Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with many women, recruiting for many roles and helping women with CV rewrites. In fact, it all started 25 years ago when I was starting out in my own career and I paid for my first professional CV to be rewritten. The new CV was well written, strategic and clearly sold me and my skill set which helped me think about myself differently and gave me a huge boost in confidence. Voilà! Dream job landed and a new career launched in a field that was far more lucrative.
Let's add some new science into the mix. Genetically and biologically, male and female brains are different. For most this is not rocket science but with use of FMRI scans we can now see that female brains are wired differently to male brains, we scan the environment differently, we experience lower confidence than men, resulting in valuing ourselves lower, plus socially and culturally we are brought up to be compliant, inclusive and not to big note ourselves.
So with that in mind here are five tragic and quite common errors that I see women make that totally sink their CVs when it comes to landing their dream job.
- Use of passive language – “I was tasked with”, “I was given responsibility for” - of course you were! That’s a given if its written on your CV. In fact nearly everything on your CV are things you were tasked with or were responsible for. This sort of language diffuses responsibility and makes you seem weaker. Lose the passive language. Use active language – created, managed, executed, led, delivered, implemented, restructured, built, achieved, decreased, optimised, programmed or transformed are a few to choose from.
- Use of words that could also be used to describe a pet or work horse – loyal, hardworking, committed, capable, team player or supportive. You can bet our bottom dollar that men don’t use that language in their CVs. Culturally women are brought up to be compliant, to be team players and not rock the boat, but our fast paced, commercialised world requires a ”smarter not harder” mentality PLUS confidence. Learn to describe yourself with words that “up-play” not down-play your contribution - excellent, driven, dynamic, highly accomplished, experienced executive, strategic, proven track record.
- Apologising - women apologise a lot. There is a great advertising campaign by a brand name who shall remain unnamed that draws attention to how frequently women apologise ...... and then what happens when we stop. Sheryl Sandberg says its because have been told we are too bossy since we were little girls. Use unapologetic language and you immediately look far more capable. If you were part of a team who delivered something major, instead of vaguely referencing your own contribution, point out your contribution and the result that you contribution made. If you took a career break in the last 10 years then of course you should list it – but one line only and frame it positively. Don’t apologise, fumble, disguise ever on your CV. Own it with pride - travel breaks, career breaks to raise kids, career transition breaks and study breaks are big important things for you to do so stop trying to hide them.
- Too long and hard to navigate – both men and women do this, perhaps because we forget the purpose of the CV – it’s a strategic sales document designed to help people easily see why you are the best candidate for the job. Frequently we’re so scared we’ll miss the “thing” that is the magic bullet that we include everything except the kitchen sink. Often too when we apply for a new role we rush the CV update and don't have enough time to focus on what to eliminate. So get on the front foot. Prepare in advance. Take pity on those who may be receiving 100s of these. Use formatting to draw the eye to Major Achievements, section headers and results you are proud of. If you’ve been in this role for 5 years there’s a really good chance you can drop the first role off your list in your career history leaving 10 to 15 years at maximum. Also, don’t list everything from your job description. Instead use broad brush overviews of your responsibilities not the detail - and never include “other duties as required”.
- Down playing major achievements. After looking at many CVs I can confidently say that men and women write their major achievements differently. This is critical. What was the outcome of you working so hard for the past few years? As females we tend to think in process terms so understand in advance that process thinking will be easier for you - and make the shift to outcomes thinking. The Major Achievements section is just like a movie trailer that draws people in – rather than the entire feature length film. Include interesting or strategic items that position you well, and be sure to describe them in strong, essential and result orientated language.
For successful and ambitious people, the CV rewrite is done well in advance, is strategic, and delivers exponential impact to your finances along with your career satisfaction levels. Start thinking about this document as the critical, strategic and marketing positioning piece that it truly is.
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Vive la révolution!
— If you missed it - 3 Signs Your LinkedIn Profile Sucks
I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and art of amping smart and savvy.
I mentor ambitious professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game.
I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so.