You’ll be surprised how often common CV mistakes trip up candidates and spoil their chances of securing an interview. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you steer clear of the following pitfalls
Crafting the perfect job application takes time, and after putting in the hard work it’s disheartening to think that your CV could be rejected at the first hurdle thanks to an easily avoidable error.
While most of us have some idea of how to write a CV it’s surprisingly easy to make basic mistakes – and if you’re not aware of what these are, they could cost you a job.
1. Poor formatting
CVs that aren’t clear and easy to read are a huge turn-off for employers. On average employers spend around eight seconds reviewing each CV – leaving you little time to make a good first impression.
‘It’s important to help the reader get to the most relevant information as easily as possible when thinking about how to format your CV,’ says Katherine Whittaker, employment adviser at the University of Brighton.
It’s therefore important to keep your CV concise so that it can be absorbed quickly. The template that you choose to follow when composing your CV should be striking yet uncluttered. Avoid confusing layouts, and beware of using different fonts and sizes.
Don’t use anything smaller than size 10 font and make sure there’s a good amount of white space.
‘In an attempt to be different I see the use of ratings using stars or bars on CVs,’ explains Katherine. ‘These are often connected to hard or technical skills. Although they look nice an employer needs to know how you can use those skills. Focus on the content rather than choosing style over substance.’
Take a look at some example CVs.
2. Failing to tailor your application
When it comes to CVs, one size doesn’t fit all. Everything that you include must be completely tailored to the company and role that you’re applying for. This will make it easy for recruiters to see that you’re the perfect candidate.
Employers can immediately sense whether you’ve sufficiently assessed the job requirements. ‘For a recruiter there’s nothing worse than receiving a CV that conveys a lack of interest, connection or time spent on it,’ says Katherine. Evaluating which of your skills match the job specification most effectively will give you the best chance of success.
Don’t be afraid to be ruthless in removing irrelevant experiences. Even if you’re applying for similar roles with different organisations, check their specific requirements and tweak your CV accordingly.
View your CV as your personal highlight reel, which contains the most relevant information for each particular job you’re applying for. You might have a master CV with everything on, but you should tailor what you send for each application, especially if you’re applying for a variety of jobs in different sectors.
‘Tailoring shows you are interested enough in the role to take time and consideration in your application. It demonstrates your motivation, which is a key aspect of what employers are looking for,’ adds Katherine.
3. Spelling errors
There are no excuses for spelling mistakes – even if English isn’t your first language. An error-free CV is vital in showcasing your precision and attention to detail, so check everything – even your contact details. ‘Don’t ignore the squiggly red lines that your spell-checking software uses to identify mistakes in text,’ advises Katherine. ‘Double check what they are indicating and consider if the alternatives they offer will add or remove impact to your writing.’
Minimise the risk of making mistakes by taking your time – never leave writing your CV to the last minute. Rushed examples are easily spotted and quickly dismissed.
Katherine also urges you to check your tenses. ‘Due to the regular updating of CVs tenses can sometimes get mixed up and not amended to the current situation. Is the experience you’re writing about happening currently or is it a past role that you’re describing? Ensure you’re using the correct current or past tense.’
A good tip to see if there’s a spelling or grammatical mistake is to temporarily change the font, size and colour – it can trick your brain into thinking it’s a new piece of writing, enabling you to spot mistakes you might have previously missed.
Katherine offers some other handy tips. ‘Print your CV out and read it aloud – this will slow down your thought process, allowing you to focus on specific words. If you fall over clumsy sentences, others will too. To further ensure you don’t miss anything you could read your CV from bottom to top. This makes the flow less familiar making it easier to pick up mistakes.’
When you’re trying to get a foot in the door and impress potential employers it’s tempting to be economical with the truth, because who’s going to check, right?
Wrong. The facts on your CV are easy to corroborate so never assume that recruiters won’t make enquiries to do so.
Giving your university grade a boost, claiming to have attended university when you haven’t, lying about your current job title or embellishing a period of work experience won’t do you any favours in the long run. At best, your lies will be obvious and your CV will be rejected out of hand. At worst, you may be invited for an interview where you’ll either trip yourself up or be asked questions that you’re unable to answer. What could possibly be worse than embarrassing yourself at an interview? How about going to prison? Lying on your CV is a criminal offence. Take a look at this advice and guidance on degree fraud for students.
Instead of using your time and energy to concoct half-truths and complete fabrications, use it instead to really sell the qualifications, skills and experience you do have.
5. Lack of evidence
It’s easy to make generic, empty statements on your CV when you’re trying to meet a tight application deadline. However, failing to effectively evidence your skills, achievements and experiences can be a big mistake.
‘It’s key to back up how you meet the requirements because without this information an employer can’t be confident that you’re able to do the job effectively,’ explains Katherine. ‘Without being able to effectively explain how you have used particular skills or developed experiences you can’t be the safe pair of hands an employer is looking for.’
Don’t just focus on the things you did, but also on the things you achieved. At entry-level, chances are a lot of your previous experience was temporary, voluntary or part-time, with duties that might include ‘tidying the office’ or ‘filing and data entry’. You want to point out ways that you took those duties and went above and beyond to make a difference. For example, the above might be ‘shortened average closing time with efficient clean up’ or ‘kept office running smoothly with quick data entry’.
‘Don’t make assumptions that an employer is able to see what a great communicator you are when you say you communicate with people on the phone. It is your job to show how you do that successfully,’ says Katherine.
6. Not explaining ‘why’
It isn’t enough to just state your credentials; you need to prove them by justifying why you’ve chosen to undertake certain activities in terms of your personal and professional development. You should then elaborate even further on the resulting skills you’ve gained.
For example, discussing your extra-curricular activities is very important – providing you pay particular attention to any positions of responsibility you’ve held and outline what you’ve taken from the experience.
As a rule, average CVs give you the ‘what’ – for example, the degrees or jobs that person has held. Great CVs also give the ‘whys’ – for example, why that person has chosen that degree or society.
7. Ignoring gaps in your work history
Gaps in employment history are fairly common and rarely a problem as long as they’re explained.
You don’t need to worry about gaps of a couple of weeks but if you’ve been out of work for months (or even years) you need to clearly and concisely explain why. Any unexplained absences of this length will be looked upon with suspicion by potential employers and will give the impression that you’ve been idle during this time.
Don’t be afraid to let recruiters know that you took some time out to volunteer, look after a sick relative or travel the world. There’s also no shame in informing employers of a period spent away from work due to an illness, medical condition or redundancy.
You’ll be able to further explain any gaps in your work history in your cover letter. See our cover letter template of how to explain a gap in your CV for more advice.
Find out more
- Discover the 5 things to avoid when writing a cover letter.
- Learn more about CVs and cover letters.