Common CV mistakes and how to avoid them

By Hannah Kingston

September 16, 2020


If you are trying to write the perfect CV, it helps to understand some of the most common CV mistakes that are repeated time and time again, making your application less than perfect.

You should rule out any bad CV habits now to save yourself professional heartbreak in the future and to ensure that you are giving yourself the best opportunity to get shortlisted.

Here are 11 common CV mistakes and how to avoid them

  1. Your CV is over three pages long
  2. Your CV does not contain a professional summary
  3. Your CV contains white or full-blown lies
  4. Your CV contains responsibilities as opposed to achievements
  5. Your CV contains unprofessional formatting or fonts
  6. Your CV is written in the third person
  7. Your CV has grammar errors
  8. Your CV is not written for applicant tracking systems
  9. Your CV includes a headshot or infographics
  10. Your CV is ignoring employment gaps
  11. Your CV is not tailored to the role you are applying for

Your CV is over three pages long

The average length of a CV should be 2-3 pages. While you don’t want your future employers to be left guessing, you do want to leave them wanting more.

This may be a hard pill to swallow but they do not require the full back story of your professional career to date.

Giving yourself a succinct word count to work with helps you to focus on pulling out the essential checklist that makes you the right candidate for the role. Avoid including information that has nothing to do with the job or every single thing you have done to date, or you will fatigue the person reading it. Keep it clear and concise.

Your CV does not contain a professional summary

Your CV should contain a tailored professional summary. Instead of writing a one size fits all wonder byline such as “Hard-working professional with eight years of experience”, write something that shows what you have done for other organizations and how that applies to the one you are currently applying to, such as: “Self-motivated, award-winning [Job title] who has led teams through growth periods with a [success rate] in [time frame]”.

Use your professional summary to showcase your previous success rates, it’s highly unlikely that someone else will have the same data as you. It gives you a chance to stick in someone’s memory, it shows that you have put thought into this particular role and you have the stats to back up your value.

Your CV contains white or full-blown lies

You should never, ever lie on your CV. If your CV contains half-truths, now is the time to cut them from your CV.

It is highly unlikely that you will start a new job without the hiring manager calling your references, your references will probably not lie for you. If they do, it will be a disservice to you and the organization when you are trying to get your head around how something works on the job.

If you need some more motivation, recall the incident in which an Australian woman was sentenced to at least one year in prison last year for lying on her resume to land a government job. The woman in question was charged with deception, dishonestly dealing with documents and abuse of public office. Honesty really is the best policy.

Your CV contains responsibilities as opposed to achievements

Your CV should contain achievements, not responsibilities. If you want someone to tune out, list out everything that you have done in the last few of years, on a daily basis. If you want people to tune in and take your CV seriously, list out what you have achieved on behalf of other organizations and for yourself over the past few years.

Convincing a hiring manager that you are the right person for the role is often rooted in showcasing that you have done it before and you are more than capable of doing it again. Use your CV as an opportunity to give yourself a pat on the back, where possible include achievements that can be benchmarked.

Your CV contains unprofessional formatting or fonts

It may seem obvious, but often candidates will attempt to visually stand out by using alternative formatting or fonts. This is not a tactic that will get you very far if the hiring manager is unable to make sense of your experience and achievements.

Where possible, you should ensure that you are using clear, professional formatting and fonts. If an organization has specific requirements, ensure that you follow them to a tee. Read it out loud and ask an objective person to take a look at it too. Ask for critical feedback. You want to make it easy for someone else to pick you out of a crowd.

Your CV is written in the third person

You should write your CV in the first person to make the hiring manager feel like the CV is personalized to them. Writing your CV in the third person creates distance and can be a jarring read after a cover letter which has likely been written in the first person.

Where possible, cut out “I”s and “My”s as these pronouns can be repetitive and take up space but ensure that the person reading the CV feels that they are being spoken to directly. Try to get your personality across where space allows.

Your CV has grammar errors

Some of the most common CV mistakes are grounded in confusing grammar, such as flitting between different tenses or making grammatical errors.

It can make it difficult for the person to know what you did and when if the CV moves from past to present tense intermittently throughout your CV. Avoid this by using the present continuous tense in the role you are currently working in and use the past tense later in the CV when describing previous roles that you held.

If you are not fully confident of your grammar or spelling, use tools like Grammarly and ask someone else to take a read.

Your CV is not written for applicant tracking systems

Applicant tracking systems (ATS)  is a type of software that provides recruiting and hiring tools for companies. Some functions include collecting and sorting through hundreds or thousands of applications that are submitted electronically. In some instances, electronic applications may not even make it through to a human if an organization rely heavily on ATS.

Your CV should be optimized to be picked up by an ATS if you are making an electronic submission. You can do this by including (but not stuffing) keywords that were mentioned on the job spec into your CV, bolding previous job titles and ensuring that the formatting on your CV is clear and reads easily. Include a sections with titles such as education, key traits, career history, interests and anything else that is relevant to the role you are applying for.

Your CV includes a headshot or infographics

Unless the job application calls for it, there is no need to include a headshot or infographics in your CV. Space is often minimal and you only get one chance to make your pitch, so use that space wisely.

Including a headshot will not better your chances of getting the job, employers care more about your professional experience as opposed to what you look like, and whatever you might choose to showcase on an infographic can often be communicated in writing.

Your CV is ignoring employment gaps

Employment gaps aren’t necessarily detrimental to your chances of getting the job but you should explain them, whether you were made redundant or you took a career break, outlining why they are there helps the hiring manager to get a better picture of who you are.

Avoid adding time to positions to minimize employment gaps, if a hiring manager does call for a reference and your reference gives them the correct time frame, that will reflect badly on you. There is nothing wrong with taking a break, and sometimes life gets in the way, being honest is always key.

Your CV is not tailored to the role you are applying for

One of the most detrimental common CV mistakes is not personalizing your application for the role. Over your career, your roles may take on many different shapes and forms. The more generic your CV, the less you will stand out from the crowd.

To make an impact, you need to invest in thinking critically around why you are the best candidate for the role. You need to match your experience and skills to what the employer is looking for, otherwise, you will not make it to the shortlisting phase.

Examine what the organization is looking for and then stick to how you match that criteria, with that in mind, there is no holding you back.

What are the most common CV mistakes you can think of? Comment below!

Now read: Ten simple yet effective ways to make your CV stand out

Now read: Signs that it’s time for a career change 

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