Part of what I do as a coach is help people – whether recent grads or senior execs – find new roles.  It’s not a big part of my work, but it’s very rewarding. This can be a stressful time, full of opportunities for self-doubt and rejection, and helping someone through this process to a job they really want is a privilege.

I also help corporate clients design interview processes and have done my fair share of CV sifting and assessment centre panel interviews.

I’ve seen the job-hunting process from both sides

And the one thing that never fails to amaze me is the low quality of CVs (or resumés if you’re in the US)  I don’t think it’s surprising that my career coaching clients get interviews so easily once they start working with me; having sat on the recruitment side of the table I know that employers are DESPERATE to read a decent CV that they can confidently put on the interview pile.

There is a psychology, art and science to CV writing

It is rare that you will get proper, actionable feedback on your CV – when I ask employers why they reject CVs they often can’t pinpoint the reason, which is why I dig a little deeper to work out what lies beneath the “no”.

Here are the worst (and depressingly common) mistakes I see:

  1. It’s more than two pages

Even if your CV is reviewed by an algorithm first, an employer worth working for will be reading your CV at some point.  They will be giving it eight seconds max as a first pass.  They may have read dozens before they get to yours. They do not want to read War and Peace and about that summer job you did in 1989. Keeping it to two pages forces you to really think about what is important.  Even if some recruiters say they don’t mind longer CVs, I’ve never seen a CV that wouldn’t have been improved by disciplined editing.

  1. It has no heart

Employers are hiring a person – you do need to show some personality in your writing.  Don’t listen to the people who say, “be professional”, because what they usually mean is “conform”.  Applying for a job is not a time for conformity, it’s a time for authenticity and individuality. The other day I interviewed someone who instead of relying on the overused CV phrase: “I’m passionate about….” had written, “my heart beats faster when…”  and he had then given a specific example relevant to the new role. Our brains like newness and novelty; it made all three of us in the recruitment phase pause and read more.  Job done!

  1. It’s a word salad

Ruthlessly edit out vague management speak, jargon and over-used clichés. Stop with the “solution-focused, dynamic problem solver with excellent team-working skills” schtick and really think about what you are writing.  Ask yourself a question:  can a nine-year-old and a ninety-year-old understand your sentences?  If not, find language that is clearer and simpler, or explain the acronyms or titles you are using.  For example, many people may know PRINCE2 is a project management certification but how many people know what a TESOL qualification is?

  1. It’s dusty

By this I mean you have just taken your old CV off the metaphorical shelf and added your last bit of work experience.  You haven’t thought about the specific kind of role you are applying for and what that requires.  Your CV should be a living, breathing story of who you are.  As people we grow, our CV should too (not in length but in depth and in relevance) It is often easier to start with a blank slate and ask yourself:  What do I need to include in this CV that is relevant to this stage in my career and is relevant to the job I’m applying for?

  1. It’s sloppy

Yes, spelling, grammar, punctuation and even layout matter.  You are aiming for clarity, consistency and accuracy.  Do not rely only on your computer’s spell check – use a tool like Grammarly as well as a couple of real humans.

  1. It’s not written by you

I see a lot of grads whose parents have had a hand in the CV creation process or senior execs who have paid a company to write theirs.  I can always tell; they’re bland and generic and they don’t match the person sitting in front of me.  This is the definition of inauthentic. By all means get feedback from people who know you and care about you, but you must be the author of your own life. The hard work you put in at this stage pays dividends at interview when you can articulate a version of your career story that amplifies and enhances what you have written.

None of this is easy, especially when we add in the stresses of job hunting; the uncertainties, doubts, hopes and dreams it throws up.  Which is why a coach can really help – an outsider without prejudices and preconceptions of who you are (or are not), someone who can look at you with a clear and open mind and offer you a balance of support and challenge to bring out the best essence of who you are and what you offer.

Are you looking for a new role and finding it much tougher than you expected?


You’re good at what you do and used to being in control so you didn’t expect to struggle like this. 




Job Search Sprint is an online group coaching program that takes the pain, uncertainty and loneliness out of your job hunt. It guides you step-by-step towards a CV, a LinkedIn profile and a search strategy that will dramatically improve your chances of standing out and getting interviews and job opportunities.