Crafting a CV or resume is fundamental to your job hunt. Unless you’ve been headhunted via word of mouth or LinkedIn, your CV will be required to outline your experience, training and fit for a role.
Being a recruitment company, you’ll not be surprised that we see hundreds of CVs a week. During our 20 years in IT recruitment we’ve encountered a big variety of approaches – some creative and engaging and others memorable for…other reasons.
Part of what we do is help candidates clearly and honestly outline their attributes in a resume, tailoring it for the role and industry they’re aiming to get into. It’s worth spending a fair bit of thinking and planning time before typing up a CV as you don’t want to omit important experience you have that could land an interview.
Today, we’ll dive into common mistakes we have seen on CVs. We’d encourage you to check your own CV against these points and see if there’s a way to make it more employer-friendly.
Poor formatting or design
As soon the recruiter or hiring manager opens a CV attachment, one of the first things that will become apparent is how well it is laid out and designed. We don’t have to read one word of a CV to tell if care has been taken with formatting.
No cohesive font style, spacing or styling? This can suggest a lack of care and attention to detail. Big blocks of text with little in the way of white space? It’s going to make for a hard read.
Remember, don’t make your potential employer spend extra time and effort making sense of your CV. The information should jump off the page.
- Using a consistent font, all the way through
- Making use of heading styles and paragraph text
- Opting for a mixture of bullet lists and sentences to avoid reader fatigue
- Leaving ample white space between each job in the history and education sections
- Opting for sizing that allows the CV to be read in just a few pages if possible.
Another common issue with the appearance of a CV is what we’d call ‘questionable design choices’. We’re certainly not here to tell job seekers to not get creative with their CV. In fact, depending on the role you’re applying for, a beautifully presented CV can help showcase relevant skills. Sometimes however, this can have the opposite effect.
Here’s some typical presentation elements where CV design can go wrong:
- Too many jarring colours distracting from the information
- Giant photographs of yourself or anything else
- Self assessment charts, graphs or tables with no basis in proven experience or training (e.g. if you are rating yourself 10/10 front end development skills, how do you quantify this in terms an employer could verify?)
- Overly minimalist with little to no information.
- Old school font or dare we say it…Comic Sans
- Confusing layout of experience and education, particularly non-chronological presentation.
What we’d recommend is having a clear CV with job history, education and references, then supplying any extra information as an appendix. This way you’ll provide the hiring manager the information they need immediately with the option to read more if they choose. Remember you also have your cover letter (stay tuned for an upcoming blog about this!) to communicate your fit as well.
Blatant spelling or grammatical errors
Now let’s be honest – none of us are 100% perfect when it comes to spelling, punctuation, grammar or syntax. We’re sure this article will be breaking some rules of the English language! Unless you’re applying for a job with heavy emphasis on perfect grammar, you needn’t obsess over each sentence.
However (and this is a big however), simple spelling and grammatical issues that a word processor can pick up must be addressed. Even if the hiring manager can understand what you’re communicating, errors show a lack of care which is the last message you want to send to a potential employer.
The way we communicate in writing may (but not always) be an indication of how we’ll communicate professionally. If you have a particularly grammar-sensitive person reading your CV, frequent errors can see your application land directly into the ‘no thanks’ pile.
A CV is often the first impression an employer has of you – so get the basics right. If you’re unsure even after a spell checker, have someone peer review your CV to make sure it reads well. Then read it yourself again before sending it.
Out of date information
It’s likely you have a CV document that you’ve updated throughout your working life to reflect new experience you’ve gained. What we see sometimes are applicants who have not taken the care to review and update their CV properly before sending it off.
What does this mean? You might not have reflected new experience or responsibilities in your current job, or even included promotions within your current employer. And some of the old entries in your work history may need additions or edits after reading them over. You want to give employers the best idea of the skills you bring to a role, current to the present day.
Leaving blank spots can make a CV feel patchy.
When an employer is reading a CV, they are building a picture of your career to understand who you are. Your work and education history must tell a logical story. If there are large gaps of time, make sure this is acknowledged in some way, either via the CV itself or in your cover letter. Often these gaps are due to things like travel or family reasons – you don’t need to give too much information, just make sure you alleviate any concerns the employer may have.
A CV should provide employers with information that warrants calling you in for an interview. It shouldn’t tell your life story. The cover letter can touch on who you are and the reasons why you’re suited to the job. Between these two documents, you are simply aiming for a chance to meet up and chat. It’s in these face to face interviews where the employer can determine the personality fit.
When editing your CV for a job application, take time to review the information included. Is there an introduction with irrelevant detail? Cut it down. Does your job history go back 20 years with jobs that have no connection to what you’re applying for? Remove these entries, instead summarising under an ‘additional work experience’ heading. This may not be a concern for IT job seekers just starting out, but for those with 10+ years experience in the workforce, it’s likely you’ll need to refine your work history.
Similarly, your education and training history should focus on the most relevant and/or recent qualifications. A hiring manager for a senior developer will want to know about your IT diploma, and probably less interested in where you placed in high school cross country. We’re not saying don’t include this, but writing a long list of school achievements in a CV can give a perception of inexperience. Think about the IT specific skills and qualifications you’ve acquired – packaging these up in a way that considers the role will resonate much better with a hiring manager.
Overstating or understating experience
It’s so important that your CV is an honest document. Embellishing experience can put you in some very tight spots – especially if you land a role off the back of such claims. Equally, we can miss out on jobs by not being confident in what we bring to the table.
As Kiwis, we can be a humble lot. While this is a great quality, it can mean we tend to downplay our achievements. You want to make sure that you have captured all elements you bring to a role within the CV. This can take some time and reflection to do yourself justice. There’s nothing wrong with packaging up your experience in a way that shows suitability for a role.
On the flipside, we can’t stress enough the dangers of telling tales in your experience. At the very least, employers can verify education and experience fairly easily (online, phone reference checks etc). False claims at this stage can lead to embarrassment and swiftly ruin your chances of landing a role.
And if you get past the interview stage and secure a role off the back of exaggerated experience, the job can be incredibly stressful as a consequence. You’ll be expected to apply this claimed experience, and when you can’t it’s unlikely you’ll have an enjoyable time!
You’ll have a much better chance and a long and happy tenure within a role by being upfront in the CV and interview stages. Employers are constantly hiring people who don’t have 100% of the desired skills/experience stated in a job ad – the right hire is often a mix of personality, skills and experience.
Craft a CV that accurately reflects your experience – it’ll make the interview process so much easier, and sets the tone of your relationship with the employer from the get go.
Not tailored for the job
When you hear about writing a CV for a specific job, it may feel like a huge effort – particularly if you’re applying for multiple roles at once.
Tailoring a CV for a specific role isn’t a matter of writing a new CV from the ground up – your experience is your experience. What tailoring involves is highlighting certain aspects of your previous roles that talk to the requirements of the vacancy in question. For instance, you may be applying for a team leader role, leading developers. You should go through your CV and ensure that the detail within job history talks to the leadership elements, and not simply your developer skills.
A CV will often have an intro paragraph – we’d suggest writing this specifically for a role as you can help give hiring managers context around how your work history applies to the position.
We’ve touched on excessive length as a common CV mistake. Fluff is similar but here we’re referring more to the content itself. Are you giving the hiring manager only information that’s relevant to the role?
Consider whether the employer really needs to know about:
- The details of your gap year holiday
- Political opinions
- Direct quotes about you from previous co workers
- Extraneous backstory about companies you’ve worked at
- Every bit of positive feedback you received at each job
We don’t want to sound like spoil sports – it’s actually good for your CV to have a bit of detail around who you are. Interests like playing the guitar, running marathons or baking not only inject some personality but they can suggest competencies that may help the role. Just use common sense and remember how many CVs the hiring manager is likely reading at once!
Unprofessional email address
Do you have a cheeky email address from years ago? It’s okay, most of us do! And we’re not suggesting you should get rid of this, but rather create a boring professional one for all your grown up dealings – such as job applications.
Much like poor spelling and grammar, an email address containing innuendo or juvenile subject matter can (fairly or unfairly) leave an employer wondering about your fit – even if might be the perfect fit! Don’t leave it up to chance and find a standard email address that is simply some variant of your name
Trying to write a cover letter within the CV
Scannable experience and skills list? CV. Your backstory and interest in the role? Cover letter.
Don’t try and shoehorn a long cover letter into the CV. Throughout the hiring process, the employer will likely print out your CV and make notes against it – particularly during the interview. A CV’s layout leaves whitespace for this. A cover letter may also be printed and notated, but usually this is simply the first stage of a proper interview process – so be expected to talk to points outlined in your cover letter in the interview(s) itself.
The longest paragraph in your CV will be the intro. Even within each job’s work experience you’ll want to outline detail via bullet points and bite-sized chunks of information.
Good rule of thumb – if you are starting to write a paragraph in a CV, ask yourself whether this is better suited for a cover letter or prep notes for an interview.
Do you need CV help?
A good CV does take some work – and it’s never ‘finished’, requiring updates to reflect your additional experience and skills. Head on over to our resource on writing CV tips. Or, if you’re keen to chat about job opportunities in the IT sector and need some help getting your CV ready, why not reach out to the friendly Absolute IT team?
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