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CV clangers and how to avoid them 21/11/2012

In these tough conditions it’s a great time to take a light-hearted look at some application clangers to help us all recognize what candidates should avoid when applying for new jobs.

CV clangers and how to avoid them

Click to jump to section

  1. Get your application right
  2. Clanger: “Retards”
  3. Clanger: “Queen of ******* Everything”
  4. Clanger: “The Party Starts Here!”
  5. Clanger: “Dear Sir/Madam, I seek a job in a...
  6. Clanger: “I am leaving my role...
  7. Clanger: “1997-1999 – Confidential...
  8. Clanger: “ayianapaslapper**"
  9. Clanger: Qualifications: “University of Life”
  10. First impressions count for everything

Get your application right

Below I’ve outlined some real examples of application disasters and hopefully produced some useful advice and application “rules of engagement”.

With competition for jobs stronger than it has been since the "War for Talent" was declared there has never been a more critical time to get an application right. Candidates need to demonstrate clear reasons why they are applying for a role, not just why they should be considered but why they are perfect because if they’re not someone else will be.

I’ll make a quick apology now, some of the language is not what we expect from the well versed in recruiting and human resources but these are genuine examples from applications and demonstrate perhaps how far removed the candidate can become.

Clanger: “Retards”

It never ceases to amaze me how a well constructed application can quickly be undone by one spelling error, take the one above, we all sign off regards but a slip on the keyboard leaves the wrong impression and evidence of a lack of proof-reading.

The question of how important spelling is on an application tends to draw very distinct opinions amongst recruiters. Some will overlook it completely for the right skills particularly in technical roles, many though use it as the first form of screening – any mistake and the candidate is rejected. In the current market this becomes an ever easy way to reduce the applicant volume quickly.

The rule: Check your spelling

Clanger: “Queen of ******* Everything”

Seriously. This is a situation I will not forget, a talented candidate was playing hardball with a client over an offer and having negotiated the deal left their Facebook status open with the above statement.

Through Facebook, Linkedin, and even a simple Google search of your name it is likely your history (professional and social) can quickly be unveiled. Do you want that photo of you on holiday last year to be seen by a future hiring manager? Have you included every job you’ve ever had on your CV? When you say you play for the local football team will the internet show you up to be a pie-munching supporter instead?

While much information in the public domain about you may be beyond your control think about what is. Simple actions such as closing your Facebook profile to non-friends during a time of job-seeking can save a lot of grief.

The rule: Think about what is in the public domain about you and control what you can

Clanger: “The Party Starts Here!”

I have a vision for you, a photo of a naked recent graduate with the quote above scrawled across a strip of cardboard hiding his modesty. We all know that the graduate recruitment market is competitive but there are good ways and bad ways of standing out.

The use of personal statements, video CVS, and even favoured quotations in an e-mail signature may set you apart from the crowd of other applicants in your eyes but think carefully about what image you are trying to create.

The rule: If you’re going to stand out from the crowd get it right

Clanger: “Dear Sir/Madam, I seek a job in a...

...field where my individual skills can be brought to bear in a team environment unless I am asked to work alone which I do well and thrive upon”.

While delighted the aforementioned applicant would appear well suited to a career as a shepherd who gets to meet his peers every now if he feels like it, I cannot help but think this was not the aim of the candidate. The introduction lacks any reason for an application being made and does not make sense.

Do not try and be all things to all people because you want to create a universal appeal. Every job is different and so should be approached with fresh thought. A covering letter in particular should be specific to an opportunity and draw out the reasons that you have put yourself forward for the role. You should also consider whether a personal statement is appropriate to the position you’ve applied to.

The rule: Make your application specific and relevant to each role you apply for

Clanger: “I am leaving my role...

as my current firm has let me down, they have failed to pay the expected pay rise I need of £8,000. I will need this and around £10,000 sign on from my new firm to make up for missed bonus from my current employer”.

From a redundant candidate, in this market, yes really…

Even in a strong candidate driven market aggressively asserting your financial demands in an application is likely to put you on the back foot and create an instant impression as to your motivations. In particular in this case the use of the word “need” raises further questions about the attitude of the applicant.

While you are likely to have financial and personal goals these may not be in line with the role you are applying for and could cost you an interview opportunity. A potential employer does not yet have a responsibility or duty of care towards you. You need to build a relationship through the interview process and once under offer for a role enter into reasonable negotiations including due consideration to market conditions.

The rule: Be realistic in your demands the client is in control of the process in the current market

Clanger: “1997-1999 – Confidential...

...I cannot discuss this as I was on assignment in Asia with the SBS”.

Suspicious? I was and this is a genuine comment from a CV of an individual who talked their way into a position.

More seriously though there is a trend currently for candidates to attempt to keep information as “confidential” whether employer, salary details, or referees. In an age when much of this information is in the public domain and will likely reveal the detail the lack of openness arouses suspicion in the hiring manager’s mind. What could the candidate possibly have to conceal?

The change in the age discrimination laws has had a major impact in this area, many applicants no longer put the dates they were educated on their CVs to take out the risk of ageism but there is a creeping trend from the United States of refusing to put dates of employment on a CV. This creates a huge problem for hiring managers as it's impossible to tell how committed to delivering on a role a candidate has been, five jobs in ten years compared to five in two years could create a very different impression and has nothing to do with age discrimination.

In today’s market an open and honest approach to your career is vital as there are few secrets you can keep.

The rule: Don’t be evasive about your past or leave gaps on your CV

Clanger: “ayianapaslapper**"

(apologies if this is you)

This is a pretty basic example of what many recruiters receive in their inbox everyday, there are plenty of worse examples out there and an immediate albeit possibly false impression is created.

If you’re aiming to be taken seriously for a position and this is the first interaction you have with a hiring manager how will you be judged against fellow applicants?

The same situation can arise from your voicemail greeting or even the title you give your CV. If you’re expecting calls a greeting of you singing along to your favourite track might not be to every hiring manager’s taste.

Equally if you sent a CV titled MyCVversion7(withoutthatjobonit) for a role you will immediately lose credibility, think about how you want the recruiter to perceive you in every piece of communication you have with them.

The rule: First impressions count and you can control that

Clanger: Qualifications: “University of Life”

Chip on the shoulder you say?

If this appears on a CV as a qualification the candidate clearly has an issue with their education (and how they expect to be treated because of it). Highlighting this to a hiring manager may not be in their best interests.

Qualifications and what people judge them to be is increasingly confused. Some candidates with exceptional language skills do not have the confidence to promote these as strongly as they should.  Others who are concerned that their academic achievement did not scale the heights of their peers will often present historical detail of every training course attended, typing certificate gained, swimming badge collected. In reality candidates should consider what they are really qualified in and what is relevant to someone considering hiring them.

The rule: Be confident in the qualifications you have, if you’re not, consider further education for yourself

First impressions count for everything

While some of the clangers will have left you either sagely nodding in agreement at things you have seen, made you laugh, or left you concerned for the state of applications you will undoubtedly have had an immediate and likely defining reaction about the candidate in question on reading each one.

This in itself is the key to the rules of engagement that every applicant should consider. If you accept that some graduate recruitment schemes this year are expecting over 1000 applicants to each position it is likely that first impressions will count for everything when your CV is read.

Candidates should think about how they want to present themselves and how that matches up to each specific role or application.

Be concise, accurate and honest in the application. Control as far as you can the information that is available about you in the public domain and consider its impact on your career. Do not forget, first impressions count for everything.

Andrew Mountney, Aspen-Partners

Andrew Mountney, Aspen-Partners

The Napier Wolf Group was founded in 2004 by Mark Bonnet and Andrew Mountney and is the recognized talent and research intelligence provider of choice to the executive search, corporate recruiting, and recruitment agency markets globally.