5 of the worst CV mistakes you must avoid

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Some CV mistakes are so obvious they’re only worth mentioning in passing. I’m talking about spelling errors, inappropriate colloquialisms and forgetting to include those all-important contact details. There are other mistakes, which are more consciously made, and will turn-off recruiters and hiring managers almost instantly.

Having worked in the recruitment industry for a while now, I’ve seen them all. I also know from my experience that different business and different hiring managers can have very different expectations for CVs. I’ve taken this into account and compiled my top five CV mistakes for you below:

1. Not making the effort to tailor your CV

When writing your CV, ask not what the business can do for you, but what you can do for the business. It’s important that the organisation is the right fit for you, but you need to first demonstrate how you see yourself working, and excelling, within that organisation in your CV.

The point here is to not blindly boast about your grandest achievements over the years, but to only pull out a handful of the most pertinent to the role and the organisation. First and foremost you need to sell yourself to the business and talk directly to the reader; you can then later decide during the interview process whether the business has, in turn, adequately sold itself to you.

Need some help tailoring your CV? This advice will help you.

2. Hiding the best bits

The exact amount of time that recruiters or hiring managers spend looking at your CV varies depending upon your source — some say it’s as short as six seconds — so it’s important that you make the important information as accessible and prominent as possible. Don’t slowly amble in, building up to a crescendo of your proudest accolades just in time for the recruiter to discard your CV — put them front and centre!

3. Overdoing it on the clichés

Remember, recruiters and hiring managers review CVs for a living — they will be able to see straight through any bluster or bravado. One turn-off for many recruiters is candidates who refer to themselves in the third person e.g. ‘John is an insatiably creative individual’. The recruiter will know you’ve written it so focus on making it personable and direct; facilitating more of a conversational style, as opposed to a cold list of bullet-points.

I’d also advise against personal summaries in your CV which are too self-aggrandising֑. After reviewing so many LinkedIn profiles, CVs and conducting a certain number of interviews, recruiters become immune to words such as “passionate” and “motivated”. These words are too vague and clichéd to have any real impact; keep your personal summary original and unique to you.

Rather than cramming in every positive adjective that you can think of, try and demonstrate your ability and success with real facts and figures. Instead of saying “I’m an ambitious and motivated sales professional who works well in both teams and by myself”, try “My unrelenting ambition to become a top salesperson has led me to undertake courses in X and X to help fill gaps in my skillset. I applied these new skills to my position within a team as well as solo-work where I achieved X sales in year X”. If you can’t substantiate your claims then there is no use in including them.

Using complicated business jargon is unlikely to impress either. Of course, use words to help describe previous roles, but don’t just use complicated terms for the sake of trying to sound good.

4. Submitting a life story rather than a CV

I’m a fan of a short, concise CV that is clearly tailored to the role and speaks directly to me. Avoid writing a CV which is pages long; recruiters and hiring managers only require the salient facts. Grab their attention with concise bullet-points and terse descriptions, as opposed to sprawling, verbose sentences.

This goes for professionals of all levels of seniority. It doesn’t matter how illustrious a career you’ve had, none of us need pages and pages to sell ourselves for a particular position and, if you do, then you’re probably including information that isn’t relevant. This comes back to my first point about following your own agenda; focus your CV on only the job description and you won’t have to worry about excessive length.

Struggling to streamline your CV? This advice will help you.

5. Not telling the truth

The quickest way to make yourself unpopular with hiring managers and recruiters is to embellish the facts or outright fabricate your employment history and/or personal achievements. You may not be pulled up on it immediately, but at some point down the line you will come to regret it. Amongst the top fabrications are: giving yourself a retrospective promotion, taking credit for the work of another employee, overstating your length in a company and claiming to have qualifications you never obtained — you can read about the consequences of these mistakes in greater detail in this blog.

If there’s information in your past which you’d rather not mention — such as being fired from a company — then you’re entirely within your rights to omit it from your CV, but when later asked about it it’s always best to be up front and honest.

Admittedly, CVs are by no means a perfect candidate vetting process, but they are the most effective out of the options available. There are many things that your CV won’t include, which are of equal value to your chances of being successfully selected. Soft skills are always hard to properly articulate in a CV, for example. The same applies for assessing a candidate’s fit in an organisation; it’s not until the interview stage that an employer can get a clear idea of whether the candidate has the right personality. So, whilst you won’t be able to give a full insight into your character on a typed piece of A4, at least try to give enough of an enticing preview to land you an interview — during which you can truly show the best version of you to the interviewer.

Whole books have been written on how to write a CV, however it really doesn’t have to be that complicated. Quite the opposite; keep yours succinct, snappy and salient to the position you’re applying for and sooner or later you’ll land the job you’ve always wanted.

I hope you have found the above advice useful. If you’re currently updating your CV, you may also find the below CV tips and podcast useful.