Top 10 CV Mistakes to Avoid

Already doing your dream job? If so, don’t bother reading on – there’s nothing to see here.

However, if you’re still on the lookout, you’re in the right place. A stunning CV is a damn good start – but we’ve seen some criminal résumé and CV mistakes in our time.

I’m not talking about CV’s that our clients have asked us to work on. I’m talking about ‘completed’ CV’s that many of our team received in their past lives as recruiters and employers.

So if you’re thinking of writing your own, we’ve put together ten top tips to help you get it right first time. So without further ado, drum roll please:

10 Be careful what you call your CV – and what you call yourself

Let’s start off with one that often slips through the net: As an employer if I saw a file named “Jane Smith Journalism CV” I’d be wondering if the next employer was getting “Jane Smith PR CV”, “Jane Smith Press Officer CV” or “Jane Smith Lion Tamer CV”. For example.

I wanted to know the candidate was the perfect fit for the job I advertised – not just spamming CV’s to every vacancy they could find.

Likewise, be careful about your email address. “” might suggest you are great mate potential but employee potential? Not so much.

The same goes for your social media profiles of course – assume employers will try and track you down so be careful!

9 Send your CV as a PDF to avoid formatting issues

This one does what it says on the tin really – send your CV as a PDF to avoid formatting issues. Job done. Let’s move on.

8 Make sure your CV is updated – a common CV mistake

Make sure your CV is bang up to date – not just with all your recent personal achievements but also with a mention of whatever is in vogue in your sector.

For example if we are writing a CV for an IT consultant we’ll make sure we go into sufficient detail on all the latest project methodologies and demonstrate we are keeping up with programming communities.

Post financial crisis, investment bankers need to demonstrate a keen eye for risk management as well as an ability to generate profit.

These days, a prominent mention of video or sub-editing skills can swing a newspaper reporter’s job in your favour. You get the picture – move with the times.

7 Get the structure right: Grab their attention from the word go

You’ve got various different options for structuring your CV depending on whether you are a school leaver, graduate, career climber, career changer or work in a creative industry – to name but a few.

We’ll address all these in a later blog but the bottom line is, for any given job, you want to put neon lights around your strongest and most relevant skills and achievements from the word go.

Don’t expect an employer to wade through a load of waffle to get to the punchline. Punchlines at the start please!

6 Get the length right – more than two pages is a turn-off

Everyone is different so it’s probably a bit reckless and irresponsible of me to generalise about how long your CV should be. But what the hell…

Two pages should be the maximum. We write CV’s for top executives who have been working in incredibly high-powered positions for decades but we still limit them to two pages.

Everyone is different but employers tend to be busy and research shows their interest will wane if you give them anything longer.

One page might work depending on your experience but never one and a half – that screams “I’ve run out of stuff to say”. Not a good idea.

You can play around with the formatting a little to make sure everything fits but don’t go overboard because font size of eight + margins of 0.5 centimetres = an assault on the eyes.

OK we hope these tips help you in some way but this is only the hors d’oeuvre – the main course is up and ready so tuck in and click! Fingers crossed after that you’ll have all the ammunition you need to write the perfect CV.

5 Focus on your achievements and avoid vague like the plague

Time and time again we see CV’s that are full of meaningless woolly rubbish like “I am a conscientious, hard-working team player who delivers results…”

You want your CV to stand out so if you do genuinely deliver results, prove it. With facts.

Don’t say “I was in charge of a large team and managed to improve profits” say “I was in charge of 20 people and increased profits by 50% – £5m”. Now we’re talking.

Which brings us on nicely to…

4 Read the job advert carefully and push the right buttons

It’s easier to just have one generic copy of your CV that you can send to various different employers.

It’s also easy not to wash and to sit in front of the TV all day eating ice cream but that doesn’t make it right.

For the best chance of success you should identify four or five specific requirements or buzzwords listed in each job advert you respond to and make sure you have covered those bases in your CV and cover letter.

A sharp and focused seven- or eight-line profile at the top is one area you can customise to highlight experience that is particularly relevant for any given job.

3 Look and feel: make it user friendly but don’t try too hard

Funky info-graphics tend to be inappropriate unless you are applying for a job in a creative industry like graphic design. Don’t worry though, your CV can still look stunning.

We tend to find clear, simple and elegant CV’s work best so don’t over complicate things with too many fonts, sizes or inconsistency over bolding, underlining or italics.

We also see countless CV’s that include various unnecessary sections. Less is often more. Everyone is different but give us a call if you’d like to discuss what might work for you.

2 Make sure your writing style packs a punch – but don’t overdo it

You can’t put a price on powerful phraseology. Strong, expressive verbs and adjectives really help and impact starts are a massive winner too so try and grab the reader’s attention before it’s too late.

“Award-winning customer services professional with a proven track record at [insert relevant job-specific skills / facts here]” might make a good start to your profile, for example.

Bland, meaningless, over-the-top drivel like “I’m a very influential person who works especially well with all types of people” – an example we saw recently – wouldn’t.

1 Don’t Make any Mistakes – Check, Check and Check Again

Sorry to get all shouty on you but this old favourite has been a permanent resident of No.1 spot for as long as CV’s have existed. And it isn’t about to get shifted any time soon.

Any typos or poor spelling, grammar or punctuation in your CV are criminal. Also check your caps / font size / boldness / italics / underlining is consistent throughout.

The same applies to other stylistic issues like the use of dates and which form of percent / per cent / % to use.

While you are at it, keep an eye on poor formatting – right down to the length of dashes and the amount of spaces you use.

If the job advert is asking for someone with a slapdash attitude and no eye for detail then ignore this section. If not, get it right!

We had someone this week who spelt the name of her previous employer wrong. It was a pretty well-known organisation so we spotted it in about five seconds.

I’m guessing potential employers did the same. Then filed her application in the bin.

However, this week’s mistake of the week goes to a gentleman who got his own phone number wrong on his CV. No prizes for guessing why he didn’t get the interview he wanted.

Summing up – give yourself long enough to get it right

There is, of course, much, much more to writing a successful CV than these tips but we hope they help.

A half-decent professional CV writer won’t come cheap so there’s no point using one if you don’t need to.

We’ve seen plenty of great home-made CV’s so if you know what you are doing it’s perfectly possible.

Whatever path you choose be careful – if you spend any less than a couple of days on your CV the chances are you won’t have done yourself justice.

If you are in any doubt about what you are doing feel free to give us a call and we’d be happy to look at what you’ve got and see if we can suggest any improvements. Either way, good luck!

Careers Advice, Top Tips