8 common CV mistakes to avoid

Hands up if this scene is familiar to you: You’re sat at a desk in a job you want to leave, noticed 10 or more roles you wish to apply for however the deadline for them is 5pm today and you’ve only 45 mins for lunch. 

You send the same CV out to them all, right? 

Not quite.


Sending out a stock CV without proper attention to layout, spelling or tailoring to the job in question can cost you that precious first interview.

So what is the best approach?

New research has indicated that employers spend just 8.8 seconds on average reviewing each CV they receive; an incredibly short window of time in which to make a good impression. The survey of 500 UK organisations by the National Citizen Service also highlights the top 10 things that are most likely to cast your CV into exile.

Take a look at what these common gaffes are and how to avoid them. 

1. Spelling mistakes

All of a sudden I feel some extra pressure to make sure I spell everything correctky. (Totally intentional). 

"Proofread your CV very carefully or, better yet, get someone you know or a careers adviser to proofread it for you"

 - Patricia Frazer, of the Department for Employment and Learning’s Careers Service.

Also keep an eye out for correct regional spellings (think Americanisms like 'z' instead of 's') which may have been auto-corrected by the incredibly earnest spell checker. 

2. Bad grammar

When talking about past work experience, consistently use verbs in the past tense. Job seekers who talk about a current position should use the present tense (“lead” versus “led,” etc.). 

Use a thesaurus to find words with the same meaning so you don’t sound like a broken record. A wider vocabulary shows your potential employer you are creative and resourceful, while “I am a dedicated person who is dedicated to my job” does not.

Read your writing aloud when proofreading. You will catch errors you might miss otherwise. You will also notice if your sentences make sense or sound odd, which is something spelling and grammar checkers cannot tell you.


3. Poor formatting

Keep the format simple and slick. 

"These days your CV will most likely be read on-screen before it's printed off. If indeed, it is ever printed. Therefore, format your CV so that it is easy to read on a screen,"
- Employment website jobs.ac.uk

Stick with fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman at font size 10 or 12. Use italics sparingly and don't use crazy backgrounds or, heaven forbid, flowery page borders. If you've sent your CV as an attachment to an email, make sure it's a .doc and .pdf attachment in case the recipient's word processing version is not compatible with yours.

4. Casual tone

You need to strike a balance between being unique and interesting enough to stand out, while also coming across as professional rather than chatty. 

"'Positively objective' might be a good way of describing the ideal tone," say the experts over at access-sciencejobs.co.uk.

It’s best to write in third person as this sounds more professional and means you can brag but not sound like you're bragging. The other side of the coin is people hiding their personality.

In a CV you simply must allow your personality to shine and find adjectives that best suit you. Make your statements original and interesting. And please, whatever you do, rid your CV of descriptive cliches; anyone can be "passionate". Use a small selection of power words instead.

5. Use of jargon

"Use of clumsy expression or clichés can sabotage the chances of even the most capable of candidates," says Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management. Mills continues:

"Your communication skills are being judged by your use of language in your CV. Don't waffle, be precise and use positive action words such as 'initiated this' or 'created that' to reinforce the message that you're an upbeat, 'can-do' type of candidate."

6. Exam grades listed in full

This is specific to those who can no longer count on one hand how many years it has been since they graduated from college. 

Remember you want your CV to be sharp and concise; don't dilute your message by listing your GCSE grades. If you have a good degree, that's all anyone really needs to know - you can summarise any A-Levels if you feel it's needed and ditch the GCSE mention altogether (the same goes for A-Levels once you're a certain way into your career).

Reference your most recent education achievements and any related practical qualifications first, as these will generally be the most relevant. Remember that relevant job experience usually trumps education history, so lead with your past jobs if you can

7. Generic interests such as cooking and reading listed

8. Lack of activities relating to personal development

These last two points go hand-in-hand, since you want to appear dynamic and original on a personal level, without simply listing generic interests that anyone could lay a claim to. The personal area can be a useful ice-breaker so think hard about what will make you stand out. Think about the kinds of hobbies you have in terms of the skills they demonstrate, rather than just listing what interests you. And include anything that could be useful on a practical level such as foreign languages or voluntary work that demonstrates your leadership abilities. 

Coming in our next blog: Tips on key questions that will help nail you the job - no matter the role - once you make it to interview stage. 

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Posted by Richard Etienne.