10 Ways to Fix Your CV and Get More Job Interviews
Almost every day I hear stories of how people have applied for sometimes hundreds of vacancies without getting one single response. Just last week I spoke to someone who had been looking for a new job for almost a year! This really shouldn’t be happening and is a sign that something is horribly wrong with their CV and/or cover letter approach.
Having done some research, I found out that in the UK it takes an average 27 job applications to result in one interview (and 14 interviews to get a job offer). We know that an awesome CV will dramatically improve your interview to application ratio but this average acts as a useful benchmark against which to measure your own performance. However, we suggest that if your applications have returned zero interview results after 8 to 10 applications, it's definitely time to rethink your CV so you don't waste anymore time and effort. If it's not working, you need to change your approach.
It’s tempting to blame it on recruiters being unresponsive but there is only one person responsible for your applications and that is you. You are the master of your own destiny.
These days, most jobs are advertised online and require you to submit your CV (and a cover letter). If you aren’t getting interviews, then you need to take an objective look at your CV to see how you can improve it. Make this a priority and don’t apply for any more jobs until you have dealt with it because you will just be wasting your time. If you’ve already applied for 100 jobs without success, chances are that applying for 100 more will be equally unsuccessful.
When I review CVs that are not getting results, I find the same common mistakes time and time again.
Here, I am going to talk through some of these mistakes and how you can fix them to create a better quality, professional CV that will start getting you those job interviews.
CV is not compatible with applicant tracking systems
An applicant tracking system is a computer programme that scans your CV for keywords. It is not remotely interested in what it looks like. All it wants to “look” at is what words you have used and whether any of them match what the employer is looking for. The biggest problem I see is people using fancy formats and templates that ATS cannot parse. Parsing involves eliminating formatting so that only the text is left. This means that if your CV has any information contained in headers, footers, boxes, grids etc. this information will vanish along with the formatting element. Using formatting such as columns and page breaks has a weird effect on your text once it has been parsed, making it difficult to read and make sense of.
How to Fix It
Never, ever use a template or be tempted by style over substance. Create your CV from scratch as a straightforward MS Word document. Do not include headers, footers, columns, borders, grids, boxes, page breaks or graphics etc. Keep it pure and simple. As well as ATS, most employers prefer a well-structured, traditional CV style that is easy on the eye. Avoid fads at all costs and never submit your CV as a PDF unless specifically requested because applicant tracking systems cannot usually extract the text.
Read more about applicant tracking systems in our item Cracking The ATS Code
This is often the hardest part of writing your CV and probably why so many people get it wrong. I commonly come across profiles that read something like the 2 examples below:
“Hardworking, reliable employee with good timekeeping record. Can work well in a team as well as use own initiative. Good problem-solving skills and the ability to meet targets. “
“A highly qualified professional with expertise and experience gained across a wide range of sectors. Has a history of success in education, management consultancy and engineering. Excellent interpersonal and customer service skills coupled with integrity and the ability to perform well under pressure. “
Yawn. Neither of these typical profiles are telling me much at all about the candidate. Put yourself in the shoes of the employer or recruiter who read hundreds or thousands of profiles pretty much the same as these. More on overused words in a bit.
How to Fix It
This is your introduction and where you need to make a positive first impression, so don’t waste the opportunity. Talk about your attributes, personal qualities and skills in a work context instead of going over your work history (which has its own section) or just stringing some overused words into a sentence.
Tailor yourself specifically to the job role (without lying, of course) so that the employer can imagine you in the role.
Look up synonyms or different words to substitute instead of falling back on boring words and phrases. Aim for around 100 to 150 well chosen words. Resist the urge to use impressive sounding words just for the sake of it. Words should be in keeping with the role you are applying for. Change wishy-washy words like “good” to “excellent” or “effective” for emphasis and to express confidence in your own abilities.
Make sure you use English spellings but you can get some ideas from this article by themuse
No Key Skills
The key word here is “key”. The dictionary definition of “key” in this context means “Of crucial importance” so why haven’t you mentioned them?
Key skills or competencies in your CV does not mean your technical, hard skills. Instead, they are your version of the fundamental transferable skills that are important in any job at any level. And don’t think you can get away with just putting one or two words like ‘team working” or “communication”. More on overused words in #4
How To Fix It
There are a core set of transferable skills crucial to any and every job role. Depending what level you are at in your career or your specific job determines how you need to use these skills within your role. As a baseline guide, all jobs need at the very least these 5 core skills:
Communication: Everyone has to talk and listen to at least one person in a job. This can be colleagues, customers or members of the public etc.
Team Skills: Even if you mostly work alone, there is a wider team at work somewhere. You are either supporting them or they are supporting you.
Self-Management: Your manager does not want to spend all their time supervising you. You should be able to figure out what to do, how to do it, when to do it and finish on time without constantly seeking help.
Problem Solving: In some job roles you will encounter more problems than in others. However, problems inevitably arise whatever you do for a living, so you need to explain how you approach and resolve them.
Ability to Learn: The workplace is constantly evolving with the introduction of new working methods, technology and products etc. The learning process is ongoing and crucial to productivity and progression so you need to show you can keep up to speed.
Use of cliched, overused words and phrases
This, for me, is the fastest and most common way of sentencing your CV to death. As in the profiles in #2, words like “team work”, “problem-solving” and “uses own initiative” don’t mean anything out of context. They are used as stand-alone words and phrases so often in CVs they might as well be invisible.
How To Fix It
Using “team work” as an example, think about what team work means. It isn’t a skill itself but a combination of separate skills that together make a good team worker. Analyse what makes you a great team member and talk about that instead of just writing “team work”. Here is a brief example:
Patiently mentors and supports less experienced colleagues to succeed in their own roles.
If you have used a broad, overused word in your CV, explore what it really means when you break it down. Explain exactly what you mean in a sentence instead of just one or two almost meaningless words. Put your skill in context, tailored to the role you are applying for. The kind of teamwork required in a warehouse is different to the kind of teamwork needed in an office. Reflect your own style in how you describe your team working strengths.
Bullet lists too long
Oh, my…I think the longest bullet list I’ve seen to date was 29 points long (see my recreation to the left). The long bullet point lists I see are not normally quite as extreme as this but a list half as big is still way too long. The people reading your CV – recruiters and employers – notoriously spend less than 10 seconds scanning a whole CV for relevant information when making the decision whether to keep or bin the CV. They really will not read all those bullets because they will have neither the time or inclination.
How To Fix It
As a general rule, try to stick to no more than 8 bullets. Be ruthless and strict with yourself by keeping only points that are relevant to the role you are applying for. Condense related points into a single bullet, one line long, using a semi-colon to link them if necessary. Here’s an example that covers 3 separate but related points from my mock-up list
Strong team worker with leadership, mentoring and training experience;
Note: Since originally publishing this article, the new record for number of Key Skills itemised in a CV is 60!
Work Experience doesn’t feature achievements
It’s straightforward to list your day to day duties in your job role and this can be useful to convey the technical skills associated with a job role. However, all companies and organisations, whether in the private or public sector have one common denominator - money. Achievements demonstrate your value to an employer in terms of how you, in your role, have contributed to saving or making money. It’s that simple.
How To Fix It
Instead of thinking about your job as a job description, consider what it is you really do on a day to day basis. Even if you don’t think so, you are making or saving the company or organisation some money or else you wouldn’t have that job. You job was created because it made business sense and business is all about maximising profit and/or minimising spending. So, in your role, how do you do that?
Productivity is key to maximising profit so think about how you contribute to productivity. This could be by meeting deadlines, exceeding targets, motivating your team to be more productive or finding new, more efficient ways of doing things. Consider how delivering amazing customer service builds the company reputation which results in retaining customers and expanding the customer base.
There will be lots of ways you add value to the company when you give it some serious thought. Use numbers whenever possible to add scale. Let’s use this small-scale example:
Identified and implemented improvements to logging customer issues saving 1 hour a week
That hour matters! It doesn’t sound a lot until you add those hours up over a whole year and it becomes 52 hours. That’s more than a whole working week the company has reclaimed in man hours.
Too much text
Have I already mentioned that a recruiter or employer will spend only a few seconds scanning your CV for relevant points? Important information gets swamped by waffle in text paragraphs that simply will not be read in detail.
How To Fix It
This one is straightforward. Use bullet points instead. Bullets are much easier to read provided you don’t list too many. If you have included paragraphs to outline previous job roles, take away the padding and select the main points you want to get across. Let’s have a before and after example:
“I was responsible for the strategic planning and execution of marketing and communication activities, designed to promote the University’s degree programmes and world-leading research.”
·Planning and execution of marketing and communication strategies to promote the University
There, that wasn’t too hard was it!
Not enough detail
I’d estimate that around 50% of the CVs I review are scant on detail. This goes back to using one or two-word terms to convey key skills and outlining only responsibilities in a job role.
How to Fix It
Another straightforward one. Simply add more detail. This article should give you all you need to add the right type and amount. Just make sure it is relevant to the job role you are applying for. I see my fair share of CVs where only job titles, companies and dates have been listed without any further information. Don’t make that mistake. Write at least 3 bullets per job role focusing on your achievements.
No key words or points
Keywords are what an applicant tracking system is looking for. If your CV does not contain a percentage of the keywords it has been programmed to scan for it will be rejected. The employer or recruiter (who you will remember is only briefly scanning your CV) is also looking for key information that is easy to pick out. Keywords are most commonly specific skills, qualifications and job titles.
How To Fix It
This is all about analysing the job vacancy and specifications. Basically, in your CV, write something that meets the essential criteria they require, using the same or similar words used to advertise the vacancy or in the spec.
We can never know for certain what key words the ATS is programmed to scan for and sometimes they aren’t obvious. I’ve seen some terribly vague job descriptions in my time. If that is the case, then look at other vacancies for the same role to see what they all have in common and use those common points to cover your keywords.
You only need to mention a key word or point once for the ATS to recognise it. Don’t splatter the same keywords all over your CV because, when a human reads it, this will make it repetitive and repetitive equals boring.
Some mistakes are easier to spot than others. Mistakes make you look sloppy and who wants to employ a sloppy worker? The most common mistakes I see are missing capital letters, spelling mistakes, Americanised spellings and font inconsistencies. Spellings really matter because of applicant tracking systems. They are looking for exact words and if you have included them but not spelled them correctly the ATS will show no mercy.
How To Fix It
This one can be tricky if you don’t speak English as your first language, are dyslexic or just don’t have great written English skills. If you are unsure about a spelling, look the word up in a paper or online dictionary. Spellcheck is great but it doesn’t always pick up on American spellings and homophones (words that sound the same but have a different meaning and spellings like “witch” and “which”).
Proofreading your own work is hard. I know from personal experience that it is very easy to overlook mistakes, especially typos. When I have been working on a document for hours or days, reading and rereading it, I become blind to my own mistakes. One method I use to help proofread is to temporarily change the font style (Comic Sans works well) so I can look at it with fresh eyes. If you have MS Word, click on “Review” and find the option to Read Aloud. I use this for telling me where I have missed out words and punctuation. Printing out a hard copy of your CV can help identify mistakes that have passed you by on the computer screen.
Of course, one of the easiest and best things you can do is get someone else, who you know is good at English, to read it through and highlight any errors they notice.
Writing your own CV is no easy task and doing a great job takes time so don’t leave it until the last minute. It will have all been worth it when you get that longed for interview! Happy job hunting!
If you want to know why you aren't getting job interviews send your CV for a free review.