In the past few weeks I’ve written about interview mistakes, interview questions and how to get your dream job… but what about your CV?

Your CV is important. It’s the interview that gets you the job but it’s your CV that gets you the interview.

Unfortunately due to the high volume of applicants, recruiters and hiring managers aren’t looking for what’s right about your CV they’re looking for what’s wrong with it so they can eliminate it. It’s sounds harsh but it’s true. One mistake and you’re out. They have to create a shortlist somehow so they start off by eliminating anything that doesn’t look right in order to make their lives easier.

So what do you put in your CV? What do you avoid? What do you leave out?

In this article I’m going to show you…

1. Not tailoring your CV

The single most common mistake job applicants make is not tailoring their CV for the role they’re applying for.

When an employer/recruiter advertises a role, they’re not seeking generic CV’s from unemployed applicants desperate for work, they’re seeking applications from candidates with subject matter expertise in the skill set they’re hiring for and whose CV looks like an exact match to the job advertisement/description.

I understand you might have been doing many different things in your last role especially if you were working in a small company or a start-up. But as a rule of thumb you should always tailor your CV for the role you’re applying for and include any key words used in the job description. So if you’re applying for a role as a Solution Architect, you want your CV to look like a Solution Architect, not a jack of all trades Architect/Business Analyst/Project Manager.

Seriously if you send in a generic CV for a job you don’t have a chance. Your CV needs to stand out from the pack. A generic CV just isn’t going to do it.

Compare your CV to the job advertisement/job description – does it look like the perfect fit?

If you were the hiring manager would you call you based on your CV?

Don’t ever send in a generic covering letter “to the recruiter” or “to the hiring manager” either. It’s better to send in NO covering letter than to send in a generic one. A generic covering letter won’t even be read. It just says to the recruiter/hiring manager that you’re applying for all kinds of roles and there is nothing in particular that is special about this one.

Your covering letter (if you choose to send one) should be a personalized response to the key selection criteria mentioned in the job ad. If the role advertised specifically mentions 5 points in the key selection criteria, then your covering letter had better address all five points.

Look at your CV side by side with the job advertisement/job description and ask yourself:

  • Does your CV look like the ‘perfect fit’ for the job?
  • What is most important/essential to the employer? Is it reflected clearly in your CV?
  • Does your CV seem to meet ALL of the criteria listed in the job description?
  • What is lacking/missing on your CV?
  • What would improve your CV?
  • Would you call you based on your CV?

2. Sending your CV in PDF format

If you’re sending your CV into a recruitment agency don’t send it in PDF format!

Recruiters hate getting CV’s in PDF format!

Why?

Because they always want to edit your CV in some way before sending it to a hiring manager. However most recruiters don’t have PDF editing software which means they need to wait several hours for you to resend them your CV in word format before they can edit it and make the changes they need to and that slows down the recruitment process.

Why recruiters edit your CV:

  • Deleting irrelevant/personal information
  • Editing spelling mistakes
  • Changing borders/fonts/tables
  • Highlighting experience

A few hours might not sound like much, but it can be the difference between getting your CV in front of the hiring manager and not.

Some hiring managers are always in back-to-back meetings and only set aside one hour per week to review resumes, so if a recruiter misses that window it might be a week or more before your CV will be seen by the hiring manager. By that time the hiring manager will have likely set up interviews with other candidates.

3. Ignoring keywords

If there are certain words used in the job advertisement like ‘Agile’, and you have experience working in a formal Agile environment, working with SCRUM Masters, Product Owners, doing daily stand-ups, 2-week sprints, poker planning, retros etc. make sure to specifically include that information in your CV.

4. Not highlighting relevant experience

If you know that the job is seeking a certain type of experience, for example: experience with automation testing using Selenium or UFT, always make sure that experience is listed towards the top of your bullet point list of responsibilities and the first thing the hiring manager/recruiter sees when they look at your CV.

5. Not highlighting achievements

Don’t just talk about your responsibilities and what you did, talk about the results you achieved and be specific about it.

Examples of achievements:

  • Achieving 127% of your budget
  • Doubling or tripling sales
  • Saving the company $2 million dollars
  • Getting promoted to management within 6 months
  • Getting your company positive market recognition or press coverage
  • Winning a company award

6. Downplaying unpaid experience

Volunteer work is no less valuable than paid work so don’t downplay it by using words on your CV like “Unpaid” or “Volunteer”.

Your future employer doesn’t need to know if you got paid or what you got paid.

The only things that matter are:

  • Where you worked
  • What you did
  • What you achieved

That’s it.

7. Irrelevant jobs

In saying that, you don’t want to have any jobs that are irrelevant to your current career on your CV.

So remove references to previous jobs at McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway etc. from years ago if you’re trying to get a job in IT.

If the only work experience you have however, is at McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway etc. leave it on your CV because something is better than nothing.

8. Making yourself seem too senior for a “hands-on” role

One of the biggest mistakes I see senior candidates make is emphasizing their managerial experience and seniority when applying for a “hands-on” role.

This is a mistake. Instead of impressing the recruiter or hiring manager with your experience and seniority, 99% of the time you will just get rejected for being “overqualified” and “too senior”.

I understand you might have been a program manager in your previous job responsible for a $50 million dollar budget and a team of 50 people, but if you’re applying for a “hands-on” role you need to look “hands-on”.

So what do you do if you were “hands-off” in your last role but don’t mind doing a “hands-on” role?

There is no easy answer to this question but I suggest emphasizing your most recent “hands-on” experience at the top of your list of bullet points in your CV, and de-emphasizing your “hands-off” managerial experience by pushing it towards the bottom of your bullet points.

You might also want to think about your job title. I’ve advised many Test Managers to change their job titles to “Senior Test Analyst/Test Lead” when applying for a Test Analyst role, because I know that having a title like “Test Manager” is likely to get the candidate rejected by most hiring managers even if they were previously “hands-on” and are more than capable of doing the job.

If you are seeking a “hands-on” role I also advise writing a note in your covering letter explaining why and then following up your application with a call to the recruiter responsible for shortlisting the role to let them know why you have applied and asking for their advice as to how to proceed.

This is an important step because most recruiters will immediately eliminate any “overqualified” CV’s so you might need to talk the recruiter around and convince them to proceed your application despite your seniority.

Reasons employers/recruiters reject overqualified candidates:

  • Candidate will get bored/won’t be challenged in the role
  • Candidate won’t stay in the role
  • Candidate will want too much money

9. Unrelated objective

Too many candidates make the mistake of having an objective on their CV unrelated to the job they’re applying for.

If you have an objective on your CV that doesn’t relate to the job you’re applying for the only thing you’re going to do is talk yourself out of a job.

I would advise having NO objective on your CV at all. Let the recruiter or hiring manager see what they want to see.

10. Years without months 

Be specific about what months you worked in each role as well as the years. Otherwise it makes it sound like you’re trying to hide something.

For example: Don’t say –

  • IBM
  • Project Manager
  • 2011 – 2015

Be specific:

  • IBM
  • Project Manager
  • May 2011 – September 2015

11. Brief engagements

If you only worked somewhere for a couple of weeks because:

  • You didn’t like it
  • The project was cancelled
  • You were fired

I suggest removing it from your CV completely.

I’m not saying to lie, I’m saying not to draw attention to it.

12. Blocks of text

Make sure your CV is formatted and readable. Don’t just have blocks of text without bullet points, spacing, formatting and paragraphs. Think about your reader.

13. Excessive formatting

In saying that, recruiters aren’t interested in your fancy design skills or how much you can make your CV look like a colorful infographic. All they want to see is where you worked, what you did and what you achieved.

So don’t use a lot of different colors, fonts and tables on your CV. Black and white is fine. Keep it simple.

14. Highlighting English Language skills

If you’ve moved to an English speaking country and your English is fluent but not your first language, don’t make the mistake of highlighting your IELTS exam marks.

When I read a CV from a candidate and it lists an IELTS score, even a really high score, instead of thinking: “this person probably speaks great English”, I think the exact opposite: “I didn’t know you had difficulty speaking English – NEXT!”

English might not be your first language but no one assumes you can’t speak fluent English just because you’re from another country. So don’t make a point of drawing attention to it in your CV.

15. Spelling mistakes

This should be obvious but as a recruiter I see a surprising amount of spelling mistakes on CV’s and LinkedIn profiles. (Your LinkedIn profile is your CV for the world to see).

Make sure your CV has NO spelling mistakes. Spell check it, proof read it 3X, and if you have any doubt at all, ask a friend to double check it before you send it.

Spelling mistakes make you look like an idiot. They make you look amateurish. When I read a CV with spelling mistakes like ‘mamager’ or ‘tehcnologies’ it shows me you pay no attention to detail.

16. Cliché’s

Avoid all cliché’s:

  • Detail orientated
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Fast learner
  • Passionate
  • People person
  • References available upon request

17. Abbreviations and acronyms

Avoid using any acronyms and abbreviations.

Unless the abbreviations are well-known in your industry, don’t use them.

18. Having a book for a CV

Make sure your CV isn’t too long. As a rule of thumb CV’s should be between 2-4 pages (and in America no longer than one page).

You might have had 30 years work experience but you don’t need to display all of it on your CV. All that any employer or recruiter wants to see is the last 10 years of your work experience clearly summarized within 2-4 pages on your CV.

If you want to include what you did before that you can summarize it briefly:

“1995 – 2007 Various Project Management positions in Banking and Finance.”

19. Adding a photo

You don’t need to add a photo to your CV and it looks weird if you do.

Photos are great for LinkedIn profiles, but not for resumes.

20. Generic Titles

Get rid of titles like “Consultant” and “Technical lead” from your CV.

I understand that if you were working for a large consulting house like Accenture or Infosys that might have been your internal title, but these titles don’t mean much to recruiters and hiring managers and they don’t exactly say what you did.

Instead, I recommend changing your job title on your CV to what you actually did. So if your role was C# ASP.Net Software Developer – make that your title on your CV.

21. Personal details

Age/date of birth, single/married/unmarried etc. might be relevant on Indian CV’s (I don’t know I’m ignorant on this topic), but it’s completely irrelevant information in western countries and shouldn’t be mentioned on your CV.

22. Social media accounts

Don’t mention your social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. on your CV unless you want your future employer to spy on you.

23. Unprofessional email address

If you want to be taken seriously avoid having an unprofessional email addresses such as beerlover1984 or playboy1993.

24. Gaps

There shouldn’t be any gaps in your CV. If you had some time off, if you went back to school, if you went overseas say that on your CV. Don’t just leave a gap leaving the interviewer to wonder what you did from 2013-2015.

25. Lies

Don’t lie about anything on your CV. Not your education, skills, experience or anything else. You will get found out.

Summary 

Your CV is important. It’s the bait that makes recruiters and hiring managers want to call you for the initial phone screen and meet you for the face to face interview.

However recruiters and hiring managers aren’t looking for what’s right about your CV, they’re looking for what’s wrong with it so they can eliminate it to make their lives easier.

Here are 25 CV Mistakes to avoid:

  1. Not tailoring your CV
  2. Sending your CV in PDF format
  3. Ignoring keywords
  4. Not highlighting relevant experience
  5. Not highlighting achievements
  6. Downplaying unpaid experience
  7. Irrelevant jobs
  8. Making yourself seem too senior for a “hands-on” role
  9. Having an unrelated objective
  10. Writing the years without months
  11. Including brief engagements
  12. Blocks of text
  13. Excessive formatting
  14. Highlighting IELTS exam marks/English language skills
  15. Spelling mistakes
  16. Cliché’s
  17. Abbreviations and acronyms
  18. Having a book for a CV
  19. Adding a photo
  20. Generic titles
  21. Personal details
  22. Social media accounts
  23. Unprofessional email address
  24. Gaps
  25. Lies

If you’re in the job hunt, I also highly recommend you check out my other articles:

35 Interview mistakes to avoid: Interview Mistakes

How to get your dream job: Dream Job

The top 10 toughest interview questions: Interview Questions

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