Common CV Mistakes to Avoid
We have reviewed hundreds of CVs for clients to help determine whether they’re already in good shape or in need of some sprucing up.
On conducting these reviews, we have seen the same mistakes over and over.
While many of these issues may seem minor, it is important to remember that your CV is your first (and potentially only) chance to make the right first impression.
While a missing full stop or small typo might not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, here's what they tell an employer:
- You didn't bother to re-read your work before submitting
- You have poor attention to detail
- You're careless
In short, any error or inconsistency on your CV - no matter how small - causes you to lose credibility before you even had a chance to build it up.
Put bluntly, you have every opportunity to make sure this short document is well-written and free of errors before submitting it.
When your future career is at stake, make sure you get it right. Assume there will be no “benefit of the doubt” given by time-strapped recruiters tasked with reviewing hundreds of applications!
Before you hit the submit button, run through our top 10 most common mistakes below to make sure that your CV is spot-on.
1) Making typos and grammar errors
Your spelling and grammar must be flawless.
I always recommend printing out your CV on paper and slowly reading it out loud as looking at a screen or skimming on paper, it is simply too easy for your eyes to skip over otherwise easy-to-spot errors.
You simply can’t rely on automatic spell checkers to catch everything. In fact, they often cause you additional problems!
Double-check for missing or incorrect punctuation and any sentence structure issues as well.
There are clear-cut rules for using commas, for example: 99% of the time, they are not optional! You shouldn’t simply place one where you would naturally pause when speaking and assume it is correct.
2) Using words incorrectly
There are some English words that can be easily confused - even by a native speaker. The most common mistakes we see in this category include:
- effect vs affect
- principal vs principle
- then vs than
- who's vs whose
- it vs it's
- your vs you’re
- their vs there
We won't go into the granular detail here, but if you're concerned, check out this article on commonly misused words and phrases.
3) Incorporating clichés and buzzwords
Your mother is allowed to refer to you by clichés, but your CV should not!
Try to avoid generic language that adds nothing to building your unique profile in the mind of an employer:
Simply put, let your experience speak for itself. Provide concrete examples and evidence of the contributions you can bring to an organisation.
If you would feel awkward reading a line of your CV to someone you just met at a networking event, remove it.
We often come across career summaries making generic statements along the lines of:
I'm a successful, driven revenue management professional with over a decade of proven experience driving excellent results for my clients.
We recommend skipping the professional summary altogether (see the following point). Instead, simply state the facts using a bullet point in the context of your work experience to include its tangible impact on the company you worked for:
- Implemented revenue management strategies based on booking trends to increase year-on-year revenue by 25%
9) Spending too much time on your objectives and skills
Your CV should tell your story.
We have seen very few (if any) objectives, professional summaries, or skills sections at the top of a CV that have provided anything more than generic, overused industry buzzwords.
Might such a strategy help your resume pass ATS scans? Possibly.
However, naturally integrating these keywords in the context of your work experiences is a much more effective and believable way of proving that you are "highly motivated," have "excellent communication skills," and are a "strong team leader."
5) Telling instead of showing
This point is often the distinguishing factor between an average CV and one that truly impresses employers and lands an interview.
While you need some bullet points to explain what you were doing on a day-to-day basis, make sure that you are demonstrating what you did with concrete examples instead of using generalisations.
For example, compare the following two statements:
- Created Excel model used to analyze company labour costs
- Developed an Excel model used to analyze company labour costs and optimise scheduling, resulting in a 14% reduction in payroll expenses
Both bullet points are addressing the same point - but one demonstrates the results of creating the model. It's also more interesting to read!
6) Writing without parallel construction
Parallel construction simply means that all of your phrases should use similar grammatical constructions, which make them easier to read. All of your bullet points should begin with an action verb, for example:
- In charge of...
- Responsible for...
7) Formatting inconsistently
Your formatting must be consistent. All headings and body text should be in the same font and size. The amount of spacing after each section should be equal.
When designing your CV in Word, we recommend using separate styles for your headings, subheadings, and bullet points to save time and ensure 100% consistency.
8) Writing a book
Candidates often ask us how long their resumes should be. The irritating answer is: it depends.
If you are a very senior executive or held several back-to-back contract roles in IT, for example, it may be difficult to effectively convey what you accomplished without spilling onto a second page.
But in our opinion, even the Prime Minister should be able to put together a solid one-page CV.
Remember that the goal of your CV is to pique the employer's interest, convince them that you're a suitable candidate for the job, and get them to invite you for an interview.
A CV can be too long. If it is, an employer may simply not read it.
9) Writing in first person
Save first-person writing for your cover letter. All of your CV should be written in the third person.
This strategy is generally considered more professional and allows you save precious words, maximising the limited space you have to make your case.
10) Forgetting to include or update contact information
It should go without saying, but as a bare minimum, your CV needs to include your current email address and telephone number.
You would be surprised how many submissions we receive that are missing this information!