Recruiters suggest that at least 70% of CVs contain lies – ranging from ‘improving’ A level results to creating an entirely fictitious work history. Embellishing the truth to get your foot on the career ladder may not seem serious, but new database developments mean you will probably get found out. It has long been common practice for companies to check out the credentials of their senior employees, some even resorting to the services of private detectives. Now, a new database development means that employers will be able to check details such as secondary and tertiary education and qualifications quickly and easily. Being found out in one tiny white lie, such as stating you got an ‘A’ rather than a ‘B’ in A level Geography, for instance, can undermine the credibility of everything else on your CV.
But what can you do if your qualifications are less than great or your work experience is just not strong enough? The first step is to critically evaluate your qualifications and experience.
First, look at your strengths: what have you done that is relevant to your target employer? Have you worked in a similar organisation? Have you dealt with a similar client base? What added-value experience do you have? Can you speak another language? Do you have sought after computer skills? Make a list of your plus points in relation to your target jobs. Really think about how you have made a difference in your role. Have you helped to increase sales/profit? Have you brought in any new clients? Have you been involved in developing and implementing new systems/processes? Have you trained others? Think about the areas on which your performance is judged as a basis for listing your initiatives and achievements. Try to quantify each achievement to illustrate the value of your contribution. So, if you are in sales, focus on your sales targets: have you over-achieved? How do you rank in the performance hierarchy? Once you start thinking about your job and what you have done, you will be able to compile a strong list of your key skills and achievements.
Secondly, think about potential weaknesses. Is your employment record very fragmented? Are there large gaps in your experience? Have you flunked your degree? Don’t try to hide the truth, but do think about how you can present your experience to create the most positive image. If, for instance, you have had lots of short term jobs of a similar nature, rather than listing every one individually which can give an impression of lack of commitment, group together like roles to show more solid blocks of experience. Account for any gaps in your experience; show ‘the year to year’ dates on your CV rather than months and years. Once you get an employer interested in you, you can explain any reasons for short breaks in your career history. Explain longer breaks caused by travelling or studying.
Present your CV in a format that focuses on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Most CVs follow a reverse chronological format with your most recent experience first. If this is not particularly relevant to the job for which you are applying, but previous work experience is, consider grouping similar kinds of work experience together.
If you have large gaps in your work history or the jobs for which you are applying do not especially relate to your work experience, consider using a functional format. This focuses on your core transferable skills, thus de-emphasising chronological work experience. Think about the skills gained outside paid work – in a voluntary or social capacity. The skills you used as Fixtures Secretary of the college football team or Chair of the local PTA are just as valid as any gained in paid employment. Include details of any activities which show the kind of personal qualities an employer might be interested in. Attaining a high level of achievement in a sport or devoting your spare time to charity fundraising demonstrate attributes such as commitment, enthusiasm and dedication.
If you really have just bummed around and done nothing, then think about what you can now do to build up your skills and experience? Find out what short courses are available which can improve your basic skills (your local library will have details of courses and training opportunities in your area). Could you offer your skills on a voluntary basis to an organisation allied to the field you are targeting, or in a capacity similar to the type of work you are looking for (working in a charity shop, if you want to get a job in retail, for instance, or providing admin support to a community organisation if you are looking for an office job)?