It's deceptively easy to make mistakes on your CV and exceptionally difficult to repair the damage once an employer gets it. Prevention is critical, so here are the most common pitfalls, and how you can avoid them.
- Spelling and grammar - Even in roles where writing is not necessarily a key skill, poor writing shows a lack of care which no Manager will want in their team. Never trust a computer's spell checker and always get someone else to read through your CV to spot any errors that you may have overlooked. Grammar can be tweaked by reading a piece out loud – if it doesn't sound correct, then it probably won't read very well.
- Writing lots, but saying nothing - Why use 20 words when 5 would do? Employers aren't looking for you to explain everything you've ever done, just a few of the key elements that will persuade them you can do the job. Grab their attention with bullet points rather than long sprawling sentences.
- No tailoring - Whenever you try to develop a one-size-fits-all CV to apply for lots of vacancies, you almost always end up with something employers will ignore. Each employer is looking for a CV and cover letter that applies to their role and as all roles are different, you should make small adaptations so that it matches their specific requirements. Show that you understand what it is they want you to do.
- Highlighting duties instead of achievements - Rather than copying the responsibilities from your old job descriptions, try and find ways to show what you actually achieved whilst you were there. Not all roles have KPIs that are quantifiable, but no company would have employed you to just sit there – you must have had some impact in the business. Think of time-saving activities, new procedures, successful campaigns and increased sales, giving percentage increases wherever possible.
- Breaking the 2-page rule - 2 pages of A4 is more than enough room to persuade your potential employer that you're worth contacting for an interview. They're busy people and don't have time to read five or six pages of your career history. Use lots of white space to make it easy to read, make all your sections stand out clearly and only include information that will get you the job. Less is often more.
- Leaving out information - Whether it's by choice or just forgetfulness, some people leave previous jobs off their CV meaning a gap in employment. It's better to not let your employer guess what you were up to as they will always think the worst. Even if you weren't working, there may have been transferable skills you picked up that will help your chances.
- Using clichés - “Good communicator”, “Works well in a team”, “Committed” – without any hard evidence of these you might as well write “Blah, blah, blah”. If you've worded the achievements in the rest of your CV well, the fact that you have these skills will already be evident. If you feel you must use these phrases, at least try to link it to something you've done such as “Used my communication skills to build and retain a substantial client base.”
- Being vague - Using fluffy lines like "Seeking a challenging position that offers professional growth." doesn't really give your reader anything to go on. Give them something specific that focuses on their company's needs as well as your own. "I'm looking for a challenging entry-level Marketing position that allows me to contribute my skills and experience to fundraising for a Charity."
- Poor design - Unless you're going for a design role, layout should always be second stage to the content of your CV. If your CV is wall-to-wall text featuring five different fonts styles and sizes you'll give the reader a headache. Black and white text on a clean design is all you need, so don't overdo it. Show your CV to several other people before sending it out to check they don't turn their heads in disgust.
- Incorrect personal details - Not getting any calls despite your perfect CV? There may be a very simple reason for that – you've written down the wrong phone number! This is less of a problem now email is the common form of communication, but check your .com isn't a .co.uk and your address isn't the flat you used to live in. On the subject of emails, if you have a ‘jokey' address such as ‘firstname.lastname@example.org', be sure to use a more professional one on your CV.