As recruiters, we see all kinds of CVs. As you’d expect, some job seekers will tend to embellish (or in extreme cases outright lie) about their skills and achievements in a bid to impress (although they will always get found out in the end). However, there are probably just as many candidates making another fatal mistake on their CV’s: they massively undersell themselves! If you’re applying to jobs without much success, this could be the reason…read on to find out if this could be you and what you can do to address it.
How people undersell themselves on their CV:
There are many reasons why people might undersell themselves on their CV and unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases they aren’t even aware that they’re doing this. These are some of the most common ways people do this and how you can rectify them:
You take your experience for granted: This is probably the most common reason candidates undersell themselves. When you’ve been in a role for some time, it’s easy to take for granted some of the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired along the way because it’s become the norm for you. However, what’s become second nature to you might be a skill that’s highly sought after by another employer.
How you can address this: If you’re concerned you might be doing this, it’s worth revisiting your CV and making sure you can answer ‘yes’ to the following questions:
Have you listed all the systems and software packages that you have experience using? Where applicable, have you included the level you can use them to (e.g. Advanced MS Excel)?
Have you mentioned your professional qualifications and any training courses you have attended or qualifications you are currently working towards?
Have you clearly emphasised your key achievements in your career to date (more about this later)?
Have you highlighted any promotions you’ve received?
Have you won any company or industry awards?
If you’re applying to a specific job, have you cross-referenced the job description with your CV? Does your CV demonstrate you can do the job?
You focus on what you do, not what you’ve achieved: It’s great to use bullet points on a CV as it makes the information easier to digest for the reader. However, it’s not uncommon for a CV to read like a laundry list of duties rather than focusing on the value the person has added.
How you can address this: If this sounds similar to your CV, here are some tips to help you make it more meaningful:
Show don’t tell: rather than making vague statements, be specific where possible. For example, rather than just saying you ran a successful email campaign, explain why it was successful e.g. won 10 new customers, generating £120k in revenue. As another example, if you work in customer service, rather than just saying you ‘resolve customer queries’, you could say you ‘maintained a X% customer satisfaction rate by resolving queries quickly and efficiently’. If you’ve been promoted within a role, it’s worth mentioning this rather than assuming someone will see you’ve worked in two roles in the same company and know it was a promotion.
Use buzz words: When using your examples, make sure you use buzz words to bring your CV to life. Here are some examples: responsible (shows that you take ownership), enthusiastic (shows that you have an upbeat, positive attitude), negotiation (if you have examples of this – negotiation is a useful skill in many roles).
Other examples of good words to use include: instigated, established, enhanced, increased, transformed, developed, motivated, achieved, delivered, initiated…the list goes on!
You make key information difficult to find: When you apply for a job, the reality is that there are likely to be many other people applying for the same role. The recruiter will scan your CV and decide whether they want to read on and take your application any further within a matter of seconds. If they can’t find the information they’re looking for, your application could be discounted.
How you can address this: Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter. What will they be most interested to know? Given the short amount of time it’s always a good idea to put the most important information first. As a guide, the order should be as follows:
Key skills and achievements
Employment history (most recent first)
Education and qualifications
For more CV advice you can download our comprehensive CV guide here.
A final check…
Once you’ve done the above and you’re satisfied you’re selling yourself to the best of your ability, it’s worth showing your CV to someone objective and getting their feedback, just to be sure your CV is doing you justice.
In many cases it’s only once we meet our candidates and unpick their CV with them in their registration interview that we’re in a position to get a true picture of their achievements and skills, which sometimes were never included in their original CV. As recruiters, we make sure we thoroughly interview each candidate to get to know the person behind the CV so that we can fill in any gaps that may be missing for our clients. Because we’re able to do this, it means we sometimes uncover brilliant candidates who would be perfect for a client but might not have done themselves justice on their CV.
However, to give yourself the best possible chance of being discovered and landing that perfect opportunity, it’s well worth making sure you’re putting all of the above advice into practice. Good luck!