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CV Mistakes That Are Sabotaging Your Job Search

Is it you, or your CV?

If you're applying for job after job but never getting through to interview, your CV may be the issue. Read on to discover the surprisingly common mistakes candidates make when searching for a new role.


CV Format Issues Your CV is in a paragraph-heavy format.

Large blocks of text are visually off-putting, and even worse, mean your reader is likely to accidentally skip over relevant content. This CV format can also look dull and heavy–not the impression you want to make. A combination of short paragraphs followed by selected bullet-pointed achievements is best, and allows your reader to engage meaningfully and quickly with your CV.

Your CV uses too many bullet points.

Is your CV a laundry list of bullets that are unrelated and not targeted to a specific job? Are you listing tasks rather than highlighting career achievements? At some point, your reader will “switch off” or skim past something relevant, since long lists of bullet points encourage us to read quickly. Aim for each bullet point to convey a specific achievement, with enough detail to keep the reader interested.

Wrong CV length.

Unless you’re at a senior level in your career, your CV should be one to two pages in length. Many people try to apply for relatively junior positions with a four-plus page CV that contains too much information for the HR specialist or recruiter to read through. You want your relevant skills and abilities to stand out in your CV, and for the document to be snappy and succinct.  

Your CV is missing information.

Your full name, address, a contact telephone number and educational background must be included. If you’re a currently a student or a recent graduate, you’ll need to include your A-level and degree grades too.

The summary section at the top of your CV is too long or generic.

Your profile or summary should be two to five sentences in length, and portray you as the ideal candidate for the job. Do not include a list of generic skills (“Strong team player…”) that could apply to anyone–be specific.

Here’s an example of what to avoid:

Dynamic, results-focused graduate with broad-based expertise and proven ability to quickly analyse issues and work directly with internal/external staff, leveraging a team-centred effort that increases profitability.

Sure, it might sound good, but it doesn’t tell the recruiter anything specific about who this candidate is, his or her experience or what he or she offers an employer.

…Or you’ve omitted a profile altogether.

You must include a short profile–it’s your opportunity to frame yourself as a job candidate and explain what you’re looking for in a role. Don’t pass up a chance to show that you’re the right person for the job!

CV Style Issues Use of passive voice/phrasing.

Are you using passive phrases in your CV? Wording like responsible for, duties include, assisted with, performed, provide, helped with, tasked with, recruited for and participated in, make you seem like a doer, not an achiever. To recruiters, you come across as unenthusiastic or apathetic–not a great impression. Use proactive language to emphasise your energy and enthusiasm.

Overuse of acronyms or technical jargon.

Most companies have their own lingo, but it shouldn’t creep into your CV. Including too many acronyms or technical terms (whether in your work experience or academic qualifications) can make your CV nigh-on unreadable. If in doubt, ask a friend or family member outside the industry to have a look–do they understand the terms you’re using? If not, you’d do well to re-write those sections of your CV for clarity, or seek out professional help.

Dodgy spelling and grammar.

Your CV is your first chance to impress a prospective employer, so it must be error-free. Given that good presentation and writing skills are key to so many jobs, from sales and administration through law, medicine, engineering and more, your CV must reflect a consistently high standard of attention to detail–all employers look for it, so show off what you can do!

Content Issues Your work experience section does not match the target position.

Read your target job specification (or the detailed job advertisement that you found online) from beginning to end. Make sure that you’ve tailored your work experience to focus on skills that are relevant to the target position. A lawyer, for example, will need to show attention to detail, drafting experience, client contact and demonstrable experience of working to tight deadlines. A nurse should include relevant medical and client care experience, as well as reference any specific technical skills (like phlebotomy) that the role requires. Without these details, how can a prospective employer know that you’re the right person for the job?

The CV has no accomplishments in the work experience section.

Prospective employers want to read about your unique contributions to your job, as well as relevant extra-curricular activities like volunteering and board memberships. Including a list of accomplishments can demonstrate to hiring officials that you are a star performer, so do your best to include examples of particular successes. If at all possible, these should be quantifiable (“Increased sales by 20 percent over two year period”; “Reduced client waiting times by one working day”) so there’s no doubt in the recruiter’s mind that you’re a motivated, high-achieving candidate.

The CV goes back too far.

This is critical, particularly for older candidates and those changing careers. If you have over ten years of work experience, older work experience should be included very briefly (by job title only), or omitted altogether unless it is directly relevant to the role you’re applying for. You want to keep the focus on more recent, more relevant experience that’s going to get you the job.

You are changing your career, but your CV is targeted to your prior career.

Your CV must focus on skills that are transferable and relevant, which may not be the same from career to career, or even at different levels of seniority within the same industry. If you’re not sure how to target your CV to your industry or career level, speak to an industry recruiter or professional CV writer to discuss how to present your experience in the most relevant way–often a fresh pair of eyes can spot where you’re going wrong.

While this may seem like a daunting list of CV mistakes to avoid, hopefully it brings home the message that writing a good CV takes time and careful attention–and it’s all worthwhile when you land that dream job.

This article was written in conjunction with CVNow. CVNow is a professional CV-writing network of over 300 writers with experience in 65 different industry specialities. Need help with your CV? Our writers can help!