20 Most Common CV Mistakes You Need to Avoid

Illustration Right Wrong CVs

Many skilled candidates miss out on good opportunities because of minor mistakes they have made on their CVs. If you have been on the job hunt for a while but are not getting any job offers, you might be making the same mistakes. Let's take a look at some of the most common ones to avoid.

1. Including unnecessary details

Your CV should be as brief as possible and contain only the information that is necessary and relevant to the job you are applying for. Personal details such as date of birth, age, religion, sexual orientation, home address, social security number, irrelevant social media accounts, fluffy buzzwords have no place on your CV. The same applies to the photo unless you are applying for a modelling job. Some career experts also say that starting and ending months for your past positions isn’t necessary so you should only include the years, e.g. 2009 - 2012.

2. Grammar and spelling mistakes

Did you know that grammar and spelling mistakes can ruin your job hunt? This is the most off-putting mistake you can make, especially when you praise yourself for being a ‘perfectionist’ or paying attention to details. The most obvious ones they come across are misspellings, e.g. ‘seperate’ instead of ‘separate’, grammar and punctuation mistakes.

Here are a couple you should avoid at all costs:

  • Your vs. you’re
  • Its vs. it’s
  • Apostrophes and plurals
  • Their, they’re and there
  • Accept vs. Except
  • Than vs. Then

To do this, you need to proofread your CV and make sure you check, check and then check again.

3. Not including keywords

If you are applying for a job online, you will need to have some keywords in it. Failing to do so means that you are going to have a hard time getting past the applicant tracking systems. Keywords can be anything from phrases that describe skills, qualifications to industry-related concepts. These are important for employers to see because it shows them that you have understood what you are required to have for the role and the industry.

4. Not tailored to the job

Tailoring your CV is the first thing you need to get right. If your CV is too generic, employers will be able to tell that you haven’t done your homework. Researching the employer and the role you are applying for, is necessary to target your CV. This helps you make it suitable for the company you are interested in. This allows you to match the job requirements with your skills and experience and present your qualifications in the best way possible.

5. Using dull/informal language

If you want to make a good impression, you will need a positive attitude and this should be evident on your CV. Talk about your qualifications in a positive way, and stay away from negative words and connotations. For example, if you have an unfinished degree, don’t say ‘I haven’t completed the course’, instead tell them when you are expected to do so. Also, avoid using complicated language. Use simple language that can be quickly understood.

6. Undervaluing other experience

Putting all your experience on your CV can hurt your job application because it risks losing focus. But, if you don’t have any relevant experience, you can talk about any part-time or casual jobs you had provided that you talk about the skills you gained and how they will be useful.

You don’t have to list every job you have ever held. Just pick those that can make you look good. The ones that should be left out are the ones that don’t relate to the job at all.

7. Not selling your achievements

The best way to do this is through stories. Liz Ryan from Forbes, says that if you want to capture the hiring manager’s attention, you need to learn to tell dragon-slaying stories. What is a dragon-slaying story? Liz’s definition is a very short story with three parts – problem, solution, and impact. The idea is that you give more details on what you did and how this influenced company’s performance.

8. Choosing the wrong format or design

Determining the right CV format is key to success. Each type of CV serves a different purpose and you need to align this with your career needs. To do this, you need to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve through your job application. Obviously, you want to get a job, but why do you need it? For example, are you just starting out in your career, are you after a career change or want to move up the career ladder? Depending on the situation, you will need to choose the most appropriate format that presents your qualifications in the best light.

Also, if you are using any creative CV designs make sure it doesn’t have any crazy fonts or colours and that it suits the role.

9. Poor structure

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’? Well, this quote has nothing to do with CV writing. Whether we like it or not, appearance is the first thing that employers notice when they get your CV. Even before they get down to the content, they make an evaluation of your worth as a candidate based on what they see visually. As such, they can tell if your CV is worth their time or not, by one single look at it. If it has unclear sections, messy headings, poor formatting and endless paragraphs they might toss it straight in the bin.



10. It’s too long

The average length of a CV is two pages and anything longer than that is considered to be unprofessional. But, this largely depends on the type of job you are targeting and what format you are using. For example, if you are applying for an academic position where you are required to have a PhD, it’s expected to go beyond the two-page rule. But, as a general rule of thumb, you should try to keep it brief and simple.

11. Too many employment gaps

Employment gaps don’t look good on CVs. It can tell employers that you are not a reliable person, you don’t know what you want in your career and that you get bored easily. If you are a job hopper with good intentions however, and you simply want to collect experience or learn how to become more adaptable, you can use this to your benefit. Likewise, if you have been on a gap year, took some time for yourself, or tried freelancing you need to let employers know.

12. Telling lies

A survey from CareerBuilder confirmed that more than half of employers have found a lie on a CV. Most candidates lie about their skills, responsibilities, and dates of employment, job titles and academic degrees adding some embellishments to each section. Exaggerating on your qualifications may seem tempting, but isn’t nice – not to mention ethical. Plus, lying on your CV has some real consequences. Not only you will lose your chance of getting the job, but you could be fired in the future if the company finds out you weren’t being honest.

13. Using personal pronouns

Although adding a more personal tone to your CV is debatable amongst career professionals, the generally accepted practice is to stay away from personal pronouns such as ‘I’ or ‘me’. The reason for this is to avoid repetition. Also, it makes use of formal language and it’s more professional – like you want it to be. Talking in the third person isn’t effective either, so avoid phrases like ‘Sophie is a creative individual and has good drawing skills’. This is a huge no-no.

14. It has a meaningless introduction

The career summary takes the role of the introduction on your CV and it’s an important one. This is a short paragraph that’s positioned at the top of the page and prepares the reader for what’s going to follow. If written effectively, it should provide employers with a brief summary of who you are (e.g. job title you are after or current position), what you have to offer (e.g. years of experience) and what your goals are. Up to 4 sentences forming a paragraph are more than enough, but make sure that you include the right content. If it helps, you can also consider using a career objective.

15. Including references

Employers don’t expect you to include references on your CV unless you are applying for an entry-level position. If the employer specifically asks for them, you can include these on a separate document and attach it to the email along with your CV and cover letter. Writing down ‘References available on request’ is not a good idea either, because it wastes valuable space on your CV and has no real value.

16. Repetition of words

If you are using the same words over and over again, you are going to bore the reader. To avoid this, make a list of good action words to use for bigger impact. Luckily there are hundreds of action words you can use to make your CV stronger and more engaging. Amongst the best ones are ‘organised’, ‘achieved’, ‘planned’, ‘produced’, ‘coordinated’, ‘built’, ‘designed’, ‘developed’, ‘devised’, ‘established’, ‘launched’, ‘introduced’ etc. Amongst the ones you shouldn’t use are ‘handled’, ‘led’ or ‘responsible for’ as these have become outdated.

17. Sticking to clichés

There is no bigger disappointment for an employer when he sees words like ‘hard-worker’, ‘creative’, ‘self-motivated’, ‘out-of-the-box’. Another survey from CareerBuilder has identified 17 terms that are the biggest turn-offs starting with the phrase ‘best of breed’. Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of human resources at the same company, says ‘subjective terms and clichés are seen as negative because they don’t convey real information. For instance, don’t say you are ‘results-driven’; show the employer your actual results’.

18. Not getting the ‘so what’ factor

Your CV needs to be able to answer the employer’s question of ‘Why should I care?’ Simply listing job duties from your previous job doesn’t make you any better to other candidates. If you want to stand out you have to be able to provide concrete examples of what you have done. For example, what did you do that made you stand out in your previous role? Is there anything you have done differently to others? It might help to look back on your achievements, any rewards or praises you got from your boss or colleagues and present these on your CV.

19. Missing important evidence

Your CV is incomplete if it merely states your skills and qualifications. For it to be powerful, it needs some real-life examples that can support your arguments. Essentially, you will have to demonstrate how you meet the skills you mentioned on your CV and include numbers to make yourself more convincing. For example, ‘Increased sales by 25% last year’ sounds stronger than ‘Increased sales last year’.  

20. Including the wrong interests/hobbies

There is no need to include hobbies on your CV unless you are a recent graduate and don’t have much experience in the field. This section can be added if you want to show employers who you are - your personality, and the company wants to find the perfect cultural fit. If you can, refer to hobbies that can relate to the industry you have chosen. Stay away from the ones that are either too risky or too plain. And just in case you don’t know these are not even regarded as hobbies, e.g. going to the cinema, hanging out with friends, drinking and socialising!


Most job seekers end up making the same mistakes. If you want to stand a chance at the job, make sure that you are not one of them. To avoid these errors and make sure your CV is as flawless as possible, you can ask someone to proofread your CV – preferably a career adviser.

Has this helped? Let us know in the comments section below…