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Reading Time: 5 minutes

How *Not* to Write Your CV

Isabel Morris

There are countless articles floating around the internet about how to craft the perfect CV. But we’ve all heard it before, and to be honest, it’s getting a bit old. So, we’ve decided to take a different approach.

We’ll run through the resume structure from top to bottom, pointing out how not to write your CV along the way. And yes, we’ve actually spotted all of the blunders we’ll discuss at least once!
 
Language and formatting

First things first, a well-formatted resume is super easy to nail when you’re using one of our templates. Nevertheless, here’s what NOT to do:

  • Use clashing, off-putting colours. Some colours are fine. Bright red headings paired with dark blue text against a stark white background are not.
  • Try out funky fonts. UnREadAblE pAraGraPHs aren’t going to win you employability points. And no one likes a Comic Sans person.
  • Switch between first and third person. While a changeable narrative voice might be the truest expression of your uncertainty about your place in the working world, now’s not the time. Choose one – that’s first person when you’re applying for start-ups and SMEs – and stick to it.

 
Contact details

These are the most basic elements of your CV. And they’re really not that hard to get right.

  • Your name. Don’t take tips from Mr Rees-Mogg and add ‘Esq.’, even if you are an untitled male. And whilst we’re at it, sharing your middle name – however delightful or embarrassing it is – is no more likely to get you the job.
  • Your postal address. Keep it to one line. Employers just want to know where you’re based – they’re not angling to send you a handwritten postcard. If and when they need your full address, they’ll ask.
  • Your email. Don’t use the email you made as an MSN-crazed teen. No one wants to hire lil.mizz.tickle@hotmail.com.
  • Your phone number. Don’t list a disconnected or old number, if you actually want a job! Same goes for email.
  • Your social media handles. Don’t include any social media profiles, blogs or portfolios that aren’t curated for your employer. No one wants to see that dodgy snap of you drinking mojitos in Majorca, nor do they want to see the website you created about your hamster breeding business in GCSE IT.
  • Your personal details. Your employer shouldn’t care if you’re married with ten children or single with one, faithful cat named Jerry – it has no impact on your ability to work. The same goes for your age, religion or gender in the UK – in fact, questions about these aspects of your personal life are either illegal or discouraged under UK’s Equality Act 2010.

 
The ‘Profile’ paragraph

Some people include an ‘About Me’ paragraph on their resume, which is often overly long, superlative-filled and unnecessary. Here’s what NOT to do if you are planning on having one (remember, some employers do appreciate them!):

  • Use generic, glaringly obvious phrases. Tossing in ‘I could be a dedicated and valuable member of your company’s workforce…’ or ‘I would relish the opportunity to do this job…’ is a waste of space. If you didn’t already think that you wouldn’t be applying for the role.
  • Repeat your cover letter. (Or what you’re going to say later on in your CV!) As your mother would say, if you don’t have anything nice new to say, then don’t say it. Chances are you don’t need that ‘About Me’ paragraph unless you’re changing careers or have unexplained gaps in your CV.
  • Be too honest. The phrase, ‘I need an office job that involves having to wear a suit and tie.’ will not convey your passion for the company’s mission.

 
Experience

If you’ve worked before, this section is generally the one employers pay most attention to. Here’s what NOT to do:

  • List your previous roles in non-chronological order. Any deviation from putting the most recent first will confuse the employer reading your CV, especially given they’ve probably read through a myriad already. They’ll be far less likely to invite you for an interview.
  • Give each of your previous roles equal weight. If they’re hiring you to be their software engineer, they probably don’t care about the ins and outs of your six-month stint at a Starbucks counter (unless you get a discount). We recommend sticking to your three most relevant pieces of experience.
  • Switch your writing style for each role. Don’t have a bulleted list describing one role and two paragraphs describing another. Keep it consistent, and save the tired employer who’s reading it from having to switch gears every three lines.
  • Make drastic departures from your LinkedIn. If they’re serious about you, they’ll look you up. Employers typically regard your LinkedIn profile as an honest representation of your experience because your previous colleagues can see it. Don’t set them up for any puzzling surprises, such as totally different job titles or timeframes!
  • Overinflate your experience. ‘Founded, designed and launched www.myname.com’ does not count as a job if all that an employer can find at that address is a black and white photo of you and ‘Get in touch’.

 
Skills

This section is more important for some jobs than others. Employers hiring for tech roles, for example, will go straight to this section because all they really want to know is whether you have the relevant tech skills. Here’s what NOT to do:

  • Use progress bars to represent your soft skills. These visuals are great to use for hard skills, such as coding languages. But if you’ve filled ‘communication’ to 80%, what can an employer expect? That you’ll be able to communicate with 8 of the 10 people in the office, but José and Yvonne will be left in the dark?
  • List skills you can’t back up with concrete examples. If you took Spanish in primary school and have only used ‘Dos cervezas, por favor’ since, chances are you’re not an ‘intermediate’ speaker.

 
A few final things…

  • References. Don’t put the full contact details of all of your references on your CV, and certainly don’t allow them to fill up a full page! If employers are serious about hiring you, they’ll ask you for your referees’ details. Employers generally expect that even recent graduates will have someone – perhaps a lecturer or work experience supervisor – to act as their referee. If you still really want to include this section, you can simply write, ‘References available upon request’.
  • Design. Creative CVs can work wonders, if (and that’s a big ‘if’) you’re applying for creative roles. Otherwise, it’s best to stick to a standard, easy-to-read format. Now is not the time to show off your decoupage skills.
  • Formatting. Unless you’re really experienced, stick to one A4 page. Always send your CV as a PDF to employers, never as a Word document (unless you’re willing to risk messing up your formatting!). Title your CV clearly, with something along the lines of ‘My_Name_CV’.
  • Proofread. Before you send it off, read through your CV at least once, checking for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. If you can, get someone else to proofread it too – you’ll be surprised what another pair of eyes can spot!

 
In the end, all you’re trying to do with your CV (and its accompanying cover letter) is to catch employers’ interest enough for them to invite you for an interview.

Research shows that employers spend an average of six seconds reviewing each CV, so it’s important to nail the little things. Don’t make any of the small yet glaring errors we’ve listed above.

Lastly, here’s how to write a CV or cover letter… Just in case you were wondering 😁