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Can Your CV Ever Be Too Good?

Hannah Staff

Hannah Staff is a freelance journalist and manages Brighton-based whm.co.uk

Sussex University graduate and What’s Happening Magazine manager Hannah Staff explores the ethics of ‘downgrading’ your CV…

If you’re a recent graduate, it’s pretty safe to assume you’ll be looking to apply your degree to a related career. However, it’s always good to be mindful of what experience you choose to put down on your CV, as it can give away a lot about the long-term career you are planning on pursuing. 

If a potential employer suspects the job you’re chasing is merely a temporary stop-gap, why would they waste their time and resources trying to accommodate you? When it comes to the recruiters, don’t let someone read between the lines and determine your future. The process of applying to jobs is already a difficult one without being told that you are overqualified.

The concern that many have in ‘downgrading’ their CV is that it might not be ethical. This is the wrong attitude – you need to bear in mind that simplifying your résumé does not equate to lying. The most effective and honest approach is to streamline your experience into a list of bullet points, removing the emphasis from qualifications or experience if it isn’t needed.

Remember how arrogant you felt when you first wrote a personal statement? Re-introduce that modesty and look critically at your experience and the areas in which it can work both for and against you. This is not about deliberately omitting information, but instead presenting it in a manner which is appropriate for the role you’ve applied to. Also, you need to be clear on your reasons for applying and be prepared to communicate this to your employer.

Many applicants fill their CVs with experience but don’t bother to give much attention to their education. Be careful not to fall into this trap and don’t underestimate the value of a degree. University is much more than just a qualification – it’s a chance to experience independence, make new friends, see new places and create new opportunities.

Also, many employers will ONLY hire graduates, and a large amount of industries require specialised study at University level. More often than not, your degree will be of real benefit  - and, indeed, obligatory in your application. Ultimately, Universities and businesses need to work closer together to collaborate and match up students with employers to prevent the disconnect that is so frustratingly apparent – but that’s another story!

In the mean time, graduates should take time to tailor their CV to each job and target the exact requirements of the company being applied to – even if this does result in downplaying some of your strengths or experience in less relevant areas.

If you want to hear more from Hannah, you can check out her blog, or follow her on Twitter @hannahfstaff 

Journalism CV Tips From A BBC Reporter

John Fernandez 2

BBC Guernsey journalist John Fernandez

Drawing on his own experiences, journalism graduate and BBC broadcaster John Fernandez offers his top five dos and dont’s of CV writing….

Most of us exit our secondary school, sixth form or college with a CV that resembles the template shown to us by our careers adviser.

We knock the bugger together, slap on some garish WordArt (that’s still a thing right?), hand it in before the deadline and manage to escape without some kind of detention or fail mark.

We think to ourselves, “it’s yonks before I’m actually going to have to show this to a real employer” – followed by the more hopeful “and when I do they’re going to be ever so impressed by the fact that I got my 25m swimming badge in year four.”

Then when we see our first dream job, we fire off those CVs with all the hope in the world. And we end up getting nowhere. Why? Because pawing through pages of irrelevant information is not something that recruiting managers have time for.

Stand out

It may be a clichéd comment, but the following stands true: the person looking through applications will give your CV nought but a cursory glance (perhaps while they scoff down a pasty, or trawl through their countless e-mails). That is why it is so important that you are able to STAND OUT from the crowd in around 30 seconds.

A sure fire way of not doing this is by sending the same CV with which you’ve already irritated twenty other companies, crammed full of buzzwords and phrases like ‘superb time management skills’, ‘astute interpersonal communication abilities’ (right, so you can talk) and ‘team player’ (so you play nice with others, have a gold star).

Avoid formulaic phrases and instead show employers examples of how you have been this ‘team player’ that you claim to be. If you’ve told the employer you are a creative mind, bursting with ideas, then show some creativity in how you pitch yourself to them.

Tailor it

Crucially you must fit your CV to the job. If you’re applying to a position as an editorial assistant at a football magazine, it is unlikely that your one month stint at HMV as a seasonal temp is going to do anything to help your cause.

By including that detail you use up valuable space and, more importantly, eat into that 30 seconds in which you have to make an impact.

Ensure everything is relevant – so if you do need to include things like temp jobs then make sure you relate them to the role that you are applying to. Tell them how your experience at HMV, when you were alphabetising thousands of DVDs, increased your attention to detail.


Perhaps most important when applying to journalism roles is the ability to demonstrate a bit of artistic licence and flair.

Don’t be afraid to push the boat out. Surprise the poor person sitting in his or her office as they rifle through twenty CVs a minute, dashing hopes and dreams with every crumple and toss in to the waste paper bin.

We have all heard those stories of somebody who has been a bit avant-garde or a bit edgy and landed that dream job – the man who wore a sandwich board to advertise himself to potential employers, the person who attached a tea bag to their CV with their demo tape and told the HR Manager to enjoy a cuppa while they listened, another who wrote a song about why they should be employed, recorded it then sent it in.

It worked out for most of them and they were just pushing the boat out and being a bit creative. As a journalist, that can often be your raison d’être!

Make the employer think, this person gets what we are about, they understand the company, they’d obviously be an asset and they’re already bringing new ideas to the table.

Oh, and do it all on a sheet of A4. No pressure…

Top five journalism CV don’ts (in my experience)

  1. Include your date of birth – you’re almost inviting discrimination. Equal opportunities or not.
  2. List your education from pre-school. I’m sure tiddly-tots day care was great, but now you’re 21 (and nobody gives a s#*t).
  3. Use any more than two typefaces. Emboldening, italicising and mixing it all up just look a mess.
  4. Lie. You WILL get found out.
  5. Go over two sides of A4 – ideally shorten it to one.

Top five journalism CV dos (in my experience)

  1. Make your CV a PDF. It’ll get rid of any of those horrible green wiggly, fragment missing lines and make your document look far tidier.
  2. Include two references, who you know will be available and are likely to sing your praises (FOR GOD’S SAKE, DON’T PUT YOUR DAD).
  4. Get editors, tutors careers advisors who you TRUST and who know the industry to look over it. Then take their advice on board – it’s easy nodding along, it’s another thing making changes that matter.
  5. Check, check and check again!

Do you agree with John’s tips? Post a comment below if you have opinions to share! Follow us on Twitter @Journograds and ‘like’ us on Facebook to stay up to date with job postings and reminders of application closing dates

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