Common mistakes with CV writing

Job candidate with CV in hand, doing a thumbs up gesture

What to avoid when drafting your CV.

There are many common mistakes that result in your CV(curriculum vitae) not producing the invitation you desire; a few are listed below.  We can help you avoid these mistakes, providing a CV that will be both attractive and meaningful to the recipient, increasing your chances of obtaining a new position sooner, rather than later.

Information in wrong order

The order is which you present your information is important; not only must it be of immediate interest to the reader, it must encourage him to keep reading.  We had one, reasonably senior, manager who had achieved his position by dint of hard work and natural ability – he had little in the way of academic qualification, certainly less than his peers.  Prior to coming to us he had been trying to source a new position for several months with a marked lack of success.  We asked, amongst many other things, what he thought his most negative characteristics were – he replied “lack of qualifications and age”.  A two second glance at his CV showed both education (or lack of!) and age clearly highlighted on top third of first page.

We redesigned his CV, both in terms of content and layout – he had immediate feedback from three possible employers, two of which specifically complimented him upon his CV, he attended two interviews and had the offer he wanted within just a few weeks.  Coincidence?  Perhaps, but he is convinced that our make-over made it all possible.

You can find out the correct type of CV to use and the correct order here.

CV goes too far back into history

The rule of thumb for someone at a senior level is around fifteen years.  Age discrimination is a reality and employers may also consider you over-qualified or too expensive.

CV content is narrative, instead of bullet style

Use a bullet style for ease of reading, allowing reader to identify your strengths quickly and easily.

CV is too general

Your CV will be scanned for between two and thirty seconds before it is filed in the round bin!  In this time you must clearly demonstrate that your skills and experience match the specific job requirements; if you have not achieved this in the first few seconds why should the reader continue?  He doesn’t!  You need to customize, at least, an opening paragraph, as enabled by the Combination CV.

CV refers to solely to responsibilities instead of accomplishments

We do not want to simply see the words ‘Responsible for …. ‘on your CV., nor the words ‘Duties included …’.  These words belong to a job description, not a CV.  Focus on accomplishments, use those action words, your CV should focus on what you have achieved, demonstrating to the employer that you are the best person for the job.  Accomplishments are what interest any potential employer, quantified accomplishments may even excite him!


  • Responsible for sales area ….  Well, yes, so what?
  • Increased sales … better, but not much!
  • Successfully led sales team to a 34% increase in turnover with record new customer ….  Now this is getting somewhere.

Ask yourself, again and again, until it is second nature, what does the employer want? – then do your best to provide it.

CV layout incorrect

Back to the old adage – what does the employer want to know?

He wants to know the positions you have held, name of employer, location, dates of employment.  We see, again and again, date first, emboldened, followed by employer, perhaps emboldened, followed by … Position is there somewhere, generally followed by ‘Responsible for …’!  Dates may be important, but not as important as positions held.

The same may be applied to your Education section, i.e. Degree, name of university, location then, perhaps, year.

Both employment history and education should be offered in reverse order, on the simple basis that the latest experience is the most important.

You can find a range of example CV layouts for different professions here.

CV lacks keywords

Increasingly, the job-hunt is conducted on the net, by auto-advice against pre-designated search criteria on one of the many job boards available; additionally these boards are addressed by many professional recruiters, using automated keyword search software.  If your CV does not contain the correct keywords it will never even be seen, let alone considered.

CV lists references

It’s not necessary to list references on a CV, it is a given that references may be supplied upon request.

Insufficient preparation

The preparation of your CV will take a significant amount of time.  Do not underestimate the time required to produce a winning curriculum vitae, one that is a successful marketing tool for your career.


Whilst you must not underplay your achievements, it is inadvisable to exaggerate the truth in your CV.  In today’s competitive job market you may expect any prospective employer to check your claims and references.  If one small part is found to be questionable – forget the rest!

CV sent without cover letter

Whether applying for a specific job or providing your CV to a recruitment consultant it is essential that you write a cover letter, clearly describing your needs/interests or how you match an advertised post.

Standard CV sent for all applications

 Whilst the main body of your CV many remain ‘standard’ for all applications within a given industry, requiring a similar skill set, we recommend that you ensure that your opening summary closely matches any stated qualities, your suitability being further highlighted by the accompanying cover letter.

CV is too precise

You need to ensure that your CV is used to focus the reader only on the best reasons for wanting to meet with you.  It is possible that your entire work history is not relevant to you’re the opportunity sought, nor to your capabilities in fulfilling its’ needs.  It is not uncommon for personnel at any level to find themselves on the job market following a company ‘down-sizing’, take-over, whatever.  In such circumstances, it is quite possible for an individual to undertake almost any task after several months trying to find an alternative position.  It is equally possible that this position is out of line with any previous experience and quite irrelevant to capability within the mainstream skill set.  Under such conditions, consider removing mention of this, perhaps unsuitable, position.  Generally, make everything in your CV a reason for the potential employer to want to see you.

The most qualified person will get the job

 Not so!!!  The person with the best CV will get the interview; the interviewee best able to sell his/her skills and demonstrate the ability to achieve results, adding value to the company will generally get the job.  Do not underestimate the need to establish a rapport with your future manager, ensuring that he feels comfortable with you as a member of his team.  Get this wrong, and all your work will be for nothing, more jobs are lost at the interview stage than are won.

Overuse of highlighting etc

Do not overuse bold, italics, underline etc.

Drawing attention to everything is the same as drawing attention to nothing.

~ Brent Flink

Find out more in our CV writing guide.

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