Top 10 ways to ruin your CV instantly


Over the years, I have been surprised to see some badly formatted CVs. After a dozen other students come to me for help, I realized there are some pretty fundamental misunderstanding in how to write a professional CV.  

In case you are wondering why CV is important, on average a recruiter spends 6 seconds on your CV. I believe it may get worse in the graduate job market (as opposed to experience hired) because of any combination of these three factors: a) decreased number of HR resources, b) increased workload on HR, or c) increased number of graduate applicants from mainland China and overseas. The third trend is already here.

Insider tips: Even if you have the perfect school names and work experiences, you can still not get the interview if your CV is inconsistent , full of typos, and talks about irrelevant experience, etc.

Here is what you need to know. People don’t really care about your CV. In the old days, HR may still print out your CVs and read it. Today, they probably won’t even waste that time to print it out. So, the truth is if you don’t give them what they want in less than 6 seconds, then your CV is gone. So take your CV out and check if you are committing any of this mistakes.

#1: Include your personal picture

I have this one on top because I have been shocked by both candidate submitting it and HR sending it to me. Never, ever, include your personal picture in your professional CVs.

3ColorResume - Personal Resume/CV

Source: wrapbootstrap

#2: Have a 2-page (or more) CV

This is my second personal favorite. I find students who present their experience in anything more than 2-page usually have a list of irrelevant experiences. And unsurprisingly, the ones that get to the interview table all use very SIMILAR format in ONE page. And that format is called the “Wharton Format”. This is what the top MBAs use. One way to have a great CV is simply to learn from the top guns.

As for experienced hires, I know their excuses: “Oh, it’s different for me. I have 3-4 years of work experience, so one page really isn’t enough.” Well, my friend, if you have seen the CVs of top MBA students, you will notice how they all use very similar format, list only relevant experiences, and make it in one page along with personal interests at the bottom.

#3: List out your irrelevant experiences

Following up on the last point, too many people list out irrelevant experiences. This may due to the fact the graduates have to apply to multiple jobs. I have to admit I made that mistake myself, too, when I was young. I thought the point was about my experience. Well, if you think about it. It really isn’t just about your experience. It’s about them. Think how bad it will make the people look, be it HR, consultant, banker, if their boss ask them: this CV is a waste of my time – what makes you think it’s a good idea to pass it to me?

Insider tips: Put yourself in their shoes. Think about what they are asked to do (find a great candidate). And how you are helping them to do their job (be that great candidate on paper and in person).

So, to me, the process is quite simple: give them what they want.

You know these companies actually list out their requirements, ideal candidates, things that they look for, right? Great. Now, think try to identify them and relate your experience to it, and match them.

#4: Messy and inconsistent format

Mixed your experience with present tense, past sense in your CV. Begin inconsistent in how you begin your bullets (e.g. sometimes noun, sometime verbs, sometimes past tense, sometimes present.) Here is the takeaway: use past tense and stick with it.

Professionals can spot your formatting inconsistency right away. You have to know that decks, proposals / pitch books are the bread and butter to professionals like consultants and bankers. That’s what we do everyday. We could easily read tens of articles, research papers, slides, materials, proposal drafts in a week. And we have all been taught or demanded to have the professional standard. That’s why these jobs offer you excellent exit opportunities because people know these professionals are trained.

#5: Typos and grammatical errors

This point is an extension to the last point. Professionals are demanding. Errors are just annoying. It shows your lack of attention to details, lack of quality, and, lack of commitment. Personally I’m not super attentive to details. But it’s not an excuse. It’s about how you handle it. Use tools to check grammar and typos. Read it out loud and see if wordings can be improved. Print it out and see if you have missed any typo. Try to have it proofread by someone else. Get their feedbacks. Open yourself up and improve.

#6: Inactive wording and passive voice

There are words that professionals like to use. Verbs like led, grew, produced, doubled, improved, etc. Those are the words that keep people’s eye on your CV. So, use active verbs. Avoid words like “assisted, helped, tried” – it suggests you were not the one who did it. People who work as an independent advisors may disagree, e.g. lawyers, auditors, risk professionals because they need to hedge the risk. So they like word things like: no major risks were identified during the study; or based on the scope of this project, etc. You get the idea. As professionals we sometimes do need to hedge to sound… umm, professional, and cover up our asses. But it is about when know to do it and when not to do it. And understand the impact that it has to others.

Insider Tips: Your CV is about you and you need to show what you are responsible for. Don’t say we or write anything that you are not responsible for.
Another important writing tips is that you want to make sure your voice is active not passive.

For example, I wrote an article v.s. an article is written by me. The former just sounds more direct and responsible, whereas the latter sounds more passive as if you are trying to pass the buck.

#7: Fail to highlight relevant experiences upfront

If you consider yourself a non-target school but actually have some experience with big name companies, then I will suggest you bring it upfront. Don’t put Education as your first session. Put your Experience first. You may think this is a risky strategy – but strategy is about making a conscious choice to be different. Think about it. Almost all experienced hires have their experiences instead of education upfront in their CV. So if your experience is good then show it.

By the way, I forgot to mention, don’t put “Objective” as your first session, your objective is to get a job here, right? So don’t waste the space. If, however, you do have some highly quantifiable experiences / achievements. Consider using a summary.

The point here is make them interested in your CV. So if you are in your year 1 or year 2, then good. You can design your own experience. Think about the cool experiences that you want on your CV, e.g. found a startup that generated $, led a society and increased X% in membership base from Y to Z, or some big company name or boutiques in the same industry. Remember it’s about showing them you have what they are looking for.

If you have none of the above, try networking. Here is the thing. Chances are your university invites speakers to give talk on a variety of topics. It’s a good chance for you to build relationship with them. Sounds good but not sure how? Check this out: how to email any professional.

But even that, you need to know how sell your experience. Don’t make up experiences, but relate them to what the employer is looking for. Maybe, you have done market sizing for a startup that generated X result, or you have done something that showed you are passionate about the industry (be it management consulting or investment banking). With startups increasing in number, you can choose to work for one (chances are they are founded by people who used to work in professional firms) or start one yourself. Oh, don’t get hung up coming up with a good idea. Ideas are worth nothing without execution. I will explain why in another article.

Insider tips: Remember people in professional firms tend to have a very short attention span. So you need to get their interest first and do it fast.  

#8: Fail to quantify your output or results

Professionals love numbers and results. One of reason is because clients ask us about our work and our impact. All the time. If you look at CVs of MBAs, you will notice that almost all of their experiences contain number (#), percent (%), or dollar ($). The reason is simple. It’s easier to know the impact of your work.

#9: Share confidential information

Don’t screw up over this. You go to target school and have experience helping big name companies for some big project. You can brag about it but don’t share any confidential : sensitive information like the company is preparing a proposal to help a client acquire another company or plan to reduce headcount. If it becomes clear that you are showing more than you should, then that will make us worry about your business ethics.

#10: Being too creative

I remember walking in my partner’s room and hearing him commenting on a CV of candidate being too creative – an infographic CV. While I personally like infographics, but sorry this is not the best time to be too creative. Try boring, tried and true CV formats that top MBA students use.

Tried and true CV for download.

Speaking of, here is a tried and true CV Template for professionals. 

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