Jane Whiley

Common Executive CV pitfalls

Having achieved executive status in your career, there is an expectation that your written communications will be nothing other than perfect - demonstrating exemplary formatting and grammar. Therefore, it is imperative to take the time to submit a CV with no errors, misspellings, or other resume faux-pas. There are common pitfalls, even at exec level, that are worthy of mention to help prevent your CV being excluded by zero-tolerance grammar-phobes involved in the hiring process:-

Using the third person 

“Having achieved executive status in your career, there is an expectation that your written communications will be nothing other than perfect - demonstrating exemplary formatting and grammar. Therefore, it is imperative to take the time to submit a CV with no errors, misspellings, or other resume faux-pas. There are common pitfalls, even at exec level, that are worthy of mention to help prevent your CV being excluded by zero-tolerance grammar-phobes involved in the hiring process:-“

Contrary to the advice given by some CV-writing forums, I strongly believe that a profile written in the third person (him, his, her, hers) immediately separates you from your CV story and detaches you from your accolades. If the intention is to give extra weight or gravitas to what you are trying to convey, I suggest that CVs are not the place for reportage-style prose as though written by an observer. Own your story, avoid sounding pretentious and impersonal and use ‘I’, ‘my’, ‘mine’ instead.

Value-add verbs

When proof-reading your CV, always check your verbs, as there can be a tendency to overuse verbs or verb phrases such as “develop”, “was responsible for” and “provided”. Whilst perfectly acceptable, overuse of the same verb/verb phrase can diminish impact through frequency and make your CV appear bland. These are the to-be avoided ‘passive verbs’. Instead add some dynamism (without becoming too flamboyant) with stronger ‘active’ verbs such as “spear-headed”, “steered” or “influenced”. Even worse, in my opinion, is the impersonal writing style sometimes used on CVs that involves missing out verbs completely. The ‘voice’ conveyed to the reader of more than a paragraph of prose written in this style is jarring, perfunctory and bullish – for example “Team leadership and sales coaching” or “Management of EMEA distributor network” in a bullet-pointed list a gives a lacklustre impression of a list of duties and responsibilities simply lifted from a former job description.

Rules of Engagement

In my experience a profile paragraph is immediately more engaging and helpful if it summarises you as a candidate rather than stating your professional objective. The difference is marked; the former is a key tool for recruiters to get a rounded measure of you before embarking on the main body of your CV for fuller detail. The latter is an instruction to the recruiter about what you need them to do for you. They still need to go to the main body of your CV to find out more. Given that (according to a new study released by TheLadders) an accept or reject decision can be made on a CV in as little as 6 seconds, it makes sense to engage the reader from the off, and use a well-written summary rather than a personal objective. And to avoid putting off the recruiter before you’ve even started, never use all the old familiar, hackneyed adjectives and meaningless phrases such as: fast learner, driven sales person, leads by example.

Fonts and Photos 

CVs are often screened remotely on handheld devices by busy hiring managers using travel time as an ideal opportunity to review candidates submitted for their vacancy. Please bear this in mind when formatting your CV and make sure it is created in a programme or application that will not become distorted when opened on a portable smart device. Tables, images, fancy bullets and embedded Excel sheets all risk your CV becoming unreadable and rejected due to frustration factor. For the same reason, stick to universal fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman and consider that the most common file format is Microsoft Word. To include a photo or not? For anti-discrimination reasons, no company or agency can legally request your picture, however, many candidates believe it personalises their CV and makes them memorable. A photo can always be sent to a client ahead of a field-based interview for ID purposes, but I feel it is of no added value to include a photo on your CV.  

The Old Chestnuts

Whether a seasoned exec or a rookie graduate, the ‘old chestnuts’ are worth reiterating! Here they are… test yourself; do you know which one to use to covey the right meaning or context?

affect/effect   |   complement/compliment   |   fewer/less   |   practice/practise    |   that/which  |  while/whilst   |   lead/led   |   continual/continuous   |  compare to/with

Clear as mud? I’ll come back to you next time around with these definitions for you.

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