5 Simple CV Errors To Avoid


Tips from 10 years, 10 jobs living in 5 countries

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Unless you’ve got a friend on the inside your CV is what’ll get you hired, or rejected, in as little as 6 seconds. And given that most recruiters don’t have time to read CV’s properly — it’s worth getting the messaging right so you can put your best foot forward when you’re on the job hunt.

So, keen to learn more? Let’s jump into it…

And before we begin, I’m just a designer — not a recruiter — but I’ve attended more than 50 design interviews over the last 10 years and worked for some well-known brands too.

And if you’re thinking — why did he change jobs so often? It’s because I worked as a contractor for a couple of years in London. And when you need to re-apply for a new job every few months, you learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t! So it’s the things I’ve noticed that I want to share with you today.

I mentioned that recruiters don’t have a lot of time to read CV’s. Fact: Google gets over 1 million CV’s per year… that’s over 2,700 per day. Also, TIME magazine estimates recruiters look at your CV for just 6 seconds before deciding it’s fate.

So with this in mind…

But you’ve got to do your homework before sending it off to recruiters. Ask yourself critically, is the job right for you? Do you actually have the relevant experience?

Don’t jump on the bandwagon like everybody else and “fake it til you make it”. Imagine if a doctor did that. Apply for the jobs you’re qualified for, because even the best CV without the relevant experience is going to struggle to get traction.

But if you’ve done your homework and the role ticks all the boxes, then here are my top 5 errors to avoid when you’re designing your CV:

Success attracts success | Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Try all you like, but job responsibilities will never sound as impressive as accomplishments. Success attracts success. So cut to the chase, and list out what you’ve achieved instead of what you had to do.

But what counts as an achievement? That’s up to you. For some jobs it may be hard to think of anything as an achievement, but what you can do is quantify your impact as clearly as possible.

For example, one of my jobs was working at Sky TV where we designed a step-by-step guide to help users set up their On-Demand TV. Going back to the analytics I could see that the goal completion rate (percentage of users who reached the end of the flow and clicked the ‘finished’ button) was 78%.

Knowing the tens of thousands of users who had set up their TV’s themselves without calling the call centers (which means a lower cost-to-serve on each customer) I calculated that my work had helped save the business £00000’s in support calls.

Other examples are: 1st creative hire, had your work published in an online newspaper, designed the first responsive website for the company… be creative!

Summarise your achievements with one main Highlight per job | Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Remembering how busy recruiters are — how can you express your awesomeness in just 6 seconds?

One way is to list your accomplishments as noted above, but then take it a step further, and summarise each role with a highlight or key accomplishment.

For example, you may have redesigned a sports betting website as one of your projects. This may have involved creating a bunch of prototypes, redesigning the branding, and supporting the marketing agency teams with creative assets. But your key accomplishment could be something like: improved usability score by 100% and increased SEO Company ranking from #8 to #3 on top search terms.

Another way is to make sure it fits on one sheet of A4 so it’s easy to print and consume.

And if you’ve got a lot of work experience and struggle to fit it all on one page — try removing double ups… for example, don’t say on 3 different jobs that you created wireframes. Rather use that space to list a different accomplishment that helps tell recruiters about other skills you have.

Skills graphs are ambiguous and add no value | Photo by Lukas from Pexels

We’ve all seen the CV’s with skills graphs — and if you speak to any recruiter, they’ll tell you to never do this — and for good reasons… It makes no sense at all and undermines your credibility as a designer. Here’s why:

Reason 1: The scales are completely meaningless. What is skill level 7 out of 10 for Sketch? Is that 7 out of 10 for a beginner, or 7 out of 10 for an expert?

As designers we’re meant to be expert communicators and avoid ambiguity-and skills graphs are completely unclear so this is not a great start…

Reason 2: There’s a psychology principle called the Dunning–Kruger effect. It says that fools are more likely to rate themselves higher whereas intellectuals will more likely rate themselves lower at any given skill.

And this is why skills graphs aren’t great. If people really are no good at rating themselves, how can anybody trust one on a CV?

Which one should I use today?

There is credibility to this, and many recruiters tell you to tweak your CV for each job you apply for. But if you’re short on time or applying for a lot of roles, you can totally use the same CV for everything. Here’s how:

Do your research… Scan the job market to see what skills are in high demand, and then focus on getting them so you’re covering all the bases.

When I lived in London, I subscribed to a lot of recruitment emails and would read job descriptions daily, looking at what skills kept coming up.

Each day I went to work I’d focus on learning those skills. I’d physically write down in my journal. For example, I’d write ‘create a design system in Sketch’ or ‘run user testing sessions using Invision’.

So as I gained experience in those areas, I added them to my CV and felt pretty confident that I had what they needed when I applied for jobs.

Sport demonstrates team-work | Photo by Yogendra Singh from Pexels

Safe to say you can probably leave out ‘drinking’ or ‘doing nothing’ as hobbies on your CV — but some hobbies like ‘public speaking’ or ‘playing team sports’ can really go a long way.

Having said that, they probably won’t get you the job on their own… but here are some things you could add:

Sport: demonstrates team-work, dedication, fitness, competitiveness, and reliability. When I first arrived in London and was getting into the industry, I joined a hockey club and quickly got involved with their social media marketing agency. Adding that to my CV helped sell my personality a bit better and demonstrate that I’m a team player.

Music, drama & theatre: It takes a lot to stand up in front of a crowd and perform, and it’s this kind of confidence that recruiters want to see. I never took any of those but I did join a Public speaking club which demonstrates confidence, self-presentation, creativity and the ability to mentor others.

Other skills like ‘speaking foreign languages’, ‘volunteering’ and ‘fundraising’ demonstrate other sought after ‘soft skills’ that could help you stand out from the crowd.

Never underestimate the power of personal relationships | Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Having a great CV is essential and no designer should be without one. But never underestimate the power of personal relationships.

Quality designers are always in demand and having a wide circle of friends in the industry really improves your chances of getting in on great opportunities. Plus, networking is fun — and you never know what you’ll learn when you talk to someone new.

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