Crafting the perfect job application takes time, and after putting in the hard work it’s disheartening to think that your CV could be rejected at the first hurdle. Discover the seven of the most common CV mistakes and how you can avoid them:
1. Poor formatting
CVs that aren’t clear and easy to read are a huge turn-off for employers. National Citizen Service (NCS) research shows that recruiters spend an average of just 8.8 seconds reviewing each CV that they receive – which leaves you precious little time to make a good first impression.
It’s therefore important to keep your CV concise so that it can be absorbed quickly. Helen Tucker, HR director at Procter and Gamble (P&G) Northern Europe, recommends that the template you choose to follow when composing your CV should be striking yet uncluttered. ‘Avoid confusing layouts, and beware of using too many fonts or font sizes,’ she advises.
Before printing or submitting your CV, save it and spend some time away from it. Peter Fox, careers adviser at Durham University, suggests going back to it for a second time to scrutinise how everything looks on your computer screen. ‘Cluttered, disorganised and messy are three characteristics that your CV shouldn’t possess,’ he adds.
2. Failing to tailor your application
When it comes to CVs, one size doesn’t fit all. Everything that you include must be completely tailored to the company and role that you’re applying for. This, as Helen puts it, will ‘make it easy for them to see that you’re the perfect candidate’.
Peter claims that recruiters can immediately sense whether you’ve sufficiently assessed the job requirements. Evaluating which of your skills match the job specification most effectively will give you the best chance of success.
‘Don’t be afraid to remove irrelevant experiences,’ Peter adds. ‘Even if you’re applying for similar roles with different organisations, check their specific requirements and tweak accordingly.’
3. Spelling errors
There are no excuses for spelling mistakes – even if English isn’t your forte. An error-free CV is vital in showcasing your precision and attention to detail, so check everything – even your contact details. Spellcheck and proofread your CV yourself before asking others to cast their critical eye over the document.
Minimise the risk of making mistakes by taking your time – never leave writing your CV to the last minute. Rushed examples are easily spotted and quickly dismissed. ‘Careless errors are rarely tolerated,’ explains Peter. ‘Avoid needless rejection by slowly and meticulously checking.’
When you’re trying to get a foot in the door and impress potential employers it’s tempting to be economical with the truth, because who’s going to check, right?
Wrong. The facts on your CV are easy to corroborate so never assume that recruiters won’t make enquiries to do so.
Giving your university grade a boost, fibbing about your current job title or embellishing a period of work experience won’t do you any favours in the long run. At best, your lies will be obvious and your CV will be rejected out of hand. At worst, you may be invited for an interview where you’ll either trip yourself up or be asked questions that you’re unable to answer.
Instead of using your time and energy to concoct half-truths and complete fabrications, use it instead to really sell the qualifications, skills and experience you do have.
5. Lack of evidence
It’s easy to make generic, empty statements on your CV when you’re trying to meet a tight application deadline. However, failing to effectively evidence your skills, achievements and experiences can be a fatal mistake.
Peter believes that you should quantify your successes whenever possible – but never at the expense of the CV’s readability. ‘Recruiters will be assessing not just what you’ve done, but also your written communication skills,’ he explains. ‘Writing concisely but meaningfully is crucial, as this is a central element of many graduate jobs.’
6. Not explaining ‘why’
It isn’t enough to just state your credentials; you need to prove them by justifying why you’ve chosen to undertake certain activities in terms of your personal and professional development. You should then elaborate even further on the resulting skills you’ve gained.
For example, discussing your extra-curricular activities is very important – providing you pay particular attention to any positions of responsibility you’ve held and outline what you’ve taken from the experience.
‘As a general rule, okay CVs give you the ‘what’ – for example, the degrees or jobs that person has held,’ concludes Helen. ‘However, great CVs also give you the ‘why’ – for example, why that person has chosen that degree or society.’
7. Ignoring gaps in your work history
Gaps in employment history are fairly common and rarely a problem as long as they’re explained.
You don’t need to worry about gaps of a couple of weeks but if you’ve been out of work for months (or even years) you need to clearly and concisely explain why. Any unexplained absences of this length will be looked upon with suspicion by potential employers and will give the impression that you’ve been idle during this time.
Don’t be afraid to let recruiters know that you took some time out to volunteer, look after a sick relative or travel the world. There’s also no shame in informing employers of a period spent away from work due to illness or redundancy.
You’ll be able to further explain any gaps in your work history in your cover letter. See how to explain a gap in your CV for more advice.