10 CV sins

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By Hemchhaya De points out 10 mistakes to watch out for while crafting your résumé in these tough times
  • Published 29.01.09

A pink, perfumed CV and a video cassette doubling up as a cover letter that shows the applicant in a bikini. Well, only Elle Woods — Reese Witherspoon’s character in the 2001 film Legally Blonde — can get away with such a bizarre application for a Harvard Law School seat. In the real world, whacky résumés may not always be clinchers. On the contrary, they may land you in a difficult spot in these even more difficult times.

Youngsters ready to take the plunge, exercise caution. Bubbling with energy and ideas — and still a little reckless perhaps — you should take this first step towards building your career carefully. In the current scenario, it’s important that every individual knows how to present himself or herself. Be it a research organisation, a B-school or a corporate giant, your CV is what does the initial talking for you.

According to career experts and industry heads, there’s a fine line between being innovative and being outlandish in so far as crafting a CV is concerned. You can certainly think out of the box but if you do not watch your words you may soon find yourself boxed in by your peers whose CVs might make more sense than yours.

So here is a list of 10 cardinal sins that you should avoid while drafting your résumé.

Freaky format

1 According to Sanjay Roy Chowdhury, managing director of Gray Matters Consulting, Calcutta, Microsoft Word or any other word processing software is the best to compose a CV in. “I have seen CVs in Excel and Powerpoint. Since these packages are meant for other purposes, there is an obvious discomfort in seeing a CV in these formats,” he explains. “Even if you wish to hint about your creative talent, it would not count high on the creativity quotient. On the contrary, your CV could be dismissed as bizarre.”

Public relations expert Rita Bhimani agrees. “In one of my media studies classes — which was on how to write a good CV — the kind of inputs we got from students were funereal and tacky. You would not hire anyone with the kind of structuring and lengthy histories of marks received,” she says.

Printing your CV on glossy paper or spraying it with perfume would only earn you negative marks. Also, avoid using different colours and fonts. A CV should be as neat as possible. According to Tushar Basu, director of Analytic Consultants, the standard font style is Times New Roman and the ideal font size 12.

Reams to read

2 Keep you CV short and precise. Recruiters simply abhor résumés that are lengthy and contain convoluted language. “There used to be a trend, at least in the ad world, that you ought to write reams of autobiographical details in your CV. Even now, some people take great pains to accommodate each little detail of their existence,” says Suchismita Roy, associate vice-president and senior creative director of JWT, Calcutta.

“If you are aspiring to be a copywriter, you need to show your language skills. But there’s no need to expatiate on every little detail of your life. Remember, less is more,” she advises.

And this holds for all industries, creative or otherwise. “Avoid unending, cumbersome paragraphs. Use short, simple sentences, preferably with bullet points,” says Swapnil Tripathi, vice-president, operations, naukri.com.

“Today, no one has the time to read through pages and pages of credentials. If you are good, it can be conveyed in a few words only,” adds Roy Chowdhury. “An ideal CV should be of two pages. If you think it is necessary to add more content that would be relevant to the position you are seeking, do it in the form of an annexure. That way, if the recruiting manager is impressed with the first two pages, he or she may read the annexure too.”

Mind your language

3 Often recruiters reject résumés that are rife with spelling mistakes or are written in vague language. A recruiter in the tech field cites a CV that consistently spelt computer “program” as “progrom”. “Misspellings are to be avoided like the plague,” says Roy Chowdhury.

“Sometimes, the CVs that we receive from fresh graduates lead us nowhere because their language is vague,” says Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee, business head in Calcutta at IPAN, the public relations agency. “In the ‘career objective’ section, youngsters often write that they ‘want to change the world’. Of course, this is a very noble thought, but how exactly do you plan to go about it?”

Overdose of creativity

4 Freshers beware. If you plan to get a footing in the creative industry, you need not go over the top trying to display your artistic abilities. Creative heads are not taken in by exhibitionism. “Once I received a résumé that was fashioned like a greeting card. The moment I opened it, a photo of the applicant popped out… On another occasion, we got an application where the candidate had imagined himself a tree,” says Roy, who has been in advertising for more than a decade.

The creative section of the firm, says Roy, receives a steady stream of such weird CVs. “We often come across résumés that have doodles all over — some applicants do this just to show how creative they are. We also receive heavily scented cover letters and résumés. There is really no need for such bizarre ideas; they can put recruiters off,” warns Roy.

Sweeping generalisations

5 Citing more examples of mistakes, Chatterjee says that applicants often write in their CVs that they have “contributed significantly to the companies they have worked for”. College graduates too tend to go overboard with their participation in, say, a social service scheme or an activity club. “They would do well to remember that they should give concrete examples. Sweeping generalisations just won’t do,” he says.

Negative talk

6 Another note of caution. “Jobseekers often try to explain in their cover letters or CVs why they quit their previous workplace in a negative way. They end up criticising their former employers. This should be avoided,” advises Chatterjee. “A better way of putting it would be — ‘I left my previous company because I needed a leap in my career.’”

Vague interests

7 An area that should be drafted carefully is the “extra-curricular activities” section. “While I would like to know about a candidate’s hobbies and extra-curricular activities, when I see them writing ‘watching television and email chatting’ — I cannot but be horrified,” says Bhimani. “Everyone must have one singular trait, a speciality which they could highlight — but no, they prefer to sing, dance and have ‘nice’ communication skills. Ouch! Delete the word from your vocabulary, please.”

What you really need to do is “pigeonholing”. “By this, we mean specifying your area of specialisation. If you specialise in marketing, don’t make a pitch for a PR job,” says Chatterjee.

Bag of lies

8 Do not build your career on anything but the truth. Applicants must be honest about their skills and qualifications. Falsifying experience or educational information can be suicidal. “Be truthful about your achievements. Recruiters can easily call your bluff. If you are a fresh graduate in any discipline, show the board members your willingness to learn,” says B.P. Agrawal, chairman of ABC consultants.

Agrees Tripathi of naukri.com. “Often engineering and management graduates write about strategising in their CVs. Recruiters know that at this level, one wouldn’t be able to do that,” he cautions.

Copycat job

9 Remember, recruiters are trying to see the real “you” behind the CV. So be original. “Sometimes, we get copycat CVs. Youngsters just blindly follow some format which they might have accessed through the Internet. Even the language remains unaltered. This only shows the utter lack of imagination on the applicant’s part,” says Agrawal.

Praise galore

10 Do not wallow in self-importance. “The worst offenders are those who imbue themselves with overblown praise and then cut a sorry figure when facing the interview board,” says Bhimani. If praise is what you seek, let it come from the other side.

Of course, exercising caution does not mean you cannot be imaginative with your CV. After all, you may be just out of college, eager to explore options and opportunities. Give vent to your ingenuity, but do it well.

“A whacky CV worked wonders for my son, Gautam, who attached a cartoon of himself when he sent his CV for his television job,” recalls Bhimani. “The heads under which he talked about himself started with the letter E — as in Education, Excellence, Experience, Exhibitionism (the videos that he had created), Exhaustion (the games he had played) and so on. And he bagged the job.”

So be controlled in your show of talent. And remember that recruiting managers are short of time because they have to go through hundreds of CVs. “Your résumé should be like an ‘elevator speech’. The concept involves how you’d sell yourself when you meet a person in a lift, travelling from the ground floor to the 15th floor. Your speech has to be coherent, to the point, interesting, bringing in all the important facets of your career. And you have 15 seconds to do so,” says Roy Chowdhury.

Get cracking, because your time starts now!