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How to avoid CV clichés that could cost you the job

Find out why "entrepreneurial and motivated team players" are missing out on interviews

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You might think that your CV contains a lot of great information that will sell your skills to a new employer, but does it?

Are you ‘a great communicator who works well alone or as part of a team’? That’s great, but that statement is a classic example of a CV cliché and is virtually meaningless to a recruiter.

What information should you include?

When you are thinking about what information to include, the key things to ask yourself are:

• “Is it relevant to the jobs I’m going for?”

Once you have found a job, read the job description and identify the skills required. Make sure they are visible in your CV. For example, communication:

Do say: “Completed a complex project by communicating with all levels of the business and external partners.”

Don’t say: “A great communicator who loves meeting new people.”

• “Does it show off my skills and how I have used them?”

The best thing to do is show how you have used your skills and what you have achieved, thus showing what you can bring to a new company.

Do say: “Increased sales by 25% through holding one-to-one training sessions with the sales team.”

Don’t say: “Has experience training and developing staff.”

• “Could I copy and paste it onto someone else’s CV?”

If so, then you need to re-think what you have written, as you could have fallen into the CV cliché trap. The information needs to sell you as an individual. If it would fit on someone else’s CV, it probably needs to go.

Do say: “A focused Financial Controller, with over 25 years of progressive experience, managing 500 employees across three continents.”

Don’t say: “A good leader with management experience.”

How do you write the information in a compelling way?

Once you have decided what you need to include, think about how you are going to get the information across. A recruiter is looking for a reason to invite you to interview, so make it easy for them to find all the great reasons to choose you.

If you possess desirable skills, they need to be visible and should be written in a ‘result – how – why’ format within your profile and career history, to demonstrate how you have used them and what you could bring to a new job.

If you have achievements and the figures to support them (for example, increased sales by 50%), they need to be included too.

Your CV should be a personal document that accurately sums up your career history. Space is limited, so if you fill it with vague information, you are wasting opportunities to tell an employer how fantastic you are, so keep your information specific and steer clear of the CV cliché.

CV Knowhow are totaljobs’ exclusive partner for CV writing advice and reviews. Get your CV rewritten by CV Knowhow.

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(All comments have to be approved before they appear)

  1. Stuart Banks

    Not everyone who contributes as a material specialist to an engineering materiel selector program for a bespoke company intranet application has the visibility of awareness to know whether they are communicating with all levels of the business and external partners to that business. Because security validation of access / editing is only permitted to valid personnel. An material engineer often and frequently trains and develops personnel, but rarely if ever are they members of a sales team with an impact on sales. A material engineer often works as a member of a small team of between 3 to 20 members of multiple discipline who have a disproportionate affect on financial control that is reliant on them working as a dedicated and integrated team rather than solely as individuals.

  2. Conor

    Congratulations Katy.
    I read this short blog on CV’s as I have read many, many before. This one however stood out straight away for me. It was practical, clear and really well put together. The points were thought provoking and I really liked the ‘dos’ and don’t’ style.
    Great work

  3. Olalekan Olafiranye

    Thank you very much for your kind advice on how best to structure CV.
    I will work on the CV and believe it would land me a job.

  4. DarrenMcvey

    Hi I’m a joiner/ supervisor and have done my first c.v in 10 years, feel like I need to change it to suit differnt jobs

  5. Christopher Richards

    Interesting article and confirms everything that I have said to people in the past NOT to put in the CV.

    That said I am still amazed by the number of people, including both professional recruiters and those individuals who have fancy script software claiming that they write the “perfect CV”.

    Having spent much of my career on both sides of the table (so to speak), I can assure you there is no such thing as a “perfect CV”; in to days ultra-specific requirement job specifications; I have found that each CV and covering letter has to be bespoke.

    I have had my CV re-drafted by many people over the years, including Agencies, some of the people I have known for years, Job Centre Plus, supposed help operations such as Reed In Partnership, SEETEC, IXIOM and similar bodies. Upon production of my CVs (note the plural), the first thing that all of them have said is “… ah! Now I see what is wrong it is you CV ! Let’s see if I can write a better one, then go on to tell you why your CV is wrong.

    However what I often deliberately not disclose is that it was a member of staff from their firm who drafted the CV they are criticising; thus confirming my view that there is no such thing as a perfect CV. Indeed my professional body have written a CV for me, only that to he cast aside by other “professional recruiters.

    The fact is, that there are more people in the market looking for jobs than there are jobs available. Much of that is down to ever increasing computerisation and the fixation companies and businesses have developed relating to call centres. “How much can we throw at the wall, and see how much sticks”; turned in to the name of efficiency.

    Indeed it is an employer’s paradise since they have such a vast voloume of applications, they can virtually narrow down their requirements to the blood group of the application. In reality, the employer’s interest is more on the lines of the computing suites you have used than you actual knowledge whether the answer that software (whether it be XL, Word, or any of the accounting suites which are available (over 2000 off the shelf packages, and that is before you move in to the realms of bespoke); each employer expecting you to know their system immediately. Indeed look at most advertisements and they are on the lines of “… must have strong knowledge of XL (pivot tables), Word; (usually some bizarre bespoke software), specific industry type”.

    All of this totally absurd and actually comes down to the fact that employers can’t be bothered to train their staff, instead of buy of the hook as if they are going to Marks & Spencer, or TESCO. More to the point even if you have not used the system , then you are expected to learn it in 3 hours. Again, no training.

    Then you have the issue of the interviewer in fear of their own job (thank you America for the hire and fire approach to employment) where in a situation where I am in an interview with a 25-30 year old, and being 50 likely to know more about the practice of the discipline as opposed to poking buttons, the claim that: ” You are over qualified” springs in to play. The real answer of course: “I worried that you may take my job”.

    The reality is that being qualified these days is a handicap not an asset. Emloyers can’t be bothered to train, so no career progression in companies/business any more; hence the large turn over of staff. Ironically, employers still measure people on length of service, and yet in the next breath have the hire and fire approach where actually THEY have the high turn over of staff due to the employer’s attitude to its staff.

    Perhaps the contradiction and irony of all this, is that when you read the broadsheet and professional press, these senior managers and directors are the same ones complaining about staff loyalty. Pot calling saucepan tarnished !

    1. No such thing as a perfect CV- beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    2. No such things as all adaptable skills; every employer has their own skill set requirement
    3. No such thing as loyalty between employer and staff; hence the reverse has come true.
    4. It has now dawned on employers that employees can walk out of the door as easily as the employer can fire them.
    5. The life expectancy of the average company is at best 25 years; the 100 year old company is virtually dead; and those which do exist increasingly are franchises; notably McDonalds.

    In the case of 5. above, I find it bemusing that the employer sees the employees long stay in a company as something strong, as opposed to someone going through may two companies in five years having been made redundant, apparently less reliable. Again turning full circle, employers are not reliable.

    So there are as may clichés in Job Descriptions as there are CVs; so all a load of nonsense; time to stop playing psychological games and just get on with the job !

    • Diane

      Spot on Christopher

    • Fiona

      Well said Christopher, I thought it was just me. And don’t get me started on psychometric personality tests where there are “no wrong answers, just be yourself.”….seriously?

  6. simon

    More interesting than the original article, pretty much bears out my own experiences, customised CVs etc.

  7. laura

    i keep sending my cv to jobs bt never get anythink back can u help me

    • Kevin Newton

      If it is recruiters that you are dealing with, rather than the company itself?, do some digging around on other jobsites or even email the recruiter and ask for the postcode where the the job is to check travel time/distance. A lot of the time you can pin down, with a bit of detective work, where the job is. Then check for vacancies on the companies own website, or just email them your cv with a short cover letter explaining that you are looking for work and did they have anything suitable? Got to be worth a go hasn’t it?

  8. David Miller

    It is not important how your CV is set out I have always got a reply from employers with my basic CV what employers are looking what work you have done in the past. I have had my CV checked and received great feed back from employers they say it is easy to follow only thing with employers it is the recruiters HR department what some times block your application not the employers them selves my cousin went for a Job at funeral directors company in Bradford and because of this lady who worked in HR department made a mistake he then had to go for third interview and the owner had to deal with the interview process him self the woman who was HR manager at the time had actually lied on her CV and was demoted due to the mistake she made with application processes from Job seekers.

  9. Suzy Wilson

    Absolutely spot on!!! And as for the psychometric tests to stack shelves at my local Tesco?? How the hell do you pass one of those?! I put all the (truthful) acceptable answers but never receive a sniffle back! Last interview was with a despicable little shit of about 25 who could barely be arsed making eye contact and was clearly in fear that, at the princely age of 46, I may have been able to do his job better. But that wasn’t the job I went for…..

  10. Kevin Newton

    Company vs Recruiters – How come jobseekers seem to get a better response when dealing directly with a company rather than a recruiter? Recently I have applied for four jobs directly to the employer, 1x no response, 1x I didn’t want (wrongly described in advert), 1x I didn’t get and 1x interview to come. I have lost count of the amount of applications I have submitted through recruiters – barely a sniff.
    Prime example – applied for a job 2 weeks ago, noticed that the exact same job appeared a week later with the same recruiter. Emailed them to ask if it was the same vacancy or a new one? They phoned me back to tell me it was the same vacancy, and did I want to apply? Told them I already had. The recruiter then dug out my cv, bothered to read it and said “hmm, it looks like your skills and experience pretty much exactly match what they are looking for. I’ll email them your cv today”.
    Shouldn’t you have done that 2 weeks ago?
    In my experience, there is no such thing as an average recruiter, they seem to be either very good, or very bad.

  11. Kevin Newton

    Another thing on the subject of recruiters.
    How can someone who spends all day either trawling jobsites for cv’s, or phoning people with general enquiries (and usually sounds about 12 years old) be called a ‘consultant’? I thought a consultant was someone with years of experience behind them? Also, when you do submit an application, the questions a ‘consultant’ asks you in the initial phone call are ridiculous. 90% of the information they require is on your cv if they bothered to read it, and are obviously only doing it to add you to their database. It makes you wonder if recruiters operate a ‘daily contact quota’ for their staff?


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