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5 common CV mistakes to avoid in 2024

CV mistakes to avoid

If you’re about to kick off your job hunt, then crafting that perfect CV will be the first checkpoint. This document is by far the most important component of your search and any CV mistake—even something trivial—could be a big disadvantage. 

Don’t worry, we’ve been there ourselves and we now know better. So, consider this your cheat sheet of five CV mistakes we wish somebody had warned us about while applying for our first job.

Why your CV matters

Your CV is intended to provide a near-complete snapshot of your qualifications, skills and what else you could bring to the table. It’s often the first interaction hiring managers have with you—and look into your professional life. This is why you need to make it count—because first impressions really do matter.

So, how do you make a strong first impression? We can start by condensing the most relevant bits and fitting them onto a single page. What is relevant, too, depends on the role, the type of work, etc. A CV for an internship role would be a lot less info-heavy than that of a full-time role.

Employers are busy; they need to quickly see why you’re the right fit. A clutter-free, one-page CV ensures they grasp the essentials without wading through unnecessary details.

The truth is, a CV goes beyond just listing your previous work experience. It should showcase how your hard and soft skills and past roles align with the requirements of the job you’re aiming for. It even broadcasts your personality.

It’s your golden ticket. It gets you through the door to the interview. Nail your CV, and you’re one step closer to securing the role.

The impact of CV mistakes

A CV mistake is more than just a hiccup in formatting or grammar—it can have substantial consequences. It could be seen as a misalignment between you and what the employers are looking for.

A haphazardly crafted CV might undersell your capabilities, causing hiring managers to overlook your potential. Typos, formatting errors, or irrelevant information could colour their view of you, too. 

Too many errors or a hard-to-read layout would demand much more time from those reviewing your CV. A CV filled with errors signals a lack of attention to detail. Being mindful of details is a trait that many employers highly value. If they can’t reasonably decipher your entry, they might move on to the next candidate. 

Aside from spelling and formatting errors, the use of inappropriate or overly casual language could also raise questions about your fit.

ATS woes

The next most important variable to consider is ‘ATS’, which stands for Applicant Tracking System. Many companies use ATS to streamline their hiring processes. While it has its advantages, such as efficiently managing a massive pool of applications, it can be troublesome.

While different systems exist, looking out for different requirements, there are a few general things to be mindful of when submitting your application.

ATS tend to scan CVs for relevant keywords and not using these keywords could be disastrous. If none of the “keywords” in the job description aren’t included in the CV, it’ll simply reject it.

How about misspelt words or awkward phrasing? Unfortunately, ATS aren’t very lenient as they’re programmed to seek precision. 

With all this to be mindful of, what can you do to avoid making errors that could get you disqualified before you’ve had a fair chance? Here are five CV mistakes to avoid this year when you kick off your job hunt.

Mistake 1: Overly graphical/creative CV

Sure, we want to the CV to stand out, but turning it into an overly colourful art piece isn’t the way. ATS systems and busy recruiters might get overwhelmed by the visual elements and miss crucial information. Save the designs for your portfolio instead! If you’re in a creative field, you should let your portfolio be the star. For the CV, though, it’s best to keep it clean, straightforward, and let your skills do the talking.

Additionally, the usage of scales and bars to rate your proficiency with tools or in a skill is discouraged. As these scales rely on a subjective understanding of its value, they aren’t precise enough to use and may give the reader mixed signals.

Mistake 2: Having a photo on your CV

Having a picture of yourself on your CV is a … classic move, but is it a wise one?

Including a headshot on your CV might seem like a friendly touch but it may not be needed. In some cases, like in the UK, it’s actually discouraged. This is mainly to avoid unconscious bias in the hiring process. Unconscious biases come into play when your brain makes snap judgments based on past experiences or preconceived notions, and keeping the hiring process fair would require eliminating as much of this bias as possible.

Skip the selfie and make LinkedIn your visual extension. Make sure your LinkedIn is optimised, along with a professional photo, and add the link to your CV. That way, if they want to see the face behind the qualifications, it’s just a click away. 

However, there’s the twist: some, like client-facing roles or modelling gigs, may actually expect a picture. In these cases, it’s acceptable to send one (or several, as required) in.

Mistake 3: Just stating facts

If you have a CV drowning in data but not talking about the impact of your work, you need to take it back to the editor’s desk. Numbers and figures are great, but they need context. Why? Because impact is what turns a CV from a dull list into a compelling narrative.

Employers want to know not just what you did but why it mattered. You didn’t just increase sales by these numbers; you’ve boosted overall revenue by 30%.

Soft skills are especially difficult to simply list out because they look pretty boring and ordinary. “Creativity, communication, time management.” You see what we mean. 

Instead of plainly stating you’ve got great time management, contextualise it. Weave it into a brief sentence under your work experience. You don’t just have “time management” skills, you managed to juggle 5 individual graphical projects simultaneously and deliver on time during a particularly urgent campaign.

Mistake 4: Trying to fit in everything 

Let’s talk about the temptation to turn your CV into a play-by-play of your life—every job, every task, since the dawn of your career. It’s easy to get caught up in it but more isn’t always better.

If you worked at Disneyland at 17, don’t list it unless you’re applying for a similar role or one where your experience is relevant. 

Deciding what’s relevant requires reading up on what is generally required of the role and analysing the job description. What buzzwords are they using? What skills are listed as required? What are the responsibilities you’ll have to take on?

Before you add an experience/skill/qualification, etc., ask yourself: Does it align with the job you’re eyeing? If not, don’t add it to your CV.

There are definitely ways to twist experiences that aren’t directly related to your benefit. For example, imagine you were a barista at a local cafe. That experience isn’t just about coffee; it’s about customer service, multitasking, and even team management. Now, tweak it for a marketing gig – suddenly, you’re a pro at client relations, deadlines, and coordinating campaigns.

When listing experiences, start with the most recent and relevant. Your latest project might be more impactful than your summer stint ages ago.

A focused CV isn’t about how much volume you can pack in it, so always prioritise accordingly. Pick the star players, the roles that scream, “I’m perfect for this job!” 

Treat it like a highlight reel to trim the excess and let the relevant parts shine. Say no to lengthy intros about your goals and your objectives. Those first lines are prime real estate for vital information like your work experience. Don’t waste it!

Mistake 5: Too short

Does your experience section look a bit thin? Have you tried to use as many words to fluff up a sentence as you can but still only have half a page to speak for it? 

The golden rule is a one-pager (maybe one and a half if you’re feeling rebellious), but a half-pager is an absolute no-go. It’s far too empty and would easily drown beneath the CVs that have perfectly packed in the right information.

So you don’t have any formal work experience, that’s not a problem. You’ve probably got a wealth of untapped experiences. This includes freelance gigs, personal projects, and even volunteering stints.

There are many ways to buff your CV up with projects.  Did you build mood boards for an interior design project? That’s some experience. A blog you started, the time you planned and executed a school event, and coming up with name ideas for your friend’s startup can all be considered here.

Final thoughts

In the end, your CV is not just a list of what you’ve done; it’s a strategic presentation. Avoiding these common CV mistakes ensures that every word serves a purpose. Remember, it’s not about fitting into a mould but standing out with impact.

So, whether you’re a seasoned professional or just stepping onto the career stage, let your CV be your story, a narrative of skills, experiences, and potential. By steering clear of these five mistakes, you’re not just crafting a CV; you’re crafting an invitation for employers to envision your contributions. All the best with your job hunt!

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Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

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