Candidates Biggest Mistake (..and Recruiters too?)

Expert AdviceI have spoken about this particular piece of data for some time with those who have attended my training. It is genuinely a startling piece of research that highlights the gap between what employers want and what candidates deliver, day to day, on their CVs.

This particular survey was fairly extensive and was conducted across 1000 job seekers (active in the market) and 200 hiring managers. All participants were UK based (Sorry US of A but you get plenty of surveys!). I want to share two of the results and then leave you with a few thoughts as to their ramifications on those of us working in recruitment.

Finding #1

Employers were asked, among other questions:

“Have you ever rejected a job seeker’s CV due to a lack of detail on previous roles and achievements on their CV?”

Employers answer? 73% said yes. Yes, they have rejected CVs due to a lack of detail on previous roles and achievements. That’s right and achievements as employers see the two as linked together. Work based achievements were defined as specific accomplishments that could be attributed to the candidate, rather than generic responsibilities. Now, I guess this statistic in its own right doesn’t really surprise does it? Pretty clear that to you and I as seasoned professionals in recruitment that achievements are critically important.

Finding #2

Job seekers were asked, again among other questions:

“What is the most important part of your CV?”

Their top answer?? The look and feel of the CV. 36% of job seekers said they felt the way the CV looked was most important. Suddenly I have memories flashing before my eyes of recruiters I have known who have been so hung up on the number of pages, or font or should or shouldn’t we put a photo on it. Only 19% (nur-nur nineteen) said they felt that work based achievements were the most important.

So let’s just pause for a moment.

73% of clients reject CVs due to a lack of detail on previous roles and achievements.

19% of candidates think that achievements are the most important part of their CV.

Hmmmm…now who is the intermediary who talks to both of these parties on a regular basis. Oh yes! It’s recruiters! Perhaps we have a bit of work to do in terms of sharpening up our consultancy skills? As ever with much of this stuff “we all know it”. So how come candidates aren’t so clued up on this? What has stopped recruiters and recruitment professionals from giving some sound (and free) advice to job seekers?

So, with both of the above survey results in mind:

  1. Are you submitting CVs destined to be rejected due to a lack of achievements?
  2. If the stats are true (and a few searches on a couple of CV boards has proved to me it is) you will probably find 81% of the candidates you deal with are also missing genuine work based achievements from their CV.
  3. When talking to candidates I always found one of the best levers to create persuasion was reciprocity. So any opportunity to do something for somebody (including useful advice) was a lever for reciprocation.
  4. If you are in a CV race to find someone quickly who is good perhaps drop this into your already well constructed Boolean string: (achievements OR “award winner” OR “prize winner” OR “work achievement” OR accomplishments)
  5. Next time you read a CV don’t assume because there are no achievements listed that they are a non-achiever, perhaps they focussed on the “look and feel” thinking achievements were less important

As I said at the beginning, this was a really nice survey and it contains a lot of other useful results. If you want to read the whole article in full there is a link here:

If you have any difficulties downloading it, drop me an email and I will send you a copy.

Take a look at these other pieces of advice from Recruitment Dad:

Influence and Persuasion

The Forgotten Art of Recruitment

How to work smarter, not harder, as a Recruiter

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5 Responses

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  1. No matter how much detail I put on a resume, it is always interpreted by the interviewer and how they interperet from their responsibilities. For example, most Recruiters perform “life-cycle” recruiting. Any one in recruiting takes it as a given that thet perform all of the steps contained within that process. However, now the buzzword if “full life-cycle recruiting” which is the exact same thing as traditional recruiting which almost (98%) of Recruiters do.

    The only reason to include that is to get recognition from some one in HR who does not understand the recruiting process…it’s repeating the same word so some one else understands it, and, in my opinion a waste of time….except for the HR person who has never Recruited and is looking for a “buzz word”.

    Details get lost as those who cannot se the forest from the trees.

    Mike 27 April 2010 at 5:17 am Permalink
  2. Fascinating findings. Having spoken to many candiates myself, I find that people’s resumke building skills are either as a result of (1) their old habits, (2) their parents old habits, (3) their university’s career officer’s old habits, (4) googling people who have old habits. Where is the resume education coming from these days? There are a few good “how to” books out there, but on a widespread scale, the paper cv is collecting a lot of mold due to people now knowing basic skills.

    Adam Lewis 27 April 2010 at 7:31 am Permalink
  3. Hi Mike – A CV is a very personal document and because of this everyone has advice as to what they would do if it were there. The most important thing in my opinion is that is contains details that make you stand out from other applicants. e.g. the majority of candidates applying for a Java Developer position will have Java skills. Once the hiring manager has identified theses people what is going to make an individual stand-out? It is what they have done with Java (also known as achievements). When considering achievements think of the acronym S.A.M. Saved, Accomplished and Made. What have I saved the company? What have I accomplished in my role? and, What have I made for the company? When answering these questions be specific and quantify the results.

    RecruitmentDad 28 April 2010 at 8:52 am Permalink
  4. Hi Adam – you are right ‘bad habits’ have been passed on by those who, with best intentions, have not fully understood the document’s purpose. Even hiring managers when they decide to look for a new position can fall into the same trap due to their conditioning.
    The other place I see it happening is with presentations, thought that’s a whole new blog post….

    RecruitmentDad 28 April 2010 at 8:54 am Permalink
  5. Thank you Dad for pointing this out, and for putting some real life numbers on the fact.

    As a recruiter, (almost) the only question one asks ones self is “will this CV yield an interview”. If the answer is yes, then the candidate gets a phone call. In my experience, the CV that gets the candidate the interview is one that avoids wishy-washy talk of being a “good communicator” or “strong project management skills” and sets about demonstrating a series of ultra-specific individual facts.

    Back in the real world, writing powerful CV content is not well understood by a good proportion of intelligent, well-qualified job seekers who attend the CV workshops I run for the Jobcentre. This is essentially because they are intelligent and well-qualified and therefore have not needed to write a CV in many years. In the meantime, the recruitment industry has gone digital and become a volume-process. All very bewildering.

    Does the average recruitment consultant care? I am afraid that many do not need to – it is a buyers market. The recruiter has developed an intuition for what a decent CV looks like and that it the only CV they will submit.

    I have recently written a blog post encouraging candidates to tune in to this intuition at

    Jason 19 May 2010 at 10:12 pm Permalink

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