills they are looking for on the page, then they won’t put you through. So never assume that they will read between the lines. I often hear students say things like “It’s obvious I have analytical skills, I do an Engineering degree.” But a recruiter who is quickly scanning through looking this skill won’t necessarily spot this, so for every skill, give a concrete specific example as evidence.

If you need any advice or feedback on your CV, contact Careers & Enterprise on 020 7882 8533


One thought on “The deadliest CV mistake and three steps to solve it

  1. Thanks for sharing this. They are really good tips. Some might say they are obvious tips, but this is why they are good tips. They are only obvious when you already know about them and apply them. You can add the ‘So what?’ principle – after saying “I have a degree in engineering” you think to yourself ‘So What?’ and then expand it to “I have a degree in engineering, which means I have good analytical skills, which I can apply to any projects I am working on.”

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