Stereotyping the CV

Stereotyping has been very much in the press this week, with the chairman of Middlesex County Cricket Club, Mike O’Farrell, making sweeping statements on race and ethnicity in sport which have met with opposition from many quarters.

The stereotypes he subscribes to and described are sadly, not uncommon.

So, what is stereotyping in society? It is defined as the characteristics that society instinctively attributes to groups of people, classifying them according to age, weight, occupation, skin colour, gender, etc. Sexual stereotyping involves associating a person’s sexuality with separate and, at times, opposing sets of characteristics.

In 2020, Helen Joy and I ran a webinar series which examined the concept of bias in the hiring process – and certainly stereotyping forms a part of both conscious and unconscious bias. But that was looking at the whole hiring process, and not just the CV.

The Mighty CV

The CV – the most antiquated element of the whole hiring process in my opinion – remains key to candidates getting that next job. It has been highlighted throughout the internet, and here on LinkedIn specifically, about what should be on a CV and what to remove.

At Creegan Talent, candidates often ask us “Should I include a photo on my CV?” or “Mention my nationality?” And even if they should discuss their family life in the hobbies section. The advice online centres around what I would describe as the big issues; gender, age, location and education and how these can impact your chance of success, based on the readers’ decisions, which in turn are based on bias (conscious or unconscious), as well as stereotyping. But do hiring managers, decision makers and business owners’ stereotype on other elements of the CV? Is this even a thing? I believe it is.


Earlier, I mentioned that the definition of stereotyping can include bias towards one’s current occupation. I once saw this in action with a friend of mine. He was a very tall, handsome fella so in true stereotypical form – he didn’t struggle to get the girls. Many moons ago we were out for the evening; he was single and was chatting to a young lady in our local. They had been chatting for about 10 minutes before he returned our group to say that she wasn’t interested. The reason? She asked him what he did, and he said he was a joiner. She was disappointed by this, saying he wasn’t “rich enough.” If only she had stayed around, as he runs his own, highly successful joinery business.

So does the same apply to a CV? Are the readers swayed by your previous job titles? Well, according to Barclay Simpson recruitment consultancy, recruiters take 6 seconds and hiring manager 9 seconds on average to review a CV. Based on this “speed of light” reading ability, the reader can only be picking out certain keywords and then either shortlisting or regretting the CV based on that. What if there is more to it than that?

Working in recruitment for 15 years, I think I have heard every story on why a candidate might not be suitable – the best one was that they were “too perfect” for the role. But, what about CV feedback, what are the reasons for disregarding certain CVs? This includes the headline job titles as mentioned above, but also criteria such as:

“They work for a much bigger company than ours.”

“I know their company and I know that what they do is different to what we need.”

“They will never understand our product, it’s too niche.”

“I’m concerned that they want to leave after 10 years as their current employer is doing so well.”

“We probably can’t afford them.”

“Why would they want to take a step back?”

These are a few of the reasons that I have personally heard over the years, and I am sure that there are hundreds more.

Let’s look at them individually:

Bigger company: The common misconception is that if the candidate works for a bigger company, they may be pigeonholed into one task and wouldn’t be able to cope with the hands-on, roll-your- sleeves-up ethos of a smaller business. But how does the CV reader know this?

Know the company: A very common rejection of a CV is that the decision maker knows the company that the candidate works for. Their impression of that company isn’t good, or maybe it’s fantastic. Either way the candidate wouldn’t work out. But how does the reader know this?

Product knowledge: The candidate will struggle to understand what we do, we are very niche. This might be a candidate with a breadth of experience, cross-sector and cross-product. I have always wondered if ego plays a part in this rejection of the candidate. What the rejection is saying is that the candidate would have no way of being able to do what we do. But how does the reader know this?

Leaving a successful company: This is the opposite of the egotistical rejection. This is holding the candidate’s current employer in awe; “we won’t take them as why would they join us? We can’t offer them what they want.” Does the reader of the CV know the candidate’s personal circumstances? I would say unless you have a covering letter in front of you, you can’t make that call.

Can’t afford them: Purely based on the candidate’s current job title. This is not even a guesstimate, it’s a dismissal without any evidence. What if the candidate is the worst paid MD in the world? What if they have had a change of circumstances? What if they really want to work for you?

Step back: As highlighted in the previous example, what if someone has had a change of circumstances. Is a step back a negative thing? There might be benefits to employing a loyal and potentially overqualified person, if it’s what they want to do. The pandemic should have changed perceptions on this, with so many people undertaking different jobs due to the circumstances. I know of a Chartered Engineer and a Senior Sales Manager driving vans for Morrisons and ASDA respectively. I know of a fantastically talented Recruitment Director volunteering with lonely and vulnerable elderly people. If you ask me, these three people did not have the “right” CVs for those jobs, but thankfully someone saw beyond that.

Best Talent

The best talent doesn’t always have the best CV, as they aren’t specialist CV writers. But look beyond that and see the patterns on a CV, see the core skills, the journey, the transferable skills. Screen in and not out and I promise you that you will substantially broaden your talent pool.

Yes, your role may need specific qualifications or certificates, and this will always be a pre-requisite – but don’t stereotype the CV based on assumptions.