career-advice

5 CV Formatting Pitfalls to Avoid

Matt Glodz
5 CV Formatting Pitfalls to Avoid

Research shows that recruiters spend just over seven seconds initially reading a CV, so you want to make sure yours stands out.

When push comes to shove, however, you’re being hired based on your ability to do the job - not on your ability to put together a cute, Instagramable CV.

As you search for templates, you may come across online CV builders that create modern CVs with multiple columns, colours and symbols.

We strongly recommend avoiding these gimmicks.

While we acknowledge that graphic CVs are becoming more common, they’re simply too risky a move for most applicants.

From our experience and discussions with recruiters, these design features are often perceived as “trying too hard” and have the potential to land your CV in the bin.

Your CV is a professional document, and as such, we always recommend a modern yet conservative format.

As you apply for jobs in 2020, steer clear of these five CV design trends:

1) Colours

A splash of colour will allow you to showcase your personality and help your CV stand out from the stack of boring black and white documents, right?

Not exactly.

Recruiters are busy.

Help them quickly understand whether you are a good fit by leveraging impactful design elements (such as headings and bullet points) and powerful phrasing, which will highlight your main accomplishments and the value you bring to an organisation.

Instead of trying to stand out with a splashy turquoise header that unmistakably speaks to your distinctive personality, let your experience speak for itself.

Attempting to impress recruiters with unique designs wastes time that you could use to further refine your content, and it can also make them question your professional judgement.

Land the interview first.

Then, you can showcase your personality and likeability in person.

2) Tables and Multiple Columns

Many applicant tracking systems (AI tools recruiters use to narrow down large applicant pools) cannot accurately pull information from CVs with tables or multiple columns.

If your content is parsed incorrectly, recruiters who use these systems will not be able to accurately search your documents for key skills.

As a result, your CV may end up filtered out by the system and never even be read by an actual human.

Tables and columns also take up excessive space that could otherwise be used to convey additional skills and accomplishments.

By sticking to a traditional CV format, you’ll effectively leverage the minimal space you have available and help your document pass ATS scans.

3) Skills Ratings

Many “modern” CV templates include skills sections that allow you to rate your language or technical skills on a one to five scale using symbols.

For example, you might assign yourself five stars for English and three stars for Spanish, given that you spent a semester in Barcelona.

These ratings don’t tell a recruiter much about your true level of proficiency. In fact, they only serve to highlight your deficiencies.

Instead of telling a recruiter that you’re a 3 out of 5 in Excel, why not provide them with specific examples of ways in which you used Excel on the job instead?

4) Photos and Graphics

Applicant tracking systems can have difficulty processing photos and graphics, so it is best to avoid them.

We never recommend including a photo, especially if your appearance will not have a direct impact on your ability to do the job.

That said, hiring managers who are particularly curious what you look like will likely turn to LinkedIn or Facebook, so be sure to convey a professional image on social media.

5) Unconventional Fonts

Because your CV is a personal marketing document, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on what kind of impression the font you choose to use conveys.

We recommend using traditional serif fonts such as Book Antiqua, Georgia or Times New Roman, which studies show are not only easier to read but also perceived as more credible.

Appropriate sans-serif options include Arial, Calibri and Helvetica.

You should choose a font that is standard in Microsoft Word.

In Summary

Your number one priority when applying for a job is to be taken seriously, and your CV is typically your first (and potentially last) impression.

When in doubt, play it safe.

By keeping your CV classy and professional, and you’ll maximise your chances of success.


About CV Pilots

CV Pilots is an award-winning executive CV writing, career coaching and outplacement firm. Our previous clients include CEOs and senior executives at the world's leading companies.

Here's how we can help you:

CV, Cover Letter and LinkedIn Writing: After a one-hour phone consultation, one of our expert writers will prepare your top-quality personal marketing materials from scratch. 

CV Content Review & CV Editing: A professional pair of eyes will look over your existing CV to catch any errors and advise on areas of improvement.

Career Transitions: A powerful combination of our document writing and career coaching services helps position you to secure a new role.

To learn more, book an introductory call here or email team@cvpilots.co.uk.

We're a proud member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. All of our writers have studied at top-tier universities and have solid industry experience.


About the AuthorMatt Glodz


Matt Glodz is the Founder and Managing Partner of CV Pilots and a Certified Professional Resume Writer.

Based in London, he currently works with applicants ranging from CEOs to recent graduates and has been writing CVs for over eight years.

At CV Pilots, Matt combines his solid business and writing background to craft CVs that give his clients the best chance of landing interviews. He has lived in the UK, US and Italy.



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