“I was helping a prominent QC barrister select a new Executive Assistant and he threw every fancy, colourful-looking CV in the bin before even reading them,” professional resume writer Linda Billington says.
If you want your resume to stand out, it should be “streamlined, classy, understated and easy to read.”
The advanced resume writer, who is also a career coach, outlines her top tips for a standout CV and the most common turnoffs for employers:
Spelling and fancy formats
“One of the most common mistakes people make is including grammatical errors and poor spelling. CVs that are too long and wordy can also be consigned to the bin very quickly,” she said.
“No matter how fancy or beautiful your CV looks, employers still want to know if you can do the job and are a solid investment.
"Fancy graphics are a waste of time and employers often don’t respond well to them. Just like people, appearance is not as important as what is inside.
“Use a Word document for the original CV so you can make changes, but email through a PDF version if they haven’t specified the format. Word documents can look different when opened on other systems but PDFs retain the integrity of the document.
"Keep the document to one page if you’re a new graduate with limited experience, two pages for mid-level experience (up to 10 years) and three pages maximum, no matter how long you have worked,” she said.
The expert also advises CVs to be written in first person, but without references to ‘I’, ‘my’ and ‘me’.
“For instance, rather than saying: ‘I am a strong team player’, just say: ‘Strong team player. Or instead of: ‘I helped my team to win a new account’, say: ‘Member of a team that successfully won a new key account’,” she said.
Billington, who has been operating her business, CV Express, since 2014, advises not to list your age on the CV.
"It’s not necessary and she says, “If you’re too young or too old it could diminish your chances before you even get your solid history or great work ethic in front of a recruiter.”
Don’t explain every detail
Whether you’ve had a period of unemployment, taken a sabbatical, gap year or maternity leave, you don’t need to explain it in the CV, according to the expert.
“Most people have had gaps for all sorts of reasons, perhaps through sickness, life changes or certain choices. It doesn’t need to be explained unless it is significant, say more than two years.
“Also keep your work experience relevant, if you’re a professional administrator, you don’t need to list that you worked in a fish and chip shop when you were 15. Your CV is a professional document, not a biography,” she said.
Education, training and achievements
“You only need to include higher education. If you have a Bachelor Degree, you don’t need to list high school. I recommend listing everything from Bachelor’s up, including in-house training and ongoing learning.
"If you don’t have a degree, then high school is appropriate unless you have a significant work history, then you can let that speak for itself.
“Show employers what you have achieved for other companies, that is the quickest way to get invited to an interview. If you have increased revenue for your previous employer, list that down.
"Showcase your skills and experiences to give employers the big picture of who you are and what you have done,” she says.
The cover letter
“Keep your cover letter to one page only! Keep it professional, but you can let your character show through. A lot of New Zealand employers are small businesses and they value loyalty and longevity more than other skills or attributes.
"The letter should hone in and target each specific role and points out as closely as possible how you match the employer’s requirements. Your letter should address each point in the advertisement and show how you meet that need.
“I have found that employers don’t respond well to CVs that appear to be targeted to a particular role. Again, your CV should show the best of your history, achievements and skills, then the letter should be 100% targeted to the job,” she said.
Be honest… even if you have been fired
“This is more for the interview stage. I always advise that being honest is best, but only disclose relevant information relating to the job you are applying for. Don’t include it in the CV, save it for the interview and then discuss it if appropriate.
For example, if they ask you at an interview if they can call your previous employer and you were fired, then you get the opportunity to state your side of the story first, such as: “Yes, but you should know we didn’t part on good terms so you may not get an objective evaluation.”
They may then ask what happened. However don’t fall into the trap of criticising a former employer, no matter how justified. This is a good chance to show that you can deal well with conflict or difficult situations, always take the high road,” she said.
“LinkedIn is a valuable tool and is becoming more popular in New Zealand. The tone of your LinkedIn profile is different from your CV though. While your CV is formal and professional, your LinkedIn is more of a ‘having a chat over coffee’ sort of tone,” Billington said.
Linda Billington attained the Certified Professional Resume Writer credential in 2015 and the Certified Advanced Resume Writer credential in 2017. See example CV below.