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Wanted: Some application

It is meant to be the passport to a better job, but most applicants end up making a royal mess of their CVs. Here are some pitfalls to avoid.

Why don’t employers call me when I send them my CV? This was a predicament 26-year-old Rama Prasad was often faced with. He was surely not short on qualification. The problem was Prasad’s curriculum vitae (CV). With a winding one-paragraph objective and several pages detailing his many projects and minor academic achievements, the document was most recruiters’ nightmare. Beyond that, it had an unfocussed job objective, spelling errors and a random listing of his career track record. His CV conundrum was solved after speaking to some friends in the IT industry and upon feedback from HR consultants.

His career objective was shortened and sharpened from a paragraph to a couple of lines, unwanted information—his passport number for example—was removed, and other details added. “The CV is all about creating a good first impression,” Prasad, a recruiter with Bangalorebased Techbridge Networks deputed to a leading software company, says. His big learning: It is critical to follow a stable pattern and list important details, including education, academic qualifications and work experience.

CV Bloopers
• Areas of strength: My background to date has been centred on grooming myself as a well-rounded person.
• I am quietly forceful, original and sensitive.
• Family details: Father - Death
• Weakness: Fresher
• Biography: Marital status - Yes
• Contact e-mail: www(dot)aradhana(at)rediffmail(dot)com

Prasad is clearly not the only one having an application meltdown. Ninety per cent of CVs examined in a recent survey by TeamLease, a staffing services firm, had errors in them. “It appears that people did not spend too much time on their profiles... there was evidently no focus on accuracy and detail in them,” says Surabhi Mathur-Gandhi, General Manager (Staffing Services), TeamLease Services.

A Question of Scale
About 90 per cent of CVs inspected as part of a recent TeamLease Survey contained errors. The survey of 500 randomly selected CVs revealed an assortment of errors ranging from grammar and spelling to poor structure and omission of key facts and addition of unwanted trivial details.

HR heads seem to agree with these findings. “The information is often not organised, with education, career and education demographic in reverse chronological order,” says Sukhjit S. Pasricha, Head (HREnterprise Services Business), Bharti Airtel. Rather than structure their CV this way, he says many candidates end up overspicing their resumes or omitting key details. “We end up spending most of our time on preliminary conference calls with candidates filling in these gaps,” he says.

Sanjay Shanmugam, VP (HR), CBaySystems, a medical transcription firm, wades through 2,500 CVs a month and says applicants, across age and demographics, like to overload their CVs. “I appreciate a CV that has contact details such as address, numbers and e-mail upfront followed by a summary of past experience,” he says.

However, not everyone thinks that the problem is so widespread; T.V. Mohandas Pai, Director (HR), Infosys, argues that the rate of errors may be higher due to the profile of TeamLease’s applicants. “English may not be their language of education or communication... people need to be taught to write CVs,” he argues.

Infosys and other top Indian IT firms are, however, very picky with their selection, with HR consultants disclosing that most top firms pick barely 1-2 per cent of CVs they receive.

Range of Errors
According to HR managers and recruiters that BT spoke to, the range of errors starts with simple misspelling of subheads and poor grammar to more serious—and intentional—omission of incomplete or failed academic and professional courses and programmes. “The more mundane errors can be put down to a bad education system and a lack of proficiency with English,” says E. Balaji, Executive Director & CEO, Ma Foi Management Consultants. “The more serious omissions will get you caught either at the interview, or worse, once you’ve started working. Then you’ll just get fired.”

CBay’s Shanmugam recollects an incident in Hyderabad a couple of years ago when a group of fresh applicants submitted alarmingly similar CVs, with two of them even duplicating mother’s names and interests and hobbies.

Fundamentally, there seems to be a mismatch between what recruiters and HR heads expect from a CV and what candidates send them. “This isn’t a statement of your life’s goals... it’s just a sharp and focussed job application,” says TeamLease’s Mathur-Gandhi. To try to attract the attention of a recruiter, she says, many candidates, especially freshers and junior executives, tend to experiment with over-complicated grammar and syntax, and play with the text, using colours, bold font and a glut of boxes and columns.

While many headhunters often overlooked poorly-written CVs in the good times, selective hiring in lean periods now means that they will look through them with a fine-toothed comb. “There are definitely fewer jobs and your CV should give you a firm grip on one of them,” says Balaji.

“I would prefer to know what deliverables you achieved at the last job, rather than struggle through a detailed three-page listing of all the jobs you’ve held,” says Bharti Airtel’s Pasricha.