So in the list of things that pundits think one should get right, they often do not focus on avoiding what should not appear on your CV.
Some guiding principles on things you should avoid in a CV:
- Full address: Does a recruiter need to know the landmarks near your house? Mentioning your city is enough for starters.
- Marital Status: This used to be the norm in the last millennium. Putting extremely personal details can invite discrimination. This is easily avoidable.
- Putting Summary on top bursting with a cliche: Are you really a self-starter full of passion who is a team player with the objective of achieving tremendous learning and success? A summary can actually be effective but is used in a woefully inadequate way at most times.
- Anything longer than a page or two (unless you are in academia/science): Recruiters spend very little time scanning your CV. Think of a CV as a flirtation not an engagement ceremony. Put your best foot forward with only as much information as necessary. Most CVs have too much information (that is outdated or irrelevant).
- No checks for grammar and typos: I am always surprised by the number of typos that manifest in CVs. A CV is a piece of paper - that is your entry pass into your next big opportunity. Surely it deserves a second (or third) look?
- Stating that you successfully complete a ‘task’ - you were assigned it - hence it is imperative that you finish it. Doing your job is not an achievement - going over the call of duty is.
- Multiple emails & numbers: How is the recruiter supposed to find you at the right one? GIve one email and number preferably that you check up frequently on. I am constantly amazed by emails that sound unprofessional - no firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com please.
- Sharing salary, family or reference details (unless asked): These are highly sensitive & best left to an interview. A lot of consultants ask for these details over a call at a pre-screening stage. It is best to exercise discretion in such a case.
- Using overly fancy fonts or colours: Unless you are applying for a role where it shows you in a good light. Yes, we live in a world obsessed with looking good, but do you want your CV to look like a professional document or something a teenager made on PPT? Most resume scanners only accept basic fonts and minimal formatting. Overdoing on the glitz on your CV can be counterproductive to your purpose.
- Using negative phrases or words that can put someone off: Choose your words carefully. Is it a problem or a challenge? Are you a team player or a facilitator? What is the quality of evidence you have to back that you are solution-oriented?
- Lies, exaggerations, white lies, information/data you can't back up: One would think that with the advent of background checks, this is a phenomenon of the past but unfortunately I have seen enough and more people pass off other people’s achievements as their own.
- Overdoing it with headers, footers, charts: Minimalism wins - since a CV is a largely textual document, a lot of people feel like stuffing it with data points. However remember when you say a lot, you say nothing at all. Especially as points start to merge into each other or there is a lot of densely packed nuggets of information. Keep what is absolutely impactful and a win in the eyes of who is reviewing your CV.
- Naming organizations, partners or bosses without their consent/ having written proof - If you don’t have paperwork that can trace the duration and nature of your involvement at an organization or with a person, it is best to resist the temptation to boast about it.
- Reasons you left/took a gap year: It is important to have a robust explanation for why there are gaps in your CV (as it is an area of concern for most recruiters). However, the context for this is best explained in a conversation as opposed to putting in black and white on paper.
- Why you want the job: This is best left to an actual interview/cover letter rather than a CV.
- Force fitting minor achievements to make your CV longer: No one cares about your membership in a literary society in high school. Unless you are able to weave that into your career narrative (for instance, an editorial or content writer role).
- Keyword stuffing: This is the biggest mistake that (otherwise) smart people whose CVs are well-written make. In a rush to be relevant to a top job at a top firm, they overhaul their CV content entirely to match keywords. While it is important - too much keyword stuffing leaves a really bad taste when it actually reaches the hand of a recruiter (you can’t know that many programming languages!)
To summarize, knowing what you should not do is the beginning of all wisdom. There are many ways to succeed at writing a good CV but one sure way to fail is to not attend to the details of your narrative and say more than what is needed.
Read the third part of the CV building series: