Six common CV mistakes that will land you in the round file

Today I am going to rant. While it’s not my nature to focus on the negative, as a recruiter I often ponder the state of CVs I see, often from some pretty fancy people. It just makes me wonder WHY? John Jantsch wrote a great post about accentuating the negative that’s got me thinking it’s time to recognise the problem and take some constructive action to do something about it.

Visual CVSo here, ladies and gentlemen, is my CV mistakes rant for 2011. May it all pass over for the rest of the year.

  • Spelling mistakes. Come on! In this day and age, this is lazy and unprofessional and inexcusable. It’s embarrassing to even have to mention it. Yet I still receive about 15-20% CVs, from otherwise accomplished people, who don’t seem to care about this little detail. It breaks my heart to put some of them in the ‘No, thank you’ pile, but what can I do?
  • Bad grammar. Similar to spelling errors, but trickier because your personality shines through a little more here. Sometimes a grammar checker won’t catch this kind of thing, especially because CVs contain a lot of fragmented information. But, as Firehead deals with communicators, I stick firmly to my opinion that you should be able to express your communication skills on your CV. If you can’t spot a grammatical error there… well, you know the rest.
  • Unsubstantiated claims. This is probably the biggest offender. It includes the all-skills CV – no where, why, when –  I wrote about in a post last year called Why skills-based CVs might not be your friend. Just remember one simple rule: If you claim to have done something, substantiate it. Use where, when, how and with whom. Claiming to have a certain skill set or experience with no backup information or supporting facts is much worse than not writing it at all.
  • Too many adjectives (especially superlatives). Pumping everything up with adjectives weakens your message when it appears exaggerated. Mark Twain said: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” You get the idea.
  • Trying to be everything to everyone. If you can’t narrow down what kind of job you’re looking for, how is a recruiter supposed to? If you will take any position, you might as well put an unrestricted search up on the net (or write ‘desperate’ on your forehead). You simply won’t be taken seriously if your CV looks like a data dump. If you are interested in several job areas, you need to create several specifically targeted CVs.
  • Fiddling with your job titles to make them match current buzzwords. For example, content strategy as a job title is new, so don’t tell me you’ve been a content strategist for the last 15 years, even if you’ve been using content strategy skills. Instead, tell me what you did that counts as content strategy under the job title you used at the time, or I’ll think you’ve picked up a new buzzword and are trying on the hype. While I know very well that such skills have been around for a long time – I would argue as long as publishing – filling your CV with buzzwords instead of real job titles tells me you’re grooming the facts. You need to present your skills truthfully in order for me to have confidence in you.

CV writing isn’t easy, even on a good day. I understand, really I do. But there’s no other document that has more resting on it to present your communication skills for that job. It’s worth taking the time to do it right. As the author Nathaniel Hawthorne once said: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

Image of a visual CV: Emilie Ogez

CVs Recruitment