Most common mistakes made on CVs

Photo: César Santiago Molina
Photo: César Santiago Molina

When looking for work or applying for a job offer, the CV is very important, because in the UK managers have the power to hire someone without meeting them directly… or at least, they decide whether to give them the chance to interview.

There are many people arriving in the UK (and more to come) looking for employment, so I think it is appropriate to expand on the information that we already have in other previously published posts, which I recommend you read first:

This post assumes you have read the previous posts and know you should neither attach a picture nor add your age, gender, etc. to your CV.

The most common mistakes on CVs

A general ranking of things done wrong when writing a CV in the UK:

1. Bad grammar

There is a reason why we spend so much money studying in language schools: so that we avoid mistakes and know how to write properly. However, grammar is not just a problem for the non-natives, English speakers also make mistakes that automatically mark them as “uneducated”. So take this very seriously and check everything ten times before you send off a badly written CV.

2. Misspellings

There are hundreds of words in English that are written in a similar way but mean different things. So check with your English teacher, friends, or Google in order to avoid mixing up “compliment” and “complement” or other such words. You should also write and speak with the appropriate form of English. This means, that if you use British English, you should be consistent. Don’t mix it up with American words, as this gives a bad impression. Check out our posts about this topics:

3. Wrong format / design

If you are not going to apply for a graphic designer or contemporary art job, forget weird designs that are hard to read. It’s better to look formal and professional, and using a classic style of the sort you can find on Google will work really well.

Remember the basic structure:

  • NAME: Name and important contact details
  • OBJECTIVE: An introductory phrase that explains what you want you are looking for.
  • PERSONAL STATEMENT: A paragraph summarising all the information in your CV. Your professional profile, your skills, experience, and what best describes you. It is the most important part.
  • EDUCATION: A summary of your studies. Don’t forget to explain acronyms and certificates in case there isn’t a direct equivalent in English.
  • EMPLOYMENT: Work experience, but in more detail than what you might be used to. It’s better to briefly explain what your main tasks were in your previous jobs, adding examples of your skills.
  • ACHIEVEMENTS: All achievements and awards received during your degree. Results, prizes for doing something… things like that. You have to stand out – and prove it.
  • SKILLS/QUALIFICATIONS: If you can play the piano or program computers, speak more languages, or have some other skill, this is the section where you should talk about it. List everything that is important or relevant in some way to the position for which you are applying.
  • FURTHER INFORMATION: Whatever doesn’t fit anywhere else that you want your future employer to know. Have you played any sports? Have you volunteered? Do you have any hobbies?
  • REFEREES: Add references if you have them, so that they can be contacted and say good things about you. In the UK this is very important.

I have found a very interesting online tool ( that allows you to create CVs with different templates and helps you write them. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks good.

4. Over-long CV

Yes and no… it depends. It is true that if you can sum up your career in two pages it is better than doing it in three. But in the UK it is very important to explain what you have done, how did you do it, and what you learned in the process. So if you put down information that is relevant for the job you are applying to, this will be a plus. However, if you add “crap” to make the CV look better than it actually is… they’ll think that you are a braggart or you’re just plain lying. You need to find balance – don’t go overboard.

5. Informal tone

Again, put yourself in the skin of the person who will read the CV. Forget about using “you”, and abbreviations like “I’m”/”don’t”/”can’t” etc. Use the dictionary and use complex words and complex sentences without slang.

Here is some advice on how to write in a formal way in English:

6. Using jargon

By this, I mean technical words that the person who is going to read the CV might not understand. For example, if you are interested in a pharmacy job but the HR manager is not a pharmacist, it won’t help to write down lots of scientific words That makes it seem like you have no skills, that you might be hiding something or don’t know anything about the topic. You should always write correctly, using words that everyone can understand.

7. Unusual styles and font sizes

If you thought that using Comic Sans would make your CV look more attractive or size 8 font would make it easier to keep it to two pages instead of three… you are doing something wrong.

8. Irrelevant information

For example, if you want to add your grades, just record the final one, not each subject’s. As usual, filler won’t help you. If you can get your point across with five words, don’t use six.

9. Unimportant generic personal interests

Everything in your CV must add value, so don’t add things like “I’m a good friend” or “I like cooking” when you are applying for an architect position, or “I love cinema” when you’re applying to PizzaHut… You are just wasting ink on filler material. Better to leave it out.

10. Lack of activity

Your CV should not show that you have been five or ten years without improvement in your life. You need to demonstrate that you have taken courses, that you have learned new skills, that you have hobbies or interests that add value to a job, etc. If you haven’t evolved, or it’s not on your CV, you are done for.

Words to ignore in LinkedIn

You can whatever you want to your Internet profile to look “better” than you are, but if everyone uses the same adjectives repeatedly, certain qualities end up losing their value. For example, here are the terms that British professionals use to define themselves in their profiles to find work on the internet:

1. Motivated
2. Creative
3. Enthusiastic
4. Passionate
5. Track record
6. Driven
7. Extensive experience
8. Wide range
9. Responsible
10. Strategic

The problem with them is that they are very vague… We must prove them and also differentiate ourselves from the rest of the pack. Aren’t we all motivated when we start a new job? Are you going to tell your boss that you are not enthusiastic or passionate about the new job he is offering you? It’s up to you… but these things are taken for granted, so you’d better be original!

Did I forget anything? Please leave a comment!

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