Six common CV mistakes

content cv mistakes

When applying for jobs, are you getting invited to as many interviews as you would like? To be successful, it is not enough just to have the right skills and experience. You must write a CV that communicates to employers exactly how your skills and experience are a good fit for their requirements.

Here are six common CV mistakes that often lead to getting rejected.

1. Failing to tailor your CV

Sending the same CV to different employers is possibly the biggest mistake made by many job hunters. Remember that most employers have a very clear idea of what they are looking for. If they do not immediately see a match between their requirements and your CV, they will simply move onto the next application.

Tailoring a CV is about changing both the format and wording on your CV to communicate instantly that you have exactly the skills, qualities and experience that any one employer is asking for. Your CV should begin as usual with your name and contact details. Your next section should be called something like ‘Skills and experience’. This section should be ahead of the section listing in reverse order your chronological job history.

In the ‘Skills and experience’ section, create several headings that tell this employer exactly how your skills and experience meet this job’s requirements. Your aim here is to paraphrase the employer’s description of the successful applicant – or even to outright copy their language when your skills and experience match perfectly.

For example, if one job advert states that the organisation is looking for someone with ‘communication skills’, then make that a heading. If another advert uses the phrase ‘communication and influencing skills’, then use that slightly different heading.

The point is never to assume that an employer should be able to figure out what you did in each job. Employers are busy – they are also not mind readers. If you do not use the right words to explain what you have done in the past, then your talents and experience may well remain undiscovered.

2. Focusing on your wants rather than the employer’s needs

Candidates sometimes include a statement on their CVs summarising their career objective. Some examples include: ‘I am seeking the opportunity to apply my skills within a new and challenging role’ and ‘Aiming for a role within a multinational company in which I can upgrade my skills’.

Unfortunately, such statements are misguided as they focus on what you want rather than what any employer is looking for. So, skip writing about your needs or objectives. Remember that the sole purpose of your CV should be to convey to each individual employer all of the reasons you are a good match for the role that is on offer.

3. Over-designing your CV

Candidates sometimes use design features such as unusual fonts, colours, graphics or multiple columns to draw attention to themselves. Unfortunately, these rarely have the desired effect.

Consider that the purpose of your CV should be to draw a potential employer’s attention to your skills and relevant experience – not the garishness of your CV. So, pick a simple font and ordinary font size. Use conventional sized margins. Stick with black text on a white background – or use only one additional colour very selectively. Spend your time on making your achievements attention-grabbing rather than the design of your CV eye-catching.

4. Focusing on duties rather than achievements

Being noticed as a strong applicant is not just about listing the tasks that you did on a regular basis. For example, imagine that a job advert states that the successful applicant must ‘communicate regularly with internal customers’. It may be that you spent a lot of time communicating with customers. However, you can greatly strengthen your application by explaining the sorts of things you achieved in your communication.

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For instance, communication can take many forms. Maybe you could explain that you communicated with your customers by sending emails, making telephone calls and even visiting local clients in person in order to assess their needs and check their accounting records.

Also explain about the kinds of problems or obstacles you encountered and how you overcame them. Perhaps your customers had errors in their records that you had to resolve. Others may have missed deadlines or were otherwise difficult. If you explain in your CV how you dealt with such issues and the results that you achieved, you can greatly strengthen your application.

5. Using adjectives rather than verbs

It’s not uncommon to see CVs on which candidates describe themselves as ‘motivated and determined’, ‘dynamic’, reliable and ambitious,’ and so on. Unfortunately, the reality is that using such adjectives communicates almost nothing of value to potential employers.

Anyone can describe themselves using positive adjectives such as these – even if they have exceedingly weak skills and no relevant experience. As such, employers often ignore such claims or even treat them with ridicule.

Avoid using adjectives on your CV then. In order to prove your worth, instead use verbs to describe actions you took and results you achieved.

For instance, if a job advert says that an organisation is looking for a candidate who is ‘enthusiastic’, then write a few sentences to explain how you demonstrated your enthusiasm in the past. Your paragraph might include statements such as ‘I took the initiative to…’, ‘I volunteered for…’, ‘I asked for additional responsibilities because…’ Notice that these phrases all contain verbs: ‘took’, ‘volunteered’, ‘asked’.

You may still use adjectives to describe situations or other people. For example, you may have dealt with an ‘angry’ customer or helped a ‘dejected’ colleague. However, avoid using adjectives to describe your own personal traits – and instead use verbs to highlight specific contributions you made to your team or organisation.

6. Listing irrelevant as well as relevant experience

If you have had several jobs, you may be tempted to write about all of them in the same level of detail. However, consider that most employers spend at most only a few minutes skim-reading each CV. So, there is an opportunity cost to including irrelevant or even less relevant information on your CV: every second that employers spend reading less relevant information is time wasted that they could have spent reading more relevant information.

So, go through your job experience and figure out which experiences to de-emphasise and write less about. For example, if you are applying for a job that involves mostly forecasting and business analysis, then include more details about past jobs in which you did these tasks. If some of your other roles had less or nothing to do with forecasting and business analysis, then cover them in considerably less detail.

Remember that your aim in writing a CV is not to write comprehensively about all of your past jobs. Your aim is only to draw attention to your most relevant strengths and experiences.

Author: Dr Rob Yeung is an organisational psychologist at leadership consulting firm Talentspace | @robyeung | |

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This article was first published in Student Accountant in June 2023Get the SA app now

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