The insider secrets of a great CV

Published: 24 Jun 2014 By Julia Streets

Now you CV; now you don’t

The CV is the window on to our working world. At face value, it offers insights into our experience and potential, yet to a recruiter it says more about how we see ourselves. It’s a fine line: too effervescent, and we can be deemed too good to be true; too restrained, and we risk selling ourselves short.

“My interests include Ming dynastic studies, advanced needlework and the ability to communicate with penguins. Who wouldn’t want to hire me?”

Time was when our CVs conformed to a traditional format: two pages, topped with key personal details and tailed with personal interests, with our career histories (in reverse chronological order) sandwiched in between.

In an effort to improve our chances of landing that dream job, we became more creative with layout and language. The introduction of word-processing packages brought kooky CV formats. Stretching the conventions of desktop publishing, we couldn’t wait to list our “self-starting team player who works well under pressure” credentials in the hope of catching the recruiter’s eye.

But CVs are merely a formality today. Profiles of our personalities are provided by social media. Not so long ago Googling oneself was deemed narcissistic, but in today’s corporate climate it’s compulsory. Do you know how you are (re)presented online? Every day, those who are diligently prepared will check what you look like, gauge your experience and draw conclusions about you – all before you’ve even entered their building, let alone the interview room.

Tweet intolerance

Are you aware that your social media behaviour needs to send the right messages to the market? It’s not only what you post, but how you post it: when someone pays unusual attention to their LinkedIn profiles, it’s a sure sign that they’ll be on the job market before long. Social media has provided a new outlet for sharing our musings with others, with a side order of diminished self-editing. Take Paris Brown, the UK’s first youth police and crime commissioner, sacked only weeks into her job last year for sending inappropriate tweets up to two years before she’d even secured the role, for instance. Or the seven members of the Metropolitan Police Service who were dismissed in April for posting “offensive” and “intimidating” content online between 2009 and 2012.

At least on social media there is some control – up to a point. Posts can be removed and abuse reported. What’s harder to comprehend is the frequency with which the formal CV is embellished without fear of repercussions. It has been suggested by various surveys, including one from a candidate-screening firm, that between 25 per cent and 38 per cent of résumés contain a lie.

Adding some interesting hobbies as a meagre attempt to appear more interesting is one thing – after all, going snorkelling on holiday isn’t a million miles from Scuba diving. But what about the falsification of achievements? Surely we wouldn’t do that – certainly not if we were very senior? Surely? Ask Scott Thompson, Dave Edmondson and Patrick Imbardelli, the former CEOs of Yahoo, RadioShack and InterContinental Hotels Group respectively. When their CV claims were compared with the academic reality, they were all left seeking a new job.

Pot, kettle, grey

But applicants aren’t the only ones to mislead in the recruitment process, of course. Take a look at job adverts: any ad suggesting that the successful candidate “could earn up to £XXk” reeks of a commission-only arrangement. “No experience necessary” is code for “you’ll be joining the bottom of the pile” – or, worse, “we’ll consider anyone, so don’t come to the interview with ideas above your station”. A role advertised as “revenue protection officer” is probably that of a ticket collector, while a “marketing strategist” could be a door-to-door salesperson. And when should your alarm bells ring loudly? If you’re being interviewed by a “talent acquisition specialist”.

The interview itself is a minefield. It’s a topic for a whole other column, but my best advice here must be: always tell the truth. Yet even this can backfire. My favourite interview anecdote is of a friend’s response when asked if she had any weaknesses. Quick as a flash, she said: “Ugh, spiders.” It was hardly what the interviewer was expecting, but I thought it was a great reply nevertheless.

Inspired by all this, I’ve decided to amend my interests to “researching wrinkle-reduction treatments and daydreaming”. It’s not untrue.

Julia Streets is the founder and director of Streets Consulting (, an international business development, marketing and communications consultancy. She is also a writer and stand-up comedian. Her book The Lingua Franca of the Corporate Banker explores the “idiomsyncrasies” of business and includes a glossary to assist anyone who is baffled and frustrated by corporate jargon.

Facebook The Lingua Franca of the Corporate Banker

Twitter @streets_julia 


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