5 CV Mistakes That Could Sabotage Your Job Search
They say you only get one chance to make a first impression, and when it comes to CVs, that chance is particularly brief - research shows that, on average, hiring managers look at your CV for between 5-7 seconds before making their minds up about whether you’ll be given an interview or not. This means that avoidable mistakes can make or break your job application, and that paying attention to every detail matters. With this in mind, let’s run through some of the most common CV mistakes you might well be making, along with some advice to help you stand out from the crowd.
1. Listing your responsibilities instead of your achievements
What sounds more impressive:
I manage a team of sales representatives
I lead and mentor a high-performing sales team of 10 representatives, resulting in a 25% increase in monthly sales revenue throughout 2023 and surpassing quarterly targets by 15%.
Employers aren’t interested in the mundane, day-to-day duties of your role – what they really want to know is how you contribute to your organisation, how you show initiative, and how you really add value. They also want to see this laid out in facts and figures, showcasing the measurable impact you've made with key performance indicators. Remember, employers will see CVs from several candidates who have similar work experience and similar responsibilities, so focusing on accomplishments could well be what sets you apart. If you’re not sure where to begin, break it down into this three-step process:
List your duties and responsibilities
Ask yourself where you’ve gone above and beyond, improved processes, or made a measurable impact
Try to add a fact or figure to back up your statement, and clarify why this was positive for your organisation.
2. Poor attention to detail and formatting
You might be the ideal candidate for the job and more skilled and experienced than your rivals, but if your CV includes poor spelling and grammar, this will put many potential employers off instantly. It might seem a little pedantic, but it’s not so much the individual spelling error that’s the issue so much as a general lack of attention to detail – and what that might say about your work ethic. Poor formatting also prevents employers and hiring managers from gathering the details they need about you quickly and easily. For example, you should list your work experience in reverse chronological order, which means your most recent role should be at the top. It’s not uncommon for candidates to mistakenly list work experience in chronological order instead, which makes it harder to see your most recent accomplishments, and could even cost you a chance at a job interview. Your CV should also be neat, easy to read and consistent – that means using the same easily legible font throughout, using bullet points where appropriate, and trying not to exceed two pages in length.
3. Using generic language and cliches
Hiring managers and employers might be reviewing dozens of CVs on a daily basis, and they are well-versed in the sea of repetitive cliches that come up all too often. Terms like ‘team player’, ‘detail-orientated’, and ‘excellent communication skills’ have lost their meaning through overuse, and while they may well describe you accurately, can come across as hollow and insincere. Going back to point one, instead of saying you’re ‘results-driven’ - for example - provide targets you’ve exceeded or KPIs you’ve surpassed.
Don’t be afraid to show a little personality and passion on your CV, either. Share compelling summaries of challenges you've overcome, creative projects that have brought you joy, or innovative solutions you've implemented. Remember, you’re a human being, not a robot, and your potential employer wants to know a little bit about the real ‘you’.
4. Adding irrelevant or unnecessary details
When considering what information a potential employer or hiring manager needs to know, think carefully about what’s most relevant to the role. With only two pages, every line counts! For example, unless you’re an intern, an apprentice or a recent graduate, you probably don’t need to include your GCSEs and A-levels. When it comes to adding hobbies or personal interests, the jury’s out, but in our opinion, it’s best to take this on a case-by-case basis. If you’re applying for a role with a health and fitness brand and are a keen runner, it’ll definitely be a good idea to mention it. If you’re an accountant with a passion for taxidermy, not so much.
It's also important to limit the amount of personal information you add to a CV, to avoid unconscious bias interfering with the hiring process. That means you shouldn’t include your age, date of birth, nationality, marriage status, or a photograph. You want to be judged purely on your skills and experience, rather than personal characteristics.
5. Replying too heavily on AI
There’s endless articles out there telling us to use AI chatbots for everything, from cover letters to CVs to job interview prep. While this technology certainly has its place within the interview and hiring process, relying on it too heavily comes with risks. For example, if you ask ChatGPT to create a CV for an HR manager, the information it gives you will not be personalised to you – it will pull facts and suggested examples from across the internet instead. AI writing tools also lack personality and tend to produce content that sounds very standard and generic, which is the last thing you want if you’re trying to stand out in a sea of other CVs (which, let’s face it, may well have been written using ChatGPT). When it comes to applying for jobs, quality definitely wins over quantity. Sure, using AI will let you apply to a huge amount of jobs in a short space of time, but tailoring your descriptions and accomplishments to each role will almost certainly produce better results.
Don’t struggle with your CV alone, ask a recruiter for help!
Ultimately, the easiest way to make sure your CV’s in tip-top shape is to work with a recruitment partner who specialises in your sector. They’ll be able to:
Provide insights and advice on optimising your CV to make it more impactful and aligned with your specific job market.
Provide guidance on highlighting relevant skills, experiences, and achievements that are most relevant to the positions you're targeting.
Offer guidance on the overall structure and formatting of your CV to ensure it’s visually appealing, easy to read, and well-organised.
Help you emphasise important information and make it stand out to potential employers.
Provide valuable feedback and suggestions for improvement.
On top of all that, a good recruiter will offer ongoing support throughout your job search journey. They can provide updates on job openings, offer advice on salary negotiations, and serve as a resource for career guidance and development. It’s like having your very own career cheerleader just when you need it most!
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