I took part in a live Q&A on the Guardian’s career site in the UK his week addressing readers’ problems with CVs and cover letters. There’s some really smart advice there from some really smart people, I highly recommend a look-see. My summary thoughts on the too-many-CVs-in-the-pile problem:
It has become clear to me that the vast majority of job-hunters do not realise what happens when a recruiter/HR-type is going through a pile of CVs. Inevitably there is the quick First Pass which considerably whittles down the pile and then the more detailed Second Pass through the by-now much smaller pile of CVs. Depending on initial volume [just look at the BT apprenticeship this year with over 24,000 applicants!], there can then be a third or even a fourth pass before the employer is down to the all-important Shortlist.

What makes it easy for me to chuck your CV into the bin on a first pass? 

  • Sloppiness – typos, spelling errors, inconsistent formatting. Too careless to get your written representation of yourself drop-dead PERFECT? Bye bye.

  • Square Peg Round Hole – I specified 7 requirements for the job and you only have 3 of them? In a buyers market, I don’t have to change my wishlist, because there are going to be plenty of candidates in the pile who hit 6 or all 7 of my requirements. Bye bye.

  • Wordy – this can either take the form of lousy writing, which feels like a first draft, or simply having very little to say and taking a lot of space and time to say it. Bye bye.
On the second and subsequent passes, I am reading more closely, looking for the value that you bring, looking for personality, looking for maturity, team fit, enthusiasm and all that good stuff. In short, I am looking for smart people who will fit in to my team and who will get stuff done. Does your CV say that to me? My three reasons for dumping at the latter stages of the sifting process: 
  • You buried the lead – I find it hard to find the good stuff about you on your CV. It might be there, but if your ordering of paragraphs/bullets or your self-deprecating language make it hard to find, I’ll probably give up fairly quickly.

  • All ‘tell’ and no ‘sell’ – you delineate responsibilities, but don’t talk about what difference you made. If I have completed my first pass and I still have 20 CVs left on the pile  for a Management Accountant job, I’m going to shortlist the ones who have ‘over-and-above’ items on their CVs. Don’t spend all day telling me about your core functions. Everyone in the world with that job title has those responsibilities. What else did you do, or what difference did you make within the core functions? Spend time and space on that.

  • You fail the Turing Test – In other words, there is zero personality coming through in your CV and you sound like a dalek. You are going to be working with and for other human beings. Let me get a glimpse of your personality from the way you write your CV and covering letter. People hire people they like – does your CV make me like you?

What am I missing? What other horrors make you wince and reflexively dump a CV in your bin?