10 common CV mistakes and how to avoid them

Often, your CV is your one shot of impressing a recruiter and securing you an interview for a job you really want. So it’s important that you get it absolutely right.

Unfortunately though, talk to any recruiter and they’ll tell you how many potentially good candidates fall at the first job hunting hurdle by making silly but fatal mistakes on their CV.

The 10 most common CV mistakes, and how to avoid them

To help ensure you don’t make any little – but costly – errors, we look at 10 of the biggest CV mistakes, and explain how you can avoid them.

1) Including irrelevant personal information

On average, recruiters spend just 6 seconds looking at CVs, so you don’t want to clog yours up with irrelevant information that’s not going to help your application – and may cause them to miss the really juicy contents. So, unless it’s directly relevant to the position you’re applying for, leave out details like your religion, political preferences, height, weight and the story about the time you met Daniel Craig.

2) Hiding important information

Just as you need to declutter your CV by leaving out anything irrelevant, it’s vital to highlight the key points that may help swing an interview for a particular job. So think about the design of your CV and ways you can bring important details to the fore, for example by putting key achievements in bullet points or bolding your previous job titles.

3) Being too vague

Using phrases like ‘several’, ‘a few’ and ‘numerous’ can come across as too vague on a CV. So if you spent three years working on a project, say so. Or if you exceeded a sales target, include how much it was by. And if you say you delivered more than a client was expecting, briefly explain how. If you’re too vague it can seem like at best you’re exaggerating, at worst making something up completely.

4) Mysterious gaps in employment

If for any reason you’ve taken a break for employment – whether it’s for travel, study, volunteering, redundancy or simply to care for your child – explain it. If you don’t, recruiter may jump to their own, less flattering conclusions and pass your CV over without a second thought.

5) Lying or manipulation of the truth

While your CV should absolutely be the best, shiny version of you and your experiences, making up qualifications, experiences or achievements will invalidate any of your real, hard won successes. Recruiters are on the lookout for anything that seems out of place, including salaries and job titles (and are often expert at spotting them), so be honest and ensure that you give your real attributes a fair chance of getting you the job you want.

6) Throwing in the kitchen sink

Your CV should be as short as it possibly can, while delivering the information a recruiter is looking for. Recruiters are very busy people, and they don’t have time to wade through pages of long winded explanations of how you learned the value of work on a paper round. So stick to two pages at a maximum, and take your work experience back as far as is relevant. Likewise your qualifications – unless it’s relevant, resist the temptation to list every GCSE subject or course taken over the past 20 years.

7) Unnecessarily elaborate design

These days, the chances are your CV is going to be judged on a screen. So don’t take the opportunity to play with fancy fonts and colours – stick to typefaces that are screen friendly (like Ariel, Times New Roman or Verdana) and use a font size of 10 or 12 for body copy, and slightly larger for subheads. If you’re sending it as an attachment, use Word. And avoid backgrounds and ornate borders. Let your experiences and achievements be the star.

8) A meaningless introduction

If you include an introduction in your CV, make sure it’s to the point, and accurately sums up the key qualities the recruiter is looking for. Avoid meaningless phrases like ‘Dynamic, results-oriented, driven, personable team player’ and instead clearly outline your key qualification for the role. For example, ‘Part time sales manager with 16 years’ experience in the commercial sector’. If a recruiter looks at one thing on your CV, it could well be your introduction so ensure it tells them as much as possible.

9) Including references

You’ve little enough space on your CV to ensure you are able to portray yourself as the full package, so don’t waste any with lengthy references. Most recruiters don’t expect them, and a simple note saying ‘References available on request’ is enough. If a job advert specifically requests references, you can include them on a separate sheet.

10) Poor spelling and grammar

You’ve heard the rhyme about the nail that lost the war? In a similar vein, one silly spelling mistake can kill an otherwise perfect CV. So before you send your CV out, use spell check and then proofread it thoroughly. If you’re not 100% confident in your grammar, ask a friend to check it over for you.

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