The most popular CV cliches

By Ciaran Ryan

The CV is the story of your working life. In many cases, it is a work of fiction. A skilled recruiter will sniff out the inconsistencies in a matter of seconds. Here are some of the points to look out for in crafting a CV:

  1. Four jobs in three years and no reasonable explanation is a red flag to a recruiter. This screams “trouble” to any employer. It says you are either greedy, incompetent or impossible to work with. This CV is likely to hit the bin within 30 seconds. If you do make it to the first interview, you will be asked to explain why you change jobs so frequently and the answer had better be convincing. If you start blaming your boss and co-workers (“my co-workers were jealous of my abilities” might sound good when you rehearse it in your head, but as soon as you open your mouth with this garbage, you have outed yourself as an arrogant fool). So if you are looking for a new job, try to make a positive and lasting impression in your current job. Oh, and try also to get on with others. If you don’t, you will eventually get busted, in which case, welcome to the world of self-employment!
  2. If your CV claims you are self-motivated, a great team player, perfectionist, hard worker etc., welcome to the one billion others on the planet who make the same claim. These, of course, are great and desirable attributes, but they are demonstrated by action rather than words. The recruiter will in any event check these claims by doing a detailed background check on you. There is nothing wrong with saying you are a great team player, but then back this up with facts that any recruiter can verify.
  3. Another point that will earn you immediate black marks: spelling and grammar errors in your CV. These are seen as signs of carelessness or poor education. I may be a bit of a tyrant in this regard, but in South Africa we use English spelling: organisation, not organization; labour, not labor; colour, not color; programme, not program. I know many computer spell-checkers default to the American spelling, but just set it to English, and then actually use it! Oh, and grammar has virtually disappeared as a subject in this age of educational weirdness (blame this dumbing-down on Outcome-based education), but there are some basic rules to follow. Make sure your sentences are correctly structured, use economy of words, and try to stand out by being occasionally elegant in your phrasing.
  4. Reasons for leaving past employment: this is a touchy one. There are two schools of thought here: either leave this out of the CV altogether and address it in the interview, or if you do address it, avoid clichés such as “to pursue other interests.” This cliché is now so shop-worn that whenever a CEO is quoted in the press as leaving “to pursue other interests” you can take this as code for a sacking. Leaving one job because you got a better offer elsewhere is usually a valid explanation, provided it does not happen four times a year!
  5. If you did not get on with your boss, you better let the recruiter know exactly why this was, and avoid any personal criticism of your past co-workers or bosses. Criticism taints you as a trouble maker.
  6. Look, it may be that you are the Son of Satan as a work mate, but you may still be pretty good at what you do. What kind of jobs would you be good at? Sheriff of the court, debt collector, litigating attorney…. There are endless opportunities where popularity is not an issue (not to demean sheriffs, attorneys and debt collectors, many of whom very fine people, but this line of work involves confronting people in unfortunate circumstances). Believe me, when it comes to hiring cost accountants, quantity surveyors, project managers and the like, employers want you to be tough as nails. You have to be able to say “No!” whenever someone tries to squeeze a little extra cash out of the project. After all, companies are there to make a profit.
  7. Don’t put your salary expectations on the CV. This is something you want to go over in the job interview.
  8. Let’s not forget what it is that companies are trying to achieve: profits. So if you can demonstrate in your CV that in your previous jobs you were able to save costs, improve profit margins or sales, then you have the attention of the prospective employer. This, at the end of the day, is the one language he speaks fluently.

Remember, the CV says as much about you through its omissions as its inclusions. Remain truthful throughout, because once you start introducing “white lies” or outright fabrications, you are likely to be found out.