9 reasons why people screw up on their CVs/résumés

Some experts say that you should break away from the traditional format and layout of a CV as that will get you noticed and make you stand out in the slush pile, but others say although it might make you stand out it could do so for the wrong reasons. Prospective employers and especially recruitment agents prefer to work within their comfort zones and an all-singing, all-dancing CV that thumbs its nose at conventional formatting will irritate them, which is hardly the impression you want to create.

Where people do go terribly wrong is within one of these areas:

1.Using standardized CV templates downloaded from the internet. These can provide a useful starting point, but because they are standardized they tend to have a standardizing influence on you, which is not what you want. You need to follow the conventional structure of a CV, but that’s where the resemblance between you and the rest of the world finishes.

2.Not taking enough time over the compilation of the CV. This document is probably the most important one you’ll ever write about yourself, and it’s the one tool that can make or break your career. Give it the time and effort it deserves.

3.Use of tired clichés. We all chuckle at some of these hairy old business-speak terms and point out how meaningless they have become through over-usage. So why on earth include any in your CV? Yet it’s surprising how many people fall back on the clichés. But you need to get out of that comfort zone and use terms and phrases that make you stand out.

4.Inappropriate use of humour or informality. This is not a time to write in the way that you would chat to friend over a latté – you want to be taken seriously. The right tone is professional, with no bullshit.

5.Incorrect grammar, spelling, punctuation & syntax. You’d think everyone would know how important this is, wouldn’t you? Yet it’s amazing how often small goofs get missed, even with spelling and grammar checkers. Get your CV proof-read by several different people, if necessary.

6.Wording that’s too arrogant, or too meek. Although it’s important that your CV is positive and shows you in your best light, it’s not the place to go into too hard a selling mode because that can make you look either a) conceited, b) desperate, or both. Conversely wording that’s so mealy-mouthed it comes over almost as apologetic is just as bad. A bold, straight-from-the-shoulder approach that’s professional and respectful is ideal.

7.Too many assumptions about what you can do for the new employer. Although it’s important to make all of your CV relevant to the vacancy in question, it’s dangerous to assume you know a lot about the company’s expectations of you. Often job specifications are unclear and/or inadequate and if you go into a lot of detail about what transpires to be wrong information, it will make you look stupid.

8.The whole thing is too long and detailed. If you are a young student / graduate, your CV really shouldn’t be longer than about two or three pages. Older people who have been in employment for longer can get away with longer CVs, but even so remember to edit, edit, edit. The shorter the message, the more powerful it will be provided it gets the key points across.

9.Your personal interests give a negative impression of who you are. Much as you may be proud of the fact that all by yourself you’ve been a successful breeder of racing pigeons since you were 12, whether you like it or not that could suggest that you’re a bit of a loner. Not good in our team-orientated business world. It’s better in a case like this to emphasise your role within the pigeon racing community, and the ways in which your expertise is shared and appreciated.

Let’s make sure your  writing never gets screwed up:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English




  1. Excellent sound advice Suze. Couldn’t have written it better myself.

  2. Meant to add.. Don’t use a PHOTO!

    • Thanks for your comments, Lynn – it’s gratifying to be praised by an expert!

      Question: why is it such a bad idea to include a photo? Would love to know if you have a minute to spare…

      Sz xx

      • I just noticed I never responded to this. My thoughts on photos are unless it is for a glamour role where it is essential to be photogenic it is totally inappropriate to attach a shot of yourself. The photo quality may not be good, the picture itself might be unflattering and worst of all, it opens up areas about selection and discrimination.


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