Your CV may be the most important document you’ll ever create.
Get it right, and you could land your dream career. But all too often we see good candidates making errors that cost them opportunities.
However, fear not. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of CV tips, ranging from the obvious to the subtle: those you don’t even realise you’re making. Read on to find out more.
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Classic CV mistakes
Spelling mistakes and typos. Sounds obvious – and it is – but you’d be surprised how many we find. It gives a terrible first impression, so avoid by proofreading (several times).
Formatting overkill. Tempted to make your CV an artistic symphony of visuals and animations? Don’t. Unless you’re in design/UX (in which case you have our permission to use your creativity) a Word doc with regular font and headings will suffice.
Waffle. Your employment section should be divided into short, professional bullet points. Recruiters start by scanning a CV; our hearts sink when faced with lengthy sections of text. Try this trick: write your CV, then see how many words you can delete while still getting your message across.
Cliché phrasing. Are you a ‘self-motivated team player?’ A ‘detail-orientated professional? Did your last job ‘develop your communication skills’? Lose the clichés and be succinct and specific. ‘I regularly present to audiences of 50+/ negotiate multi-million-pound deals/lead teams of 10+ developers to tight deadlines. Now you don’t need to mention your communication skills – they’re already implied.
Lots of hobbies and interests. Only include if they’re interesting or relevant to the role. (NB - socialising is NOT a hobby).
Slightly rarer (but no less damaging) CV mistakes
Including personal details or a photo. Your interviewer doesn’t need to know what you look like/your gender/marital status/DOB. In most countries, employers aren’t legally allowed to make hiring decisions based on these factors. Ditch them.
Listing your CV in chronological order (rather than reverse chronological). It’s confusing: don’t do it. Recent experience is most relevant.
Speaking in the third person. Not a recommended format. It makes you appear arrogant.
Including reasons for leaving a role. This isn’t needed: you can talk about it at interview instead. Your CV should focus on your skills and achievements.
Leaving career gaps unexplained. Many people take a career break to care for family/raise children/open a business/travel. Don’t leave potential employers guessing: they’ll assume the worst.
Using an unprofessional email address. It takes 5 minutes to set up a new email address. Time to say goodbye to firstname.lastname@example.org
And the CV mistakes you don’t even realise you’re making…
Unverified claims. ‘Widely respected and recognised in the industry’ / ‘Most successful product manager at Company X’. You may think it sounds impressive, but without specific details you’re not saying very much. If you have a genuine achievement, by all means shout about it: eg ‘Frequent authority in industry press on XYZ topic / Winner of Company X Product management award 2019’.
Not explaining the companies you’ve worked for. Don’t assume your recruiter or hirer knows your ex-employers. Unless you’ve worked only for well-known brands, include one short sentence describing the company.
Saying ‘we’ not ‘I’. Many candidates think by focusing on team achievements, they appear a good team player. Wrong. Your potential employers aren’t hiring your team. They’re hiring you. They want to know what you did, so make it clear. This applies at interview as well.
Not tailoring content. When describing experience, your wordcount should be biased towards relevant roles (usually the most recent) and tailored to the roles you’re applying to. If you’ve got lots of experience, detail should be minimal on positions held early in your career. And if there’s something key for the role (such as languages) make sure it’s mentioned early on.
Not including keywords. Many CVs are read by algorithms, at least at the screening stage. Make sure you include relevant technologies, certifications or skills so you don’t miss out.
Focusing on duties rather than achievements. Common, but easy to do. When talking about your employment, start with a few brief bullet points on your responsibilities to give context, with the bulk of the text detailing what you achieved there.
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