Don’t let common CV mistakes get in the way of your job search.
Too many job-seekers with great qualifications let their job search go on too long because their CV isn’t as good as it could be.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, it’s important to know what problems to look out for as you write your CV. With that in mind, here are the 45 most common CV mistakes to avoid:
Even if your qualifications are perfect, your CV needs to be well-written to be persuasive. Relevant work experience won’t seem impressive if it’s described in a boring way. To make sure your CV is written effectively, here are some CV writing mistakes to avoid:
You should always customize your CV for each new application. No CV is one-size-fits-all. If you want a potential employer to invite you in for an interview, your CV needs to be suited for their specific needs. A general CV that you send to every company won’t be effective.
To customize your CV, research the role and the company. You can use what you learn to tailor your CV for the position.
The best place to start is the job posting. The job posting will feature the specific skills and experience the company is looking for. You should make sure your CV highlights the right qualifications and shows that you’re right for that particular role.
Next, research the company. Look on the company website for an About page, mission statement, and anything else you can find. Then check social media sites like LinkedIn or Instagram for any company accounts. This should give you a sense of company culture, and will let you know what kind of initiatives and events the company is interested in. Use this information to tailor your CV to the company.
An Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, is a type of software that reads job applications and chooses the best ones. The hiring manager only reads CVs that the ATS has picked. Many companies use an ATS to streamline their hiring process.
If you apply for a job online, your CV will almost certainly be read by an ATS. To make sure it chooses your CV to send along to a hiring manager, customize your CV so that it can be understood by the software and contains all the right keywords.
To make sure the ATS can read your CV, use a simple CV template without too many visual elements. Images, tables, and charts are difficult for the CV to read and should be left off your CV for the ATS submission. You don’t have to abandon your more creative CV entirely—just bring it to the interview or send it via email instead of submitting it to the ATS.
A strong ATS-ready template
When Applicant Tracking Systems were new, some job-seekers tried to trick them by pasting keywords into their CV in an invisible font so their CV would be selected. This trick was quickly discovered, and will no longer work. If you paste the text of the job posting into your CV, the ATS will know what you’ve done and reject your CV. To get past the ATS, don’t try to fool it; just submit the best, most customized CV you can.
Make sure your CV doesn’t seem exactly like everyone else's. You may be “dependable” or a “team player”, but every applicant will be saying the same thing. To stand out, avoid cliches.
You should be able to showcase your skills and abilities without resorting to common buzzwords that show up on too many applications to be meaningful. Instead of calling yourself a “go-getter” and an “outside-the-box thinker”, use your skills and experience to show what kind of an employee you are.
When looking through job applications, employers only spend a few seconds reading each CV. This means your CV has to be easy to read quickly. Long paragraphs are difficult to skim, so they should be avoided.
Instead, try using short sentences and bulleted lists as much as possible. With lists, it’s easy for employers to see where each list item begins so they can scan through the CV quickly. If you do include any paragraphs, keep them brief.
If you lie on your CV, you will be caught.
Even something as simple as the dates you held a job can be verified with a simple phone call. Exaggerating to make yourself seem like a better candidate can be tempting, but it’s never worth it. When a potential employer realizes you’ve lied, they will reject your application.
Besides, if you somehow succeed in fooling the hiring manager, you will find yourself in a job you’re not qualified for. If you have to lie about your skills to land a job, you don’t have the skills to do the job!
Avoiding this CV mistake is easy: tell the truth.
It’s not always safe to assume hiring managers are familiar with all of the terms you know, even if you’re in the same industry. Avoid using niche jargon in your CV so you can be sure that anyone who reads it will understand it. A simple word is always better than a complicated one.
Even the simplest mistake can be enough to derail your application. In a competitive job market, there are always more than enough candidates for employers to reject any CVs with spelling errors, even if the skill set is right. Don’t let a CV mistake that can be avoided with some quick proofreading end your candidacy.
It’s important to be on the lookout for grammatical errors in your CV. Most word processors and internet browsers come with a spell checker, but most grammar errors will go unnoticed. Check and double-check every sentence of your CV to make sure the language is correct.
Typos show that you don’t pay close attention to your work. If you don’t proofread your CV, will you proofread emails and other professional correspondence? Employers need to know that you can communicate professionally and have a keen eye for detail.
Brevity is the soul of an effective CV. You should be able to list highlights of your skills or responsibilities in a list that doesn’t take up too much space (or get boring).
Don’t use a long word where a short word will do. You may think that demonstrating your vocabulary makes you sound smart, but at best it makes you look like you’re showing off. Keep the language of your CV simple and straightforward. A CV isn’t a spelling test.
Avoid acronyms in your CV. Even if the acronym seems commonplace to you, there is no guarantee the hiring manager is familiar with it.
If you do use acronyms, make sure to define them. You can do this by giving the full term followed by the initials in brackets the first time they appear in your CV: Lifetime Value (LTV). Once the term has been explained, you can use the acronym in the rest of the CV.
Describing yourself can feel awkward, but trying to create distance by referring to yourself by name is distracting. Some job-seekers try to avoid sounding like they’re bragging by using third person, but all this does is make readers wonder who wrote the resume. Don’t say “John is a marketing manager with 5 years experience”, say “I am a marketing manager with 5 years experience”, or simply “Marketing manager with 5 years experience.”
While you should always customize your CV to suit the company culture, the words you use shouldn’t be too informal. Even if a company appears to have a laid-back attitude, your CV should be professional. You can make yourself seem like a good fit, friendly and enjoyable to be around, without being too casual. A great CV is a balance of approachable and professional.
Your work experience is the centrepiece of your CV. If any section of your CV has to be perfect, it’s this one. For the best Work Experience section possible, avoid these CV mistakes:
Make sure to showcase your achievements in each role, not your responsibilities. The most impressive work experience in the world won’t impress hiring managers if you can’t emphasize it well enough. Boring job descriptions are a common CV mistake that is easy to fix with a little practice.
When you write a description for each role in your Work Experience section, make sure you have more than just a boring list of duties. Always focus on your accomplishments in each role, rather than simply copying the job description.
You should also use action words as much as possible when describing your role. Words like drove, developed, and pioneered are all active, leadership-oriented verbs that help sell your abilities.
You only have a page or two to make an impact with your CV. You don’t have the space for irrelevant experience, and employers aren’t interested in unrelated work anyway. Everything you write has to be relevant to the position you’re applying for.
There are some exceptions—if you can’t fill out your CV otherwise, for example—but if you have lots of experience to display, you can give your less relevant experience less attention and spend more time on your best roles.
It can be tempting to show off and include every award you’ve ever received in your CV, but accomplishments that don’t demonstrate relevant skills can distract from more important achievements. It’s fine to note that you were “Employee of the month” for 12 months running, but winning the “Best dresser in the office” award isn’t something you need to highlight.
Your first job out of high school probably won’t impress potential employers. When you’ve been in the workforce for a long time, jobs from early in your career aren’t as important as your more recent positions. You’ve likely changed industries, been promoted, and moved on to new companies several times since you started. Unless your early career was directly relevant and important, or your most recent experience isn't very impressive, early roles can be left off your CV.
If there is a period of your career where you didn’t work for a year or more, it’s important to clarify what you were doing in that time. Taking time off work isn’t something employers will fault you for as long as you have a good reason.
If you took a sabbatical to travel, focus on your studies, recover from an illness, or care for a family member, say so in your CV. In no more than a bullet point or two, clarify what you were doing and, if needed, indicate that you are recovered/home from travelling/finished your degree and are ready to dedicate yourself to your career.
A short gap is acceptable
Staying at one job for less than a year is one common, but if you’ve had short tenures at several companies in a row, you should explain why. Employers won’t be willing to train you if they think you’re going to quit in a few months. Use your CV to assure them they aren’t wasting their time by hiring you.
If you left a job because the company went out of business or you were laid off, you can note this in your CV. Hiring managers will be understanding if your job-hopping was unintentional.
If your job-hopping wasn’t involuntary, you can downplay it in other ways. For example, you could assure the employer that you’re ready for the long haul now by expressing your desire for a long-term position, or by highlighting major accomplishments in each role so it’s clear that you had an impact at each company. As long as you can compensate for your job-hopping, you can avoid this CV mistake.
You don’t need to include every detail of your career. A CV is more of a highlight reel than a comprehensive retrospective. Older positions, uninteresting duties, and less relevant jobs can be listed without much detail or omitted entirely.
Appearance and organization are key to a successful CV. As you design your CV, make sure it looks good, uses all the right sections, and avoids these common CV mistakes:
A bad CV template is enough to get your CV rejected. Even if your experience is impressive and your skills are perfect, employers are unlikely to look past an ugly CV. Make sure the CV template you use is tasteful and readable.
To avoid this common CV mistake, look for an online CV builder that offers professional and eye-catching CV templates. With the help of online tools, you can create an effective CV without having to design it yourself.
In North America, you should not include a picture on your CV. A professional headshot might look good to the eye, but it’s unusual to include a picture of yourself with your application. In fact, many large companies will reject any CV with a picture because it could conflict with their anti-discrimination hiring policies. If you’re applying for a job in America, don’t include a picture.
In other places, such as Europe, however, a picture is expected. When you apply for a job, make sure you know what the expectations are for your CV photo.
Colours can be a nice way to give your CV a personal touch, but they have to be stylish and complementary. Colours that are too bright, or make the CV difficult to read, will be distracting. If you decide to use colours on your resume, make sure they are subtle and attractive.
The wrong colour can be difficult to read
Stick to simple, readable fonts like Open Sans or Raleway. Any fonts you use in your CV have to be easy for employers to read. It can be tempting to get creative with fonts, but the wrong font can be silly or difficult to read.
Objective statements were once a common feature of CVs, but they are now considered outdated. Employers understand that your objective is to get the job. If you have an objective or goal you want your employer to know about, use a Summary section instead.
Don’t include your references on your CV unless a potential employer asks for it. While it’s important to have references for your job-search, they can be provided on request, not on the CV. Hiring managers don’t check references until after the interview, so you can prepare them on a separate document. If someone wants to call your references, they will ask.
Employers are interested in your professional skills and accomplishments. They aren’t interested in what you do for fun. Don’t waste space on your CV listing pastimes like reading, cooking, or sports. Keep your CV focused on your career.
There are some exceptions. If you are looking to work as a web developer and you create apps in your spare time, that can be worth noting. If your interests are irrelevant to work, however, keep them to yourself.
White space is an important part of CV design. When you select a CV template, make sure the space for lists and paragraphs isn’t too crowded. Some job-seekers try to fit more details on their CV by reducing the font size or line spacing, but this plan can easily backfire. It doesn’t matter how much experience you fit on one page when it is too small or cluttered to read.
One or two pages is long enough for most CVs. Employers aren’t interested in reading any more than that. If you’ve been working for decades with lots of high-level positions, or if you’re writing a comprehensive academic CV, you can let your CV be longer, but if you’re a typical mid-career job-seeker you shouldn’t have any trouble fitting your CV on two pages.
No one is reading past page 2
Your Skills section is an important part of the CV. Employers are hiring you for your skill set. To make sure your Skills section is impressive, avoid these CV mistakes:
Your skills should be targeted to the job you’re applying for. Employers want to know what you can do for them, not what you can do in general. Restrict your list of skills to the ones most relevant to the job.
You might be proficient in Microsoft Word, but these days, so is everyone else. Generic skills that employers expect by default can be left out of your Skills section. Keep your list of skills succinct, relevant, and customized for the specific role.
Every detail of your CV needs to be perfect. Beyond the writing style and CV sections, it’s important to make sure there are no problems in the content of the CV. Unnecessary details, bad links, and an inappropriate tone are all CV mistakes that you should avoid:
Your email address should be professional. Every aspect of your CV has to be appropriate for a business context. Jokey or unprofessional email addresses will annoy potential employers. To avoid this CV mistake, create an email address that uses your own name. This is professional, easy to remember, and makes it obvious who the address belongs to.
In the US and Canada, the only personal information you need to provide is your name, contact information, and city. Anything else is unnecessary. Some details, like age, can even get your CV thrown out.
In other countries, however, more information can be required. Depending on your location, employers may ask for age, marital status, your home address, and more.
When you write your CV, make sure you know exactly what information is expected before you apply for a job.
While there’s nothing wrong with linking to social media profiles on your CV, everything you post on those profiles has to be professional. Only link to your Twitter account or personal website if you are 100% sure everything there is appropriate for the workplace. Even something as simple as a party picture could cause potential employers to consider other applicants.
If you link out to a personal website, online portfolio, or work sample posted online, make sure every link works correctly. Every time you submit your CV in a new application, double-check every hyperlink. Dead or wrong links can be confusing, and show a lack of attention to detail.
If an employer wants to know why you are leaving your current role, they will ask you in the interview. In fact, this is one of the most common interview questions, so you should be sure to have an answer prepared. Including it on your CV, however, will draw unnecessary attention and use up space better used for other things.
Salary can be negotiated during or after the job interview. There is no reason to include salary expectations directly in the CV. Besides appearing to get ahead of yourself, you can look out of touch if your expectations are out of line with industry norms.
This is a CV mistake that might not bother a prospective employer, but it’s risky in other ways. If your current company doesn’t know you’re looking for new work, you shouldn’t be using company equipment to find another job. Communications may be monitored, and answering a phone call from a different company while at work could be awkward.
Some job-seekers reason that, even if they don’t list all their references on their CV, they should at least note that they have references. This is unnecessary. If employers want to check your references, they will ask for them. Writing “References available on request” will just take up space.
Don’t make the employer choose between your home phone, cell phone, and work phone. Decide ahead of time where you want to be contacted, and list that number on your CV. Once you’ve picked, make sure to be available at that number.
Don’t make me choose
In North America, there is no expectation that you list your current boss. If this is something the employer wants to know, they will ask. If your current boss is one of your references, include their name on the reference sheet rather than the CV.
It’s important to include an Education section on your CV, but it shouldn’t be comprehensive. In most cases, something short but effective is enough. Keep your Education section brief by avoiding these Education CV mistakes:
The only job-seekers who should feature their high school on their resume are students and recent graduates. If you have been out of school for a few years, your post-secondary education and work experience is much more important than any high school classes.
If you are a student with excellent grades, or a recent graduate with no work experience, you can include your GPA on your CV. If you’ve been in the workforce for a few years, however, no employer will be interested in your grades.
VisualCV Customer Success Manager
Ben is a writer and customer support specialist with 5 years of experience helping job-seekers create their careers. He believes in the importance of a great resume and the power of coffee.
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