CVs are the bane of my life

curriculum vitae cv

I am committed to developing the youth so that they can enter and be successful in the Financial Services industry. Each year I review hundreds of CVs. Personally, I hate going through them. Your CV has about 20 seconds to plead your case before it finds its place in the not-at-all-ever or maybe-I-can-give-this-a-second-look pile. The latter is usually much smaller than the previous.

These are some of the things that I have found

  1. Many job seekers do not read. If they do, they disregard what they have read immediately.
  1. Many job seekers seem to think they can do any kind of job regardless of their education or the requirements stated in the advertisement
  1. Many job seekers tend to think that having worked with petty cash qualifies them as accountants.
  1. Many job seekers seem to think sending ‘please-call-me’s is a professional and efficient way to find a job.

It is hard not to become irrevocably cynical about and distrustful of the education system. Or to start to question your sanity – did you really communicate THAT badly that a person with a plumber certificate thinks he is a suitable candidate for a Tax Practitioner position? I think managers across industries should form a support group – we all seem to experience the same trauma.

Some truths

  • It is not a sin to have no paid employment or (if the position is for an internship) a lot of relevant experience.


What have you been doing since you graduated? About 50% of graduates who apply for a position at NFS used to work for Shoprite as till operators or shelf packers. There has been a change. Now 50% work for KFC. This is not a bad thing necessarily! It shows that you are willing to work and contribute to your family.

The way to make your story heard is to link it to what you have learnt and how you have used this to continue learning. Studying can teach you theories but life teaches you the ‘soft skills’ and work ethic you will need to survive in the world of work. But you can’t stop there – how have you kept up-to-date or built on your existing knowledge? How are you contributing to the lives of others by making use of some of the skills you obtained?

  • Lying IS a sin. You will be caught out. I know, in the current climate of corruption it may not seems so. Do not pad your CV. Do not ask your best friend to pretend to be your boss.
  • We have all sinned – this does not mean you are forever doomed. If it took you longer than your peers to finish your qualification, say so and why. Do not lie. However, don’t dwell on it or go into great detail. Say what you have learnt from your mistakes and what good has come of it. Also, say what you have done to rectify things. Do not get stuck on the emotion – focus on the positive outcomes.

Phrases to avoid

Do not use words that everyone uses without being able to quantify what you are saying with a short, specific and focused answer. Examples of common cover letter statements follow:

I am passionate – This is not very descriptive and everyone says that. Say what you find exciting and makes you want to do the work you are applying for. ‘Applying for’ being the operative phrase here. You may be into seventh-century Japanese archery, which is unique for sure, but you are applying for a job in finance. Unless you can link the one with the other (the exactness, the science, the need to practice and focus) you should leave it out.

I am diligent/punctual/hardworking – these would be presumed. Can you state examples of these? Remember, you need to be brief and to the point.

This is my dream job – you don’t know that! Especially if you do not have a lot of experience. Chances are that your first jobs will not be super exciting. Be prepared to say how you see this leading you towards your future.

I work well in a team – usually followed by claims of being a self-starter or possessing leadership skills and wanting to become a CEO eventually. What about teamwork is important to you and which parts are you good at? What does ‘leadership’ mean to you and how do you think you can balance the two concepts? You don’t have to spell this out in your cover letter or CV, but be prepared to answer these questions.

What to check on your CV

  1. Spelling and grammar – even if English is your first language, get someone to review your CV
  1. Accuracy of the details – make sure you send copies of your qualifications and that you indicate your qualifications correctly in the text
  1. Make sure everyone is alive – be sure to check your references; are they still in the land of the living? Are they still contactable at the number and email addresses that you provided? Are they aware of the fact that you have put them up as references?
  1. Check everything AGAIN – go over the advertisement for the position. Have you left anything out? Do you have the appropriate copies of your qualifications and have they been certified in the last 3 months by a commissioner of oaths?

Why what you do before, during and after an interview matters

It is not all about what is in your CV or even what happens during the interview. Your interactions with your first point of contact – the person setting up the interview – is your first opportunity to make a good impression.

  1. Before

Respond to invitations quickly, politely and professionally. Use standard English, not the type of spelling or language you would use with your friends. Know the address, the time of the interview, what you need to bring along. Confirm these the day before. Whatever you do, DO NOT be late! In fact, be early! Arrive at least 20 minutes before the time. Make sure you can get back home.

  1. During

Dress appropriately, but not over the top. Make sure you are clean. You would be surprised how often this is a problem. Don’t chew gum. Sit up straight! Don’t suffer from babbalas!

When asked if you have questions DON’T immediately ask how much you will be paid, or how much leave you will have! Ask about the details of the job, what their expectations are of a person in the position you are applying for and what the most important attributes are that they are looking for. You want to show the interviewer that you are already seeing yourself in the position but haven’t made assumptions about what would be required.

  1. After

Thank the interviewer and the staff who assisted you. The best way is to follow up with a short email. Say what you appreciated and what you feel you have learnt in the process. Do not keep calling – let them call you. If you had not heard from the company in 2 weeks, you can safely assume you did not get the post. You may, at that time, send a short email saying that you just want to follow up in case you have missed something or if there is anything you could still send them.

Last words of wisdom

You may not get the job. That does not mean you are a failure or that there is anything wrong with you. See it as a learning curve. It is a good idea to follow up with the interviewer in an email to thank them and then to say that you would like to learn from the experience. Is there anything they could suggest you do differently? They may or may not answer you (some places have rules around this) but it will leave a good impression and your CV may just make it into the keep-for-next-time pile!

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