3. Problem areas in CV writing


3.1 - Embellishing the truth

For anyone who is a fan of the programme ‘The Apprentice’, they will remember back in the 2008 series when it was won by Lee McQueen who caused controversy in the fact that he had lied on his CV which only became apparent during the final interview process.  He still managed to win based on the fact that he had greatly impressed Lord Sugar in the previous weeks leading up to it so this decision was taken on the basis that he had more than proved his worth and therefore, his ‘little white lie’ paled in significance to his skills.

However, for most people, this is not how the recruitment process is carried out! Once someone has been offered a job, references are then checked and anything that does not match up means that the employer can rightfully withdraw the offer. Personal qualities such as honesty and integrity are taken very seriously and an employer needs to be assured that the person they are taking on is equipped to do the job they say they can do and that they can be trusted. It is also a legitimate case of gross mis-conduct which could lead to instant dismissal once in post if an employer finds out you have lied in order to get the job. Also, do not be fooled into thinking that as you have good referees you are on safe ground, particularly if you are applying within the same industry as it true to say that people talk! You might be able to avoid telling the whole truth as opposed to blatantly lying, but if you were to make a major claim such as saving a company from the brink of collapse and all the recruiter needs to do is speak to a couple of his/her contacts in the industry, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise if you have been economical with the truth!

Despite this, not everyone has created the perfect career path for themselves and is proud of every single decision they have taken. Understandably, it may be tempting to adapt your CV which either adds information which is untrue or embellishes job roles in order to sell yourself to get to the interview stage, but even more than being immoral, you are making false claims about your experience which can backfire when in a job which really is out of your league. It is far better to mention the achievements you have gained so far and that your objective is to climb the career ladder and that you are now keen to take on a more challenging role.

Finally, you should NEVER be tempted to lie about your qualifications and state a higher grade on the basis that it is unlikely to be checked, as again, you could be in for a nasty surprise if an employer does contact your university. Therefore, you would need to ask the question ‘Is it worth the risk?’

3.2 - Dealing with career mistakes

If you do feel that you have made one or two career mistakes, you should focus on extracting the transferable skills you have acquired e.g. if you dropped out of a nursing degree in your final year to apply for a position in a charity which supported the elderly, you should focus on the communication and empathy skills that you have acquired since working in the medical field and your appreciation of how physical and mental health affects that age group. To draw attention to those transferable skills, it would help to reiterate this with a strong cover letter where you would also have the space to write about how you wish to change career direction.

3.3 - Dealing with gaps in your CV

Other difficulties that arise with CV writing is how to address gaps in your CV. Some gaps are quite acceptable e.g. maternity/paternity leave, caring for a relative, travel (although it is useful to mention skills acquired through travelling such as cultural experience and any temporary work undertaken) and voluntary work.

However, there are more difficult areas to address which may include long periods of ill-health, unable to find work or imprisonment. One way to get round this is to avoid months/year of employment and simply write only the years which allows for short periods of time without work to be less noticeable. Again, at the interview stage, if it is questioned, you would need to tell the truth but make as positive as possible e.g. if you were out of work for six months and actively job-hunting besides attending evening classes to gain further additional skills, you should focus on those extra skills you acquired in that time to demonstrate how you used your time productively to further enhance your employability.

As long-term sickness and imprisonment are more delicate subjects and give cause for concern to an employer, it is not necessary to make a point of this on your CV. There is always the chance that the gap may not be noticed (particularly if it was a long time ago) but if it is, there is nothing much more you can do except deal with it in an interview situation if it arises.

3.4 - Dealing with minimal work experience

This can apply to newly qualified graduates or school leavers who feel their direct lack of work experience makes it difficult to compete with others.

As you need to bring attention to your skills, one way of addressing this is to have a section entitled Core Strengths following your personal profile which highlights key strengths you feel you can offer. Do think broadly about all the skills you might have acquired through voluntary work, part-time jobs or clubs and societies and focus on drawing out any key achievements or responsibilities e.g. if you worked part-time in a shop whilst at university you could mention whether you achieved your sales targets, were involved in training other employees, how you improved your communication skills by dealing with difficult customers. Ultimately, it is important to focus on what you have got and make the most of your experience even if it is not directly related to your career.

Finally, a one-page CV is perfectly adequate for someone who has just finished studying.

3.5 - Dealing with frequent job-changing

If you have changed jobs a number of times and haven’t spent much time in each role it would certainly be in your interest to create a functional CV. This type of CV would focus on your key skills and experience, and should highlight your main achievements. You could avoid a Career History/Professional Experience section and instead, create a heading entitled Career Summary which would merely be an overview of the job role/organisation/dates employed. If you are now looking for a long-term permanent role, make sure this is clearly stated in your cover letter and CV profile to reiterate your future plans.

If you have taken up a number of very similar short-term contract roles, you could best summarise it by stating the job role with the overall dates, e.g.

Various temporary assignments as Administration Assistant                                    1994 – 1997

3.6 - Being over-qualified for the job

Certainly during a period of recession, some candidates may have felt obliged to accept a role that did not do any justice in progressing with their career or have had to take a different direction for a short time until appropriate roles were available. If you have found yourself in this position, the only way to get to interview stage is to create a tailored CV for the job area you are focusing on.

Writing such a CV defies the principle of selling yourself by ‘talking up’ your experience as you would need to tone everything down so that you do not put the employer off by being perceived as far too over-qualified for the role. The main concern for an employer is ‘Why do you want this job?’ and admittedly, this can be an unfair question if the job is paying a decent salary and you have a mortgage to pay!  However, the issues for a potential employer are that you would not stay in the post for long as you are likely to move on once a job comes up in your field, or they may feel you would not fit in to the organisational culture coming from a very different background (e.g. an academic looking for work in the corporate world) or that you will feel quickly bored or resentful of doing such a job.

If this is the case, it is very important that you keep your CV more low profile but relevant and hopefully when, or if, you apply again for the career role you really want, you may even find that you do have an additional useful skill to mention.

3.7 - Concerns about age discrimination

Whilst the Employment (Age) Regulations 2006 is in place to deter discrimination from recruiters, this does not mean it always necessarily will and understandably this can be a cause of concern for a more mature candidate who may think they will be considered ‘over-the-hill’ past the age of 35!

Of course, some recruiters would welcome a slightly older applicant because of the wealth of experience, maturity and expertise you could bring to a role and with the working age limit constantly increasing, employers are realising that even for people in their fifties, they are likely to have a considerable length of working time ahead of them.  However, as stated earlier, why give away information that may not potentially support your application? For example, if you have over twenty years’ industry experience, mentioning the year you took your ‘O’ levels does not in any way enhance your CV as it has no bearing on how well you could do the job presently. It is best to keep it relevant to any professional qualifications achieved in the last 10-15 years.

Another way to obscure your age is to only mention dates of employment up to approximately 15 years ago and then list previous job titles along with employers’ names and locations without stating dates. If what you have written in your recent job roles has impressed them, this should take the attention away from what you have done over 15 years ago.

And finally, do not give away anything in your CV that indicates you are older such as stating in your profile that you are only looking for a part-time job as you currently also look after your grandchild (even if you are a very young grandparent!) or mentioning in the Interests section that you are a regular traveller with Saga (over 50’s) holidays.

3.8 - Falling short of the stated criteria

Admittedly, it can feel frustrating when you are convinced that you do have the skills to do the job advertised but if the recruiter is asking for someone with a particular industry qualification (such as ACCA in Accountancy) that you do not have, it would be too much of a long-shot to send your CV in the hope that they choose to interview you based on your enthusiasm and willingness to study!

A good Job Specification will usually have an ‘Essential’ and ‘Desirable’ criteria so this should help in ascertaining what is the bare minimum required for the role and you would then need to decide whether you could meet their needs so that it is not a waste of time for everyone. However, do also consider that a Job Specification is sometimes an employer’s wish list so they may be trying to raise the level of applicants by having such strict criteria but that they would, in fact, be willing to compromise for the right person.

An example of this may be where you do not quite meet the specified number of years’ experience required by one or two years or do not have a short qualification that could be easily achieved through an evening class. If this is the case, you would want to compensate for this by mentioning additional skills and experience that you could bring to the role over and above what they have requested so that you can offer them something equally valuable, e.g. if the role has advertised that it is a growing team with scope to become involved in supervising others and you have already managed a small team, this benefit could outweigh the experience/qualification that you do not have.

Overall, this is an area which you have to gauge accordingly but of course, always remaining reasonable as to whether you have a realistic chance of being interviewed and more importantly, whether you could really do the job.

3.9 - Dealing with redundancy

Nowadays, there is absolutely no stigma associated with being made redundant as many companies have been forced to make redundancies due to falling profits, increased competition, rising business costs, etc. Even those in high-level senior posts are witness to having to go through the process so once you have recovered from the shock/upset (or delight in a redundancy package!) you need to update your CV accordingly with a sentence or brief description explaining that you were made redundant from your role.