Knowledge & Insight

Top 10 pitfalls to avoid when writing your CV

Mon 5 March 2018

There really is no single correct format for a CV, and practices differ across sectors. The biggest point of contention is whether to go "functional" or "chronological". Chronological feels, well, logical. But functional can be great for tailoring your CV to a specific role because it enables you to highlight those achievements that are most closely aligned with the position you're applying for. But whichever approach you adopt, the objective remains the same - to present your expertise and experience clearly, succinctly and professionally.

So there really is no magic formula when it comes to writing your CV, but there are a number of pitfalls that you really should avoid if you're to survive the initial cull and make it to first interview. Here are the top ten biggest gaffes….

1. Too much information

Twenty years ago it was standard practice for a CV to include details like your date of birth, marital status and perhaps even your religion. But in these days of equal opportunities the only personal information you really need to list is your name and your contact details (home address, email address and telephone number). And although some of the more searching application forms still ask questions around race and religion, this sort of thing can appear seriously out of place on a CV.

2. Irrelevant achievements

You may well have been president of your school's ornithological society, or perhaps you learned to scuba dive during your gap year. But unless it's particularly relevant to the role you're applying for, including this sort of information is unlikely to add any value. And if it's not adding value it doesn't belong on your CV. Focus your career history on the previous 10-12 years and refer to earlier roles in single-line summaries.

3. No photos please

Unless you're applying for the role of fashion model there's really no need to include a photograph. The purpose of your CV is to demonstrate your expertise and experience, not your appearance. So even if you are particularly gifted in the looks department, your photo is unlikely to cut any ice with the hiring manager who will be looking for specific qualifications and skill-sets. So unless you're asked for a photograph, leave well alone.

4. Colour paper and posh parchment

Everyone wants their CV to stand out from the crowd, but it has to be for the right reasons. And that doesn't include fancy paper. Your qualifications, experience and track-record should be enough to grab the attention of the reader. Resorting to gimmicks to make your CV more attractive may only serve to highlight deficiencies in other areas. Black font on white paper is always appropriate, and let your words do the talking, not your stationery.

5. Overcomplicated use of fonts

The same principle applies to the use of fonts. Using bold or underlined fonts is fine for highlighting role titles or particular skill-sets, but don't overdo it. Fancy fonts are a particular bugbear for hiring managers who need to quickly scan lots of CVs for relevant details. You shouldn't need to highlight pertinent information. Everything on your CV should be relevant to the role you're applying for. If it's not, delete it!

6. Salary Expectations

Although salary negotiation will inevitably be part of the recruitment process, it's simply not appropriate to address this issue on your CV. And there's good reason for that, because doing so can incur some serious risks. Pitch it too high and you'll price yourself out of the running. Pitch too low and you'll come across as under-qualified or lacking in ambition. Of course you might pitch it just right, but all that proves is you're a lucky guesser. There'll be plenty of opportunity to discuss salary expectations later on in the recruitment process.

7. The generic CV

It's very tempting to knock up a good CV and file it away for use whenever you see an opportunity that takes your fancy. It's quick, convenient and efficient. But it's not necessarily a very good idea. Hiring managers will be keen to relate skills and experience to their specific requirements, and if you do a little research around the role you'll probably be able to tailor your experience to match. So don't just send out a standard issue CV. Take the time to customize it to fit the job. It should be time well spent.

8. Exaggeration, lies and "tactical omissions"

It's been suggested that around half of all job applicants are guilty to some degree of including "untruths" on their CV. This can range from mild exaggeration of the part they played in a particular project, right through to presenting a career history that is a complete work of fiction. While it can be tempting to "enhance" your CV in key areas, these days it's all too easy to check details through professional or social networking sites. And for senior positions, it's more than likely you'll be required to go through a thorough vetting process. So it pays to be open and honest about your background. Let your true self shine through!

9. Jargon and tech speak

Always use plain English. You can't assume that the person reviewing your CV will be a specialist in your field, so they may not be familiar with technical terms and jargon associated with your sector. A good CV isn't a piece of creative writing. It's about effective and efficient communication of details, so the language should be simple and straightforward, and statements should be succinct and focused on the facts. Before you hit "send" always give it a final proof, and don't just trust to the spellchecker - because "running the entire business" and "ruining the entire business" are both spelt correctly.

10. Reasons for leaving

It may once have been standard practice to include "reason for leaving" after every role, but these days it's surplus information. If you're between roles right now then you may be asked at interview why you left your last position, and that's fine, because you'll have ample opportunity to explain. But there's no need to include it in your CV, because unless the reason is "to train for your gold medal winning performance at the Olympics" it's unlikely to add much value.

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