Top ten CV bloopers
Many CVs suffer from common – yet simple – mistakes which can compromise the goal of impressing a new employer.
CVs remain one of the most important ways for contractors to secure new projects. Yet many still contain fundamental flaws – we take a look at the most common issues seen by our team.
Consistency and continuity
A CV is generally only read in detail once a potential employer has skim-read it and perhaps added it to a shortlist pile. But even when being skim-read, some inconsistencies leap off the page and invite a potential employer to question whether information has been withheld. Often these are genuine mistakes – but the person reviewing the CV has no way of knowing this. A common example might be some jobs having location information, while others don’t – or some jobs having job titles, while others don’t. Such omissions can become the subject of discussion, along the lines of, “what is she/he hiding?” Make sure all your headings and subheadings are consistent and that all job information has the same structure.
We often see CVs intended for organisations in Europe, which have US-style spellings, such as words ending in ize rather than ise. Sometimes, there’s a mixture of the two within the same CV. This is usually caused by a lack of attention to detail – glancing over a CV and looking for red underlines doesn’t always help, because the mistake won’t show if (for example) the document is formatted for the US, or even a paragraph is formatted for the US (which can happen if you copy and paste from another document). This seemingly trivial error can create a disproportionate negative impression and is well worth spending a little time weeding out – select all of the CV and change the language.
Not enough detail on roles
Perhaps because people feel awkward about banging their own gong, but contractors quite often don’t provide enough information about each role for potential employers to make a decision. Another factor is that sometimes people don’t think what they’ve done in a role is important enough to mention – where in fact, only a potential employer can see ‘what’s useful to them’. Don’t be worried about overkill at this stage, build your CV up with everything that’s relevant then start to trim out the excess. Also, consider tailoring CVs to the role – adding and removing what’s needed. It takes a little more work, but it’s well worth it.
Double-check the detail. Nothing screams at a potential employer more than company names being spelt incorrectly. It’s worth taking just a few seconds to click on the company’s website for the 100% correct way of spelling a company name. For example, it’s not Hewlett Packard, it’s Hewlett-Packard or HP. The same goes for people’s names, job titles, product names and so on.
Writing in the third person
Your CV is your personal representative. It’s you, on paper. Yet we see many CVs which are written in the third person. At best, this reduces the immediacy of the contact you’re making, rendering your CV far less personal. At worst, it can come across as aloof or arrogant. Write in the first person: I did this, I worked here – and so on.
Length of CV
There’s an unwritten rule that a CV should be two pages of A4, or two sides of A4. It’s nonsense. When it comes to CVs, there are few rules. That said, we genuinely receive CVs which are so long they are unlikely to be read – 14 pages or more. Shorter is most definitely better, but if you’re going to write a longer CV, that’s fine too – if you can apply some structure to it so that people can flick through it quickly. But don’t go crazy, once you’re sending out half a dozen pages, you’re probably telling people too much.
An important part of a CV is selling yourself as an individual - more than just a work robot. However, there’s a line to be drawn here – providing too much information about hobbies and interests (and perhaps going into too much depth) can be very off-putting. If you pass the time at weekends acting out Star Wars stories as a Jedi knight, it’s almost certainly not worth covering in several paragraphs, no matter how passionate you are about it.
Using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’
It’s important to be clear about what you have done within a role and not what the team within which you’ve been working has done. We see lots of CVs which continually say “we did this” and “we solved this” – which makes it very unclear for the reader to see exactly what you personally have been responsible for. Remember, a CV is about you.
Again, while this may seem petty, visual inconsistencies can create a very large bad impression. Having the same headings (for example, all of the job titles) in different fonts and sizes happens more commonly than you might suspect. Using too many fonts means that the CV can look like a school leaflet and not like a professional’s work history. So, keep the number of fonts low, and use sizes only to clearly differentiate the types/levels of headings. Fonts and font sizes that are all over the place give the impression of unstructured thought and of not checking work before submitting it.
Months and years
Create one format for dates on your CV – and then stick to it. If it’s Jan 2011, then use this format throughout – don’t mix it with something like January 2011. Also, if your jobs display both months and years, do this on all jobs – don’t list some as 1984-1986, if the next is listed February 1987-June 1999. Again, for the person reading your CV, this demonstrates poor attention to detail and a capacity for unstructured working. Getting the details right really does count.
And finally, tip eleven – which applies to all of the top ten…
It’s vital to proofread your CV – indeed, you can’t proofread it enough. Don’t just read it on screen – print off a copy and proofread it away from the screen; get someone else to read it, too. You’ll be amazed at the mistakes you can pick up on even a second or a third reading – mistakes will count against you when your CV is out in the world, unsupported, as the only thing to convince a potential employer that you’re the right person for the job.