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10 things to avoid when writing your CV – full article

If you’ve been out of the job market for some time – perhaps because you’ve worked your way up within the same company for many years and not needed a formal CV, or maybe because you’ve taken a career break – writing your CV for the first time can seem like a minefield.  I’ve put together my ‘top-ten’ things to avoid.

1. Your date of birth

Age discrimination became illegal in 2006, therefore age and date of birth should be completely irrelevant when applying for a job. The reality though, is that some employers still have biases, and may have views that someone is ‘too old’ or ‘too young’ for a particular role. Including your date of birth can therefore put you at a real disadvantage if the hiring manager or recruiter allows age to be an influencing factor in their CV screening decisions.

Obviously anyone with the time or inclination can potentially work out your age from other dates on your CV, but why draw attention to it in the first place?

2. Marital status

Including marital status  always puts me in mind of when I was a child and my mum used to sign letters with  ‘Mrs’ in brackets after her name.  In the same way that this is now hugely anachronistic, so is informing the hiring manager that  you’re married, single, or (completely in the realms of too much information) divorced.  It’s a recruitment agency, not a dating agency – they don’t need to know!

3.  ‘References available upon request’

99.9% of employers will make a job offer conditional upon the receipt of satisfactory references. They won’t expect you to provide these upfront, but they will expect them as a matter of course once you have accepted the job. This goes in the pile marked ‘unnecessary information’.

4. Remuneration expectations

Including salary information on your CV or covering letter can put you at a huge disadvantage and may result in you being screened out at the sifting stage. Too high a salary and the recruiter will assume you won’t be interested in the job, too low a salary and they may assume that you’re not experienced enough.

Given that many job adverts now just state ‘highly competitive salary’, you may be worried that by not putting your salary expectations, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Avoid wasting your own time by trying to contact the agent (or recruitment manager if applying directly) prior to applying, to clarify the salary range. If that isn’t possible, then send your CV without stating any salary expectations. If you are contacted about the role, discuss what the broad package is at this stage. If it’s wildly out of kilter with your expectations, you can gracefully withdraw before investing any more of your precious time.

5. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and typos

It goes without saying that these mark you out as, at best, a sloppy candidate or, at worst, as someone with poor written English. Automatic spelling and grammar checkers are not always right, so don’t rely on them. If you know this is an area where you need help, ask someone (with excellent English skills!) to proof-read your CV. Alternatively, seek help from a professional CV writer!

6. Using a hard to read font style, or font size

Writing a good CV takes a lot of time and effort. Obviously it’s vital to get the content right, but it’s also just as important that the recruiter can easily read it. It goes without saying that the font you choose should look professional, whatever job you’re applying for. Arial and Calibri are good standard fonts, as is Verdana. Personally, I think Times New Roman looks a bit old fashioned, and I would also avoid Courier – unless you want people to think that you produced your CV on a typewriter…. Size- wise, anything below 10 pt is likely to be difficult to read.

7. Incorrect contact information

In the days when companies used to write to applicants to invite them to interview, it was usual to include your full postal address on your CV. Nowadays, most employers and agencies will email to invite you to interview, and in the case of agencies, usually phone you first. It is therefore absolutely essential that your contact information is not only easily found, but also correct. This may sound an obvious statement, but it is so easy to mistype an email address, and as your contact details are something you’re so familiar with, it’s easy to just skim over them when proof-reading your CV.

8. Including a photo

In the modern world of social media, it may seem strange advice to not include a photo within your CV. Surely, you cry, any recruiter will be able to see what I look like on LinkedIn, or Facebook? Yes they will, and you should also give that some consideration when starting to apply for jobs, but that’s an article for another day. ..

It remains a fact that we all have biases, whether conscious or unconscious. Consider why it is that you want to include a photo.  You may be hoping to play to the recruiter’s positive biases and feel that seeing what you look like will help your application.  However, you may also unwittingly trigger negative (and probably unconscious) biases which may result in a prospective employer viewing your CV less favourably.  Yes, any recruiter or employer can look you up – and probably will – on LinkedIn or Facebook, but why encourage them to assess your CV based on anything other than your experience and skills?

9. Hobbies

I once reviewed a graduate CV in which the applicant told me their favourite colour was green. I’ve also reviewed CVs where people have included details of their 10 metre swimming badge and titles of books that they have enjoyed. None of these inclusions helped to support their application!

It definitely used to be more common to include details of your hobbies however, nowadays, the norm is to keep things strictly professional.  The only occasions when I would suggest including hobbies and outside interests, are:

  • if they are relevant to the role you are applying for and therefore demonstrate your passion for, and knowledge of, the industry or sector
  • you are applying for graduate roles straight from university and they will help you to demonstrate key competency areas such as leadership, team working and organisation.

10. Gaps

Unexplained gaps in your career history ring alarm bells with recruiters and employers. Make sure that you haven’t created any artificial gaps by including incorrect dates in your career timeline – it can happen. Also don’t just leave out jobs that you think are not relevant to the role; all experience is relevant and leaving jobs out needlessly creates the impression you have something to hide. If you have a long career history, you may be tempted to omit your earlier roles, particularly if they are more junior. Again, leaving them out entirely is not advisable however your early career can be easily summarised with a statement such as ‘Pre 1998: Variety of marketing roles, with organisations including Starbucks, Marks & Spencers, Diageo’, for example.

Where you do have a genuine gap, honesty is the best policy. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t put a positive spin on it. For example, I dealt with a client’s 15 year career break by stating “1996-2012: Career break – managing my family and home. This required effective organisational skills, managing multiple schedules, a proactive approach to problem solving, a high degree of flexibility and the ability to prioritise effectively.”

So, there you have it – my top 10 CV sins. Avoid these, and you will be on the right track to ensuring that your CV looks both professional and up-to-date.


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