Double checking your CV before sending it is vital as you'll be surprised how often common and avoidable CV mistakes can trip up a candidate and spoil their chances of securing a job interview
Crafting the perfect job application takes time, and after putting in the hard work it's disheartening to think that your CV could be rejected at the first hurdle thanks to an easily avoidable error.
While most of us have some idea of how to write a CV it's surprisingly easy to make basic mistakes - and if you're not aware of what these are, they could cost you a job. Sometimes learning what not to include in a CV is just as important. Here are seven of the most common CV mistakes and how to avoid them.
1. Poor formatting
CVs that aren't clear and easy to read are a huge turn-off for employers. On average employers spend around eight seconds reviewing each CV - leaving you little time to make a good first impression.
When thinking about how to format your CV bear this in mind and ensure that recruiters can find the most relevant information as easily as possible.
'The formatting of your CV forms the recruiter's first impression of your application, so if it isn't good, then they start thinking that you aren't very good, and however strong the content is, it's difficult to win someone round from there,' says Graham Philpott, head of careers consultancy at the University of Reading.
It's important to keep your CV concise so that it can be absorbed quickly. The template that you choose to follow when composing your CV should be striking yet uncluttered. 'Ensure your font is consistent and that your text size is not too big or small,' says Jo Horton, careers adviser at the University of Leeds. 'We recommend a clean, modern font such as Ariel or Calibri, and font size 10-12.'
You should prioritise the content rather than choosing style over substance. Rating your hard or technical skills using stars or bars might look nice, but does this actually demonstrate your competency in these areas?
'Keep your formatting simple and consistent, and you are less likely to make a mistake,' adds Graham.
Take a look at some example CVs.
2. Failing to tailor your application
'Your CV is a marketing tool, and all marketing needs to be tailored to its audience if it is to be successful,' explains Graham. So, it's fair to say that when it comes to CVs, one size doesn't fit all. Everything that you include must be completely tailored to the company and role that you're applying for. This will make it easy for recruiters to see that you're the perfect candidate.
'Recruiters can easily spot a generic CV that’s been sent out to 50 different companies - it may be time-consuming, but putting in that extra effort to tailor your CV to the specific role will really pay off,' adds Jo.
Don't be afraid to be ruthless in removing irrelevant experiences. Even if you're applying for similar roles with different organisations, check their specific requirements and tweak your CV accordingly.
View your CV as your personal highlight reel, which contains the most relevant information for each particular job you're applying for. You might have a master CV with everything on, but you should tailor what you send for each application, especially if you're applying for a variety of jobs in different sectors.
'Tailoring your CV also sends the message that you have taken care and attention with your application. This shows that you want the job, and that you take pride in the work that you submit - both of which will be appreciated by the recruiter,' says Graham.
3. Spelling errors
There are no excuses for spelling mistakes - even if English isn't your first language. An error-free CV is vital in showcasing your precision and attention to detail, so check everything - even your contact details. Make use of spell-checking functions in software such as Microsoft Word. 'Make sure it’s set to UK English, not US, if you’re applying to jobs in the UK,' says Jo. Pay attention to what they are indicating and consider if the alternatives they offer will add or remove impact to your writing.
Minimise the risk of making mistakes by taking your time - never leave writing your CV to the last minute. Rushed examples are easily spotted and quickly dismissed.
It’s also a good idea to check your tenses. If you update your CV regularly tenses can sometimes get mixed up and not amended to the current situation. Is the experience you’re writing about happening currently or is it a past role that you're describing? Ensure you're using the correct current or past tense.
A good tip to see if there's a spelling or grammatical mistake is to temporarily change the font, size and colour - it can trick your brain into thinking it's a new piece of writing, enabling you to spot mistakes you might have previously missed.
Graham suggests setting your application aside when you've finished it 'for a few hours, better still a full day, then re-read it again with fresh eyes. You'll pick up lots of improvements that way.'
Other handy tips include printing your CV and reading it aloud - this will slow down your thought process, allowing you to focus on specific words. If you fall over clumsy sentences, others will too. To further ensure you don't miss anything read your CV from bottom to top. This makes the flow less familiar making it easier to pick up mistakes.
When you're trying to get a foot in the door and impress potential employers it's tempting to be economical with the truth, because who's going to check, right?
Wrong. The facts on your CV are easy to corroborate so never assume that recruiters won't make enquiries to do so.
Giving your university grade a boost, claiming to have attended university when you haven't, lying about your current job title or embellishing a period of work experience won't do you any favours in the long run. At best, your lies will be obvious and your CV will be rejected out of hand. At worst, you may be invited for an interview where you'll either trip yourself up or be asked questions that you're unable to answer.
What could possibly be worse than embarrassing yourself at an interview? How about going to prison? Lying on your CV is a criminal offence. Take a look at this advice and guidance on degree fraud for students.
'It's good to be confident when applying for jobs, to be positive about the skills and experience that you have and to present these in the most dynamic way possible, but outright lying is a definite no,' explains Jo.
Instead of using your time and energy to concoct half-truths and complete fabrications, use it instead to really sell the qualifications, skills and experience you do have.
5. Lack of evidence
It's easy to make generic, empty statements on your CV when you're trying to meet a tight application deadline. However, failing to effectively evidence your skills, achievements and experiences can be a big mistake.
You need to back up how you meet the requirements, because without this information an employer can't be confident that you're able to do the job effectively.
Graham agrees 'It's easy to say that you have a skill, but evidence equals believability, and you need to be believed. Giving evidence also adds more richness to the claim, by giving context you are showing so much more about yourself, and it's that rounded version of you that you want the recruiter to see.'
Don't just focus on the things you did, but also on the things you achieved. At entry-level, chances are a lot of your previous experience was temporary, voluntary or part-time, with duties that might include 'tidying the office' or 'filing and data entry'. You want to point out ways that you took those duties and went above and beyond to make a difference. For example, the above might be 'shortened average closing time with efficient clean up' or 'kept office running smoothly with quick data entry'.
Jo agrees, 'Anyone can write on their CV that they have problem-solving skills or are able to remain calm under pressure. To make your CV stand out you need to back up these claims with evidence, e.g. 'Remained calm under pressure when answering telephone queries from up to 100 customers a day when working on the customer complaints line.' This proves to the recruiter that you have the skills they are looking for and demonstrates how your previous experience is relevant.'
6. Not explaining 'why'
It isn’t enough to just state your credentials; you need to prove them by justifying why you've chosen to undertake certain activities in terms of your personal and professional development. You should then elaborate even further on the resulting skills you've gained.
For example, discussing your extra-curricular activities is very important - providing you pay particular attention to any positions of responsibility you've held and outline what you've taken from the experience.
As a rule, average CVs give you the 'what' - for example, the degrees or jobs that person has held. Great CVs also give the 'whys' - for example, why that person has chosen that degree or society.
7. Ignoring gaps in your work history
Gaps in employment history are fairly common and rarely a problem as long as they're explained.
You don't need to worry about gaps of a couple of weeks but if you've been out of work for months (or even years) you need to clearly and concisely explain why. Any unexplained absences of this length will be looked upon with suspicion by potential employers and will give the impression that you've been idle during this time.
Don't be afraid to let recruiters know that you took some time out to volunteer, look after a sick relative or travel the world. There's also no shame in informing employers of a period spent away from work due to an illness, medical condition or redundancy.
You'll be able to further explain any gaps in your work history in your cover letter. See our cover letter template of how to explain a gap in your CV for more advice.