CVs – what not to do…

by Anna Soares Dos Santos March 27th, 2019

As the resourcing manager, I spend a lot of time sifting through CVs (and LinkedIn profiles). Some are great, most are so-so, and the occasional few need a complete revamp!

Often, with just a few small changes, you can make massive improvements. A few years ago, my colleague Freya compiled a list of common CV mistakes, and they ring just as true today.

Bad fonts
This is subjective, but stylised, inconsistent, or just plain boring (Times New Roman, I’m looking at you) fonts are usually a bad idea. A simple font that’s not too old-fashioned, and is and readable at about size 10/11, is your best bet.

Too much jargon, too few skills
This one tends to be common among more senior candidates. It’s not enough to let your experience speak for itself. Include a list of key skills and summarise each role/project in a concise way that anyone can understand. Obviously, you can’t avoid some technical language, but your CV will likely be reviewed by at least one person who isn’t also a specialist, so make it accessible.

Poor spelling & grammar
This is an obvious one, but nonetheless, mistakes happen a lot. A CV comes in, and the candidate has stated that they have ‘strong attention to detail’. Sadly, not strong enough to have spellchecked their CV! There really is little excuse for basic spelling, grammar, and syntax errors. However, for those harder-to-spot errors that can go unnoticed, get a second pair of eyes to go over your CV.

Novella-style CVs
My colleague Catherine once described the perfect CV as ‘an amuse-bouche, rather than a 7-course meal.’, and she’s totally right. Avoid large blocks of text (bullet points are your friend), and to stick to what’s relevant, what’s informative and what your achievements are. Don’t break down your role to every banal daily task you do, because you talk about those details in an interview.

Also, remember the ideal CV length is two or three pages. Don’t drag it out. Information should be easy to find, and your employment history should be in reverse chronological order – employers are unlikely to want to read about your job at Clinton Cards from when you were 16 on the first page.

Third person
Writing a CV in the third person can be quite off-putting to an employer. Why? Because it reads like your CV has been written by someone else, and your CV is meant to be an example of your work. Your CV is your chance to sell yourself.

Vague or unproven skills
My cat has excellent communication skills; she yells at me when it’s time for her dinner, purrs when she’s happy and hisses when she isn’t, but that doesn’t mean she could conduct an effective meeting with multiple stakeholders. ‘Communication skills’ doesn’t really mean anything without context or examples.

This is a trap that a lot of job-seekers fall into – making statements without backing them up. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t talk about your skills on your CV – simply provide some evidence alongside them.

Photographs
Unless you’re applying for a role where your appearance actually matters, photos are usually not a good idea. It might be the best photo in the world, but humans are shallow creatures, and we make snap judgements. By including a photo you’re inviting snap judgements about you, and there will always be someone who doesn’t like your haircut.

Consistency
Remember how you said you’re a good decision-maker? Back that up by sticking to the same formatting throughout your CV. Pick a theme, decide on spacing, decide on a font size, decide to bullet point or not to bullet point, and STICK TO IT. This isn’t meant to be an exercise in showing off every single thing you can do on Microsoft Word on one page.