Don’t Make this 5 Common CV Mistakes

If you are asking yourself whether your CV is well written or you are wondering if anything in it should be changed, allow me to tell you the five most common mistakes I come across in CVs. Let me be clear – these are not massive mistakes that will destroy your chances securing an interview. They will, though, affect the impression you make. And when you are competing with numerous other candidates for a recruiter’s attention, you want to make sure that the impact your CV has is completely positive.


The five major (but easily corrected!) CV mistakes that I see time and time again are:

1. Trying to fit everything onto 1 or 2 pages

This stems from career advice circulated in the 90s, which said that a good CV should be no longer than one page. And while I can agree that this is true for people who have no or very limited experience, whenever I see an experienced professional trying to squeeze the last 10-15 years onto one page, I cry inside. Even five years can be difficult. When you write your CV you should use as much space as it requires, remembering though, about CV writing principles.
I once received a CV that was 19 pages long! Now, that was TOO long and too detailed. But three, four or even five pages when somebody has a few years experience already is fine. Trying to squeeze everything onto one page results in a CV that doesn’t give the necessary information, and is too often hard to understand with all the data cramped and squeezed by using a smaller-than-comfortable-to-read font.

2. Professional profile full of generic terms

This mistake is one that I meet regardless of the market or position level I work with. It is common to the point where I sometimes think that it is only me who finds it annoying. For example, almost all of the CVs I’ve seen in the last week had it – a meaningless professional profile. These several lines of generic phrases that are supposed to show the main characteristic of one’s profile, but instead show nothing. They don’t include any details that give useful information and are just empty words that can mean anything, depending on who uses them.

See these few examples below – all from CVs I read last week:

  • Quarterly result−oriented with a focus on long−term growth
  • Innovative & dynamic
  • Relationship−oriented
  • Creative decision maker
  • Drive positive change and overcome internal resistance
  • Ability to adjust to changing environments
  • High level of integrity, determination and strong interpersonal skills
  • Motivational, presentable and articulate; a consistent revenue and profit targets achiever
  • Able to work as an individual contributor or lead a team with a track record of being a winner

Would you be able to guess which market or function the executives who wrote them belong to? Maybe one hints at a sales position, but what kind of market or sales is vague. It could be anything. What I want to say by calling such phrases a mistake is that they are easy to write, but they offer no added value to the recruiter unless they contain some quantifiable data.

Now see below the same phrases altered by me:

  • Quarterly result-oriented with a focus on long-term growth – secured +10% YoY in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
  • Innovative & dynamic – designed and implemented new purchasing process despite internal resistance
  • Relationship-oriented – maintains positive working relationships while delivering expected results: 5 new HSE policies implemented in 2014

What are your impressions? Which ones sound better, more meaningful and actually gives you an indication of a candidates’ achievements?

I am by no means the enemy of concise professional profiles at the top of the CV, but as this is premium real estate in your document, I think you need to choose wisely what to include in it.

3. No background information on smaller companies

The job market is robust. There are few big players, that is, household name employers that everybody knows. They are either key players in particular markets or simply big brands most people know from having been their targeted customers. However, in the UK, for example, employers of 60% of the workforce are small and medium companies (source).

Unless an employers actual name includes their specialization, it can be really difficult to guess what they do without going online. And many recruiters will not spend time browsing details on past employers when they have 60 CVs to go through in their mailbox. That’s why including a short description of your small or medium employer will help them.

When I moved to London I worked for The Miles Partnership – a small business employing less than 50 people. As you see, the name could be adapted to many type of businesses. TMP is well-known in the local market as an executive search firm. So when I was looking for a job in the same area and market, I didn’t need to include much of a description. However, if any of my PA, finance or office management colleagues were searching for a new job, I’d recommend they add some brief information on what TMP does, e.g. a UK-based executive search firm working with clients across the globe in the Technological, Industrial, Consumer and Financial Services sectors.
Even if the job my colleague does is universal and fairly common in many industries, having more background helps to add context to his or her experience in the recruiter’s mind. And context is key when you need to differentiate yourself from the competition.

4. Too fancy a format or a CV as a story – not utilizing bullet points and spaces

You may say this view is subjective, as it is based purely on my preference, but still… there may be other recruiters out there who also think as I do.
I have a problem with fancy formatting in the CV, and equally I dislike CVs written as a story. I need to be able to go through a CV quickly and find what I am looking for. And for that purpose I love bullet points, clever use of space, clear separations between paragraphs and white space. When I receive a CV that’s too fancy in layout, I cringe. Also, there are still occasions when I get a CV that’s written with a colorful font or is on a colorful background (last time, in July, it was blue). I am definitely a fan of the “black and white” solution for the easy in readability it gives.

And as for “the story format” – if I have to choose between this:

Since 2014 I have been leading sales in the SMB market, managing a team of 15 across EMEA. My team consists of Account Managers, Product Specialist and Marketing Coordinator. I have delivered consistent growth YoY of 15% in 2014 and 12% in 2015.

…and this:

2014 – to date    Sales Director EMEA (SMB market)

  • team of 15 (Account Managers, Product Specialist and Marketing Coordinator)
  • YoY growth: 15% in 2014, 12% in 2015

…I will always choose the latter. You can say that it gives the same information and this is true, but the comfort and ease in reading the second one is incomparable (imagine three pages written in the first style!).

5. Including personal details like marital status or family members

This one is not necessarily a mistake per se, but it something that is not expected and there is no need to share such information. You don’t have to tell the recruiter t your children’s names or ages − which is what many of the candidates I deal with do. Keep this sphere of your life private, not least because many European countries now have laws to help you protect your privacy.

These are the five CV mistakes that I come across most often in my recruiter’s job. Does your CV have any of them?

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