I’m happy to say that over the past 11 years, since setting up my own coaching business, I’ve helped thousands of job hunters find and land their dream jobs through my corporate outplacement programmes and online courses.  

During that time, as you would imagine, I’ve honed an essential set of tools for job hunters, which, when used as instructed, deliver consistent, exceptional results.

In this article, using knowledge from working with so many job seekers, plus my own 20 years as an HR professional (prior to setting up my own business), as well as incorporating feedback from countless resourcing teams, recruitment consultants and clients, I will explain the top three mistakes candidates make with their CVs and how to avoid them.

1.     Not Tailoring Your CV

One of the most common complaints I get from job hunters when I start working with them is, ‘I’ve applied for 10/50/100 jobs and not got an interview. I can’t understand what’s going on!’

When I ask, ‘Did you send the same CV for every job?’  Invariably the answer is, ‘Yes!’

Competition for roles is fierce right now.  As a result, recruiters can afford to be even more selective than ever before.  Therefore, they need to be able to see ON THE FIRST PAGE, how your skills and experience match those required for the job.

With increased candidate numbers, recruiters don’t have time to sift through multiple pages to establish a match; therefore, it’s your job to make it easy for them.

Not tailoring your CV is nothing short of lazy, and it will affect results; you get out what you put in.

How to Tailor Your CV

  • Add a ‘Key Skills’ section before your career history with bullet points, listing no more than eight key skills.
  • You don’t need to explain them in this section, just list the headings, e.g. strategy, budget planning, administration, employment law, etc.
  • Where there is a job description, list the ‘essential’ skills they ask for (as long as you possess them), using their exact words.  That’s a little psychological trick and will also help if the initial pre-sift is done electronically using a ‘keyword search’ recruitment program. 
  • Where there is no job description, use generic skills for your role, e.g. negotiating, project management, stakeholder management, employee engagement, etc. 
  • Under your current/last role, be sure to include at least 8-10 ‘achievements’, tailored to the job you’re applying for; they should demonstrate your ability to do the role and the outcomes they can expect if they choose you (see No 3 below for more on this).

2.     Regurgitating Your Job Description

Over the years, I’ve seen so many poor CVs where candidates have obviously copied from the job description and pasted it into a CV template. However, you are writing a CV, NOT a job description! 

I recommend writing an ‘achievement-based CV’, i.e. it should be focused on what you’ve achieved, not simply your daily tasks/duties/responsibilities.

Your achievements are what makes you different from your competitors.  For example, you can have exactly the same type of role, with precisely the same duties as someone else; however, I guarantee that your achievements will be different from theirs. Recruiters want to know what they are going to get if they choose you.  

Give some thought to what you can do for them, i.e. what value can you add to their business? If you’ve applied for the job, there’s probably a good chance you can do it (that you have the skills and experience), but to what degree/level varies from person to person, and that’s where achievements come in. 

How to Write an ‘Achievement’ Based CV

  • Most businesses know what duties are necessary to do a specific job, so listing them can be counterproductive.  
  • You only need to give a basic, high-level overview of your duties – the rest of the space should be for your achievements.  For example, you might include ‘managing a team of 6’.  You don’t need to list the tasks involved, e.g. interviewing, holidays, one to ones, disciplinaries/grievances, performance management, holiday planning, etc. because everyone knows what’s involved in managing people – it’s a complete waste of valuable space.
  • You must include at least 8-10 achievements in your current/last role, preferably from the previous 3-5 years (most companies will want to focus on your most recent results). 
  • The overwhelming response I get from job seekers when I talk about achievements is, ‘Dunno what mine are. I just do my job!’.  EVERY job has outcomes/business benefits; otherwise, your employer wouldn’t have your role in their structure.  
  • Your achievements are the results that come out of your duties, i.e., your job outcomes.
  • If you’re struggling to think about your achievements, look back through your diary, 1:2:1s, performance reviews, ask your manager/colleagues, etc.
  • Include as many facts and figures as possible, e.g. £, $, %, KPI increases/decreases, etc.
  • If I can say, ‘So what?’ after an achievement, you haven’t grasped the business benefit, e.g. ‘led a transformation project’…. SO WHAT? … ‘That resulted in savings of £1.5m.’
  • Each bullet should have no more than two sentences:  1. What did you do  2. What was the outcome?

3.     Making Your CV Too Long

Many people maintain the same CV they had when they left school/college, building job upon job, commonly ending up with 5/6 pages. 

One of the most significant battles I have with clients (especially my more senior ones) is getting them to edit their CV back down to 2-2.5 pages of A4.  They like to cling on to things that they did maybe 10-15 years ago, that are now significantly out of date, or that they’ve far surpassed with subsequent achievements in the intervening years.

You shouldn’t need any more than a couple of pages, no matter how long you’ve been working, how many jobs you’ve had or your level/grade.  Again, your CV should be concise and tailored to the role; removing anything that doesn’t add value, or that doesn’t back up your application.  Be ruthless. As I’ve said previously, no recruiter has time to wade through a CV that’s 5/6 pages long and full of irrelevant information.

How to Edit Your CV

  • Your focus should be on your last 3-5 years’ experience and your achievements during that time – the more results you include, the better.  That’s what most employers are interested in knowing. 
  • For roles older than ten years (unless there’s something specific that you need to include for an application that you can’t evidence more recently), you can simply list the job title, company and dates.
  • To save space, avoid including ‘Additional Information’ or ‘Hobbies’ sections.  They are not necessary unless you have something specific to add to back up an application that matches the recruiter’s values, e.g. school governor, Scout leader, charity organiser, etc.
  • DO NOT include a ‘hobbies’ section if all you have to add is, ‘Cinema’ ‘Socialising’ ‘Gym’ ‘Running’, etc.  Everyone does those; they will not enhance an application.  Instead, use the space to add more achievements.
  • If you have numerous qualifications, if you’re a health and safety expert, for example, use a separate sheet to list them. Even when adding an extra ‘qualifications’ page, your CV should be no longer than three pages.

Of course, there are many more things to consider when writing a CV; for more top tips on this and other job-hunting related topics, click here to sign up for my FREE ‘Your Dream Job’ mini-course.

If you would like access to my full ‘Write a Brilliant CV’ course, which includes step by step guidance on creating an achievement-focused CV, click here.



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