The Five Mistakes You’re Probably Making On Your CV

I’m often asked to look over people’s CVs and it’s amazing how varied they all are. People adopt so many different styles and approaches, and there are no hard and fast rules as to what makes the perfect CV – not least because your CV needs to change to suit each company you send it to. However, there are certain mistakes I find people often make. Here are the top five – and what to do about them.

  1. Not grabbing the reader’s attention

Employers commonly take less than a minute to scan a CV and decide whether it is of interest, so your opening statement matters. Keep your CV brief – no more than one or two pages – and make sure you put all the information you most want people to see in the first half of page one.

2. Making vague statements

Avoid stock phrases and general statements such as “I’m a quick learner” or “I’m enthusiastic” – it just puts recruiters off. It’s far better to make specific statements and provide evidence to back them up.

3. Not gearing your CV to the job you are applying for

Each CV you send out should be adapted to suit the job you are applying for. Take time to read the job description and person specification and tweak your CV to show how you fit the bill. It’s fine to use phrases from the company’s job description and person specification in your CV – this highlights the relevance of your skills and experience. Research the company online too and read their website and social media posts. Ask yourself: what problem do they have and how can I help solve it? This approach is good if you are sending a CV on spec rather than in response to a job advertisement. Reading the company’s online content will also give you a feeling of the type of tone to use on your CV: try to echo their language.

4. Underselling yourself

Lots of people cringe at the thought of “bigging themselves up” on a CV, but it’s what you’re expected to do. It’s also common for people to fail to realise what an amazing collection of skills they have. This is your chance to shine, and your competitors will be doing their best to show how wonderful they are, so don’t be modest. Use “power words” – action words that show what you did, such as “initiated”, “managed”, “liaised” and “led” – and avoid passive phrases such as “I had to” or “I was given the responsibility for”.

5. Not acknowledging transferrable skills

Person specifications can be daunting, but often when you look more closely at work that you have done over the years, you’ll realise that you fit the bill in more ways than you initially imagined. You may not be a project manager at the moment, for example, but if you look at aspects of your current job – or at things you do in your spare time – you may find evidence that you have project management skills.

Look at the skills involved in your current and previous jobs, not just at the job titles – and consider your hobbies. If you coach a football team, for example, this could give you a whole raft of useful skills, such as management, training, team building and organisational abilities. Voluntary work is also worth mentioning: think about the transferrable skills this has given you and make sure you include them.