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According to Jobvite’s 2019 report, whenever you submit a CV in an online job application, you have less than 2% chances of being offered a job. Amidst the coronavirus crisis and the current economic breakdown, this number will be much lower by the end of 2020.
Writing a CV is a scary thing. One lapse can cost you a shot at the gig you’ve been seeking for months. Or so you’ve been told. It can’t be that bad, can it? Truth is, while there is some margin for error in CVs, there also exist certain job-killing mistakes.
The good news? Spend 5 minutes reading our study and you’ll never make one again. To discover everything there is to know about the worst CV slip-ups, we surveyed 100 Certified Professional CV Writers (CPRW). And now we’re sharing with you what we learned from them.
Let’s get started:
The Three Deadly CV Sins
Yes, there are many mistakes you can make on a CV. But there are three unequivocally worse than any others—three that virtually all of our respondents agreed on.
#1: Failing to address the keywords from the job offer (wrong according to 100% of CV writers)
Please, please, keep this piece of advice in mind forever—
Every CV you send out has to be personalised to match the requirements of the job you’re applying for. It’s no rocket science. In fact, you have a very clear blueprint of keywords to include in a given CV: the job offer itself!
Why is it so important? First of all, most large companies nowadays use Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to scan CVs before those reach a human decision-maker. ATS is programmed to search for relevant keywords on a CV. If it can’t find those on yours, you’re not getting a pass, simple as that.
Plus, on a CV, you have to show you’re the right candidate for *this* role—it’s actually impossible to do so without addressing keywords related to required skills or areas of expertise.
Sadly, very few candidates actually write personalised CVs for every job application. Zety's study on 133,000 CVs made with their CV builder revealed than an average user makes less than 2 CVs per job search (1.73 to be precise)—most users apply with a single, all-purpose CV to all job opportunities and it's clearly the wrong strategy. A Careerbuilder study showed that 63% of recruiters want to receive personalised job applications.
#1 (equal first): Having an unprofessional email address (wrong according to 100% of CV writers)
It really is simple:
In the professional world, the only items your email address can contain are:
- Your names
- Your initials
email@example.com? That’ll do the trick.
firstname.lastname@example.org? That won’t.
Also, make sure not to use your current work email: it looks unprofessional and makes your integrity questionable.
#3: Typos (wrong according to 99% of CV writers)
This one’s fairly obvious. As one of our respondents said, “proofread [your CV] as many times as necessary.” This means: check and double-check and check again until you’re sure there aren’t any typos or other errors left. Or use Grammarly or any other spell-checking tool. You might want to ask a friend to proofread your CV, too.
A random typo happpens to all of us but it should never be the case on a document you’re supposed to craft so carefully.
Now that we’ve got the three gravest (if obvious) CV mistakes out of the way, let’s look into some more sophisticated aspects of CV writing and examine what can go wrong.
Job-Killing CV Mistakes You Didn’t Know Were So Bad
#4: Omitting your LinkedIn profile (wrong according to 96% of CV writers)
A recent report by Careerbuilder revealed that 2 in 5 recruiters won’t even consider calling you in for an interview if they can’t find you online. LinkedIn is where they’ll start searching (if they bother to search at all). Make it easier for them to identify your “professional footprint” online—put your LinkedIn URL in the contact information section of a CV.
#5: Skipping the skills section (wrong according to 95% of CV writers)
Skills are what makes you good at your job. Be upfront about them! Including a well-designed skills section on a CV does two things:
- Lets recruiters see you as an ideal candidate in a flash.
- Helps your CV pass the ATS scan.
The most important CV keywords concern your skills. Make sure they’re visible in a flash.
Finally, 75% of US recruiters think the biggest issue in finding the right candidates is… the lack of job-relevant skills on the market.
#6: Adding a list of hobbies if you have more than 5 years of experience (wrong according to 90% of CV writers)
When working on your CV, keep this in mind: every single word has to earn its place on the page. Skip whatever feels redundant. Only include details that add value.
Whenever you’re putting anything on a CV, ask yourself the question: is this phrase or item showing that I am *the* best candidate for this position? If the answer’s no, feel free to delete it.
A list of hobbies and interests might add a “personal touch”, but you’re not going to get hired because you’re likeable. Let your expertise do the talking.
#7: Including a list of references with their contact details (wrong according to 89% of CV writers)
A no-no for two main reasons: first, it’s against most personal data protection laws, secondly, it’s definitely against CV etiquette. And playing the CV game is all about following some well-established rules.
#8: Including your GPA if you have more than 5 years of experience (wrong according to 89% of CV writers)
If you have a solid work history behind you, no one will really care about how you did in school. Remember what I said about relevance? It’s the bread and butter of a professional CV. A GPA is just not relevant—your work experience should do the talking.
But (and it’s a huge but), here’s the twist:
#9: Skipping your GPA if you’re a student (wrong according to 88% of CV writers)
If you’re a student or a fresh graduate, do include the GPA: it’s the most measurable metric to prove how successful you were in your most recent professional endeavours.
According to 88% of our respondents, adding a GPA to a CV by students and candidates with less than a year of experience is desirable.
As for candidates with 1–5 years in the workforce? That’s a bit of a judgement call. 59% of CV writers think adding a GPA by such candidates is okay.
Alright, you think a GPA on a CV would benefit you… But what number, exactly, to include?
- 75% of respondents say you should use the exact number from your diploma.
- 16% suggest you truncate it.
- 8% say round it up.
- 1% say round it down.
The worst thing you can do? List a fabricated GPA. (Which is my roundabout way of saying “DON’T LIE ON A CV,” a mistake so obvious, we won’t even put in on the list).
The single worst CV mistake one can make is lie. Don't stretch the truth. Don't fabricate. It will get found out, and it will kill your credibility.
#10: Skipping the CV profile or summary (wrong according to 87% of CV writers)
According to the famous 2018 Eye-Tracking Study by The Ladders, recruiters focus most of their attention on the top third of a CV: this is exactly where your CV profile should grab their attention.
Some candidates choose to skip this part because they wrongly conflate CV “profile” with an old-school “career objective,” i.e. “Looking for a challenging role where I can grow my skills.” No one wants the latter, but a well-phrased CV profile will let you show prospective employers the value you bring to the table in a flash.
The biggest mistake that I often see in a CV is using an objective instead of a professional summary. Objectives should not be used in a CV. Your objective is to find a job, but your professional summary should outline who you are as a professional and the high-calibre skill sets you have to offer.
#11: Stuffing your CV with keywords from the job offer (wrong according to 86% of CV writers)
Wait, how come? Not using keywords from the job offer has been listed as the gravest CV mistake ever. Well—there’s using CV keywords strategically and then there’s randomly spraying them all over the page.
Imagine a job ad calling for someone to:
- Ensure necessary reporting and cross-regional leverage takes place.
- Run project team meetings to drive completion of tasks.
- Create, and update timelines, develop risk management, status reporting and manage cross-functional interfaces.
This is what “keyword stuffing” a CV would look like:
- Ensured necessary reporting.
- Ran project meetings to drive the timely completion of tasks.
- Created and updated timelines, supervised risk management, coordinated cross-functional interfaces.
You get it, right? Optimising CV keywords for ATS performance isn’t equal to copypasta.
#12: A CV longer than a page if you have less than 5 years of experience (wrong according to 82% of CV writers)
If you have between 5 and 10 years of experience, 50% of CV writers say it’s fine for you to have a CV longer than a page. A seasoned pro with 10+ years of work history? 74% of our respondents suggested you write at least a two-page CV. For those of you just starting out on a professional path, stick to the good ‘ol single pager.
#13: Failing to use industry-specific jargon (wrong according to 75% of CV writers)
According to Stephanie Renk, CPRW, “the worst thing you can do is to not focus your CV on the type of job or the industry you are applying for.”
This means that your CV has to show you’re familiar with the industry buzzwords and can use a professional lingo.
If you’re an online marketing specialist, you’re expected to talk about ROI, CAC, LTV, ad spend, and CTR. If you’re a nurse, you can and should touch upon phlebotomy skills, EMR, and BLS.
#14: Adding quotes (wrong according to 73% of CV writers)
Some job seekers use inspirational quotes on their CVs.
I mean, just imagine this:
“The only place where success comes before work is a dictionary.”
Cringe overload, right?
One client I worked with opened her CV with a quote from her reference. Neither approach makes sense. Your achievements, skills, and credentials should do the talking. A CV is no place for a narrative.
CV “Mistakes” Some of You Might Pull Off
There are three more CV mistakes most candidates should avoid—at least when applying for a “standard” corporate job. But—
Some might actually make a CV like that and make it work. (Hint: I’m mostly talking to creative types applying for relaxed, semi-formal positions in tech, graphic design or modern digital marketing).
Here are the not-so-universal CV mistakes:
#15: Writing a “creative” CV (wrong according to 83% of CV writers)
The key downside of creative CVs is that they’ll never make it through standard ATS programmed to identify text layers only.
Every individual and situation is unique, so CV strategy must also be unique and flexible. For example, someone in a creative field could opt for a visual or graphic-based CV (as long, I can’t stress it enough, as it's ATS compatible).
Plus, according to a study published in The European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology, hiring pros are most fond of standard CV layouts and formal designs.
Trying to be too creative or stand out no matter what can lead to too many mistakes and will most likely either give a recruiter a good laugh or irritate them.
#16: Adding social media handles (wrong according to 81% of CV writers)
LinkedIn is the only commonly-accepted social network to link to on a CV. But it doesn’t mean you should never add other social handles, as long as those are relevant to your professional activity:
- Working in graphic design, photography, or other visual fields? If you store your portfolio on Instagram, Pinterest, or Tumblr, do include a link.
- Are you a Twitter influencer, posting about novelties in your industry? You know the drill, link to your Twitter account.
- A prolific coder? Link to Github.
#17: Applying with a video CV (wrong according to 80% of CV writers).
Like I said, getting overly creative can, and usually will, backfire. Video CVs are particularly risky—if you’re not a savvy video editor, you’ll end up looking ridiculous and, possibly, become a meme in your target company. Plus, the only way anyone will notice your CV is when you apply directly to the hiring manager—no online application form supports video files.
Still feel like using a creative CV or a video-based one can help you stand out? I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you. But remember: you have been warned.
As a quick recap, see these two excerpts from CVs. How many typical CV mistakes can you spot on the wrong one?
If, in the past, you’ve made some of the errors we’ve just covered, well, hate to break it to you, but they might have cost you a shot at some of the jobs you wanted. So do make sure not to repeat them ever again.
Let us know in the comments if you find anything surprising or unclear. Remember—CVs are highly individualised so there’s no magic formula. The mistakes we listed are just rough guidelines to help you create a CV in line with modern hiring practises.
Methodology and Limitations
For this study, we surveyed 97 Certified Professional Résumé Writers (CPRW) who obtained their certifications from The Professional Association of Résumé Writers & Career Coaches™. 64 of the respondents were female, 33 were male. 4 respondents were 24 or younger, 36 were 25–38 years old, 49 were 39–58, and 8 were 59 or older.
In the survey, we asked 5 close-ended questions, 3 open-ended questions, and 16 scale-based questions regarding the perception of various CV practises.
The data rely on online self-reports after eligibility screening. Each participant responded without any researcher administration or interference. Potential issues with self-reported data include but are not limited to exaggeration, selective memory, and attribution errors. Some questions and responses have been rephrased for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent: this is either due to rounding or due to responses of “neither/other/don’t know” not being presented.
Fair Use Statement
Feel free to share our study! The graphics and content found here are available for noncommercial reuse. Just make sure to link back to this page to give the author proper credit.