7 CV mistakes to avoid in your next job application
Here’s what not to do.
Last updated: 22 March 2023
What you’ll learn:
- What you should avoid putting on a New Zealand CV
- The checks you should carry out before submitting your CV
- Some bonus tips for making the perfect job application
When you’re applying for jobs, your CV is typically your first impression on the people you’re trying to dazzle. Recruiters and hiring managers will usually skim this document before looking at anything else you might have submitted as part of your application – cover letters, portfolios and written references, for example.
So, it needs to be strong. And, while you’ll be able to find heaps of useful information on writing a CV, there are also things you need to actively avoid putting onto this document.
Below we’ll show you what they are, so you can steer clear of putting your foot in it.
Mistakes to avoid when writing a CV
1. Lying about your skills and experience
Presenting yourself well and being confident in your suitability for the role is one thing, deliberately lying or over-exaggerating your skills and experience is another entirely.
While it might be tempting to say you have heaps of experience in something that’s specifically included in the job listing, it will almost certainly end badly.
If it’s something that you think is worth lying about, it’s almost certainly going to be something the hiring panel wants to ask about in the interview. And then you’ll find yourself stumbling trying to make something up, or you’ll have to own up. It’s a recipe for disaster that’s entirely avoidable.
2. Not focusing on your achievements
The purpose of a CV is to show why you’d be the right person for the job that’s being advertised, not to replicate a list of your previous roles’ job descriptions. In other words, don’t just tell the hiring manager what you did, show them what you achieved.
Facts and figures are your friend here. Providing tangible evidence for the impact you personally made makes for compelling reading, and will also be a useful talking point when it comes to your job interview.
3. Spelling and grammar mistakes
An amazing CV that hits all the key points mentioned in the job ad can be easily derailed by even just one or two spelling or grammar mistakes.
This might seem petty, but put yourself in the reader’s shoes. You’re trying to convince them that you’re someone they need to have in their team, while at the same time showing that you haven’t taken the time to properly check your CV for errors. There’s no job in the world where attention to detail isn’t important, so this isn’t a great look. The reader also may begin to think that you quickly dashed off the CV as one of a batch that you’ve sent to a whole bunch of employers, rather than targeted specifically at them.
How to avoid it: There are two things you definitely need to do before submitting any CV:
First, read it through yourself, out loud. Doing this not only allows you to check for spelling and grammar mistakes, it also shows you whether it reads well. If you find yourself stumbling over sentences, this is a good indication that your CV isn’t there yet, and needs another look.
Second, get someone else to cast their eyes over it, as a fresh set of eyes might spot things you didn’t.
Reding your CV out loud can help you weed out any spelling and grammar mistakes.
4. Sending the same CV to every employer
As we’ve already mentioned, you shouldn’t send the same CV to each employer. Why? Because each role is different, and your CV should be tailored to the specific requirements and duties mentioned in each job listing, so it should be different every time you apply.
Of course, you don’t need to start from scratch every time you write a CV. Our advice would be to use one of our free, downloadable CV templates to create yourself a model that you can tweak each time for different applications.
Bonus tip: make it subtly obvious that you’ve tailored your CV by naming the document as something like ‘JohnDoeTradeMeCV.doc’. Not only is it helpful to the employer to have your name attached to the file, it also shows them that this is a CV you’ve created specifically for their job. You should do this for your cover letter too.
5. Writing a boring personal statement
The vast majority of your CV will be in bullet point format. However, the one place where you might find yourself writing a few full sentences is in the personal statement section.
As well as usually being right at the top of the document, and therefore the first thing a hiring manager will read, your personal statement is a great opportunity to make your CV stand out, so it needs to be good.
“I’m a dynamic and dedicated professional with a strong work ethic and a proven track record. Having worked across a broad range of industries, I’m ready for my next challenge, and have a strong desire to continue developing my skills.”
The main problem with this is that it could have been written by literally anyone. It tells the reader nothing about you as an individual (other than you have an unhealthy tendency towards meaningless buzzwords), and does nothing to demonstrate what you actually bring to the table. Anyone can claim to be dynamic (although no one should) or dedicated – so be specific.
A better example would be something like:
“With five years of journalism experience under my belt, and having written for some of New Zealand’s best regarded media organisations, I understand the era of digital-first content, and how to break attention-grabbing stories for today’s media consumers. I’m now looking for the opportunity to take my story-telling skills to a national audience and work across a broader range of news and feature stories to allow me to develop further as a journalist.”
If your CV makes the hiring manager do this, you're in trouble.
6. Forgetting the robots
First and foremost, your CV should be written to impress a human audience. However, next you should be thinking of the robots that many companies use to screen CVs that come in.
Specifically, we're talking about applicant tracking systems (ATS), which are digital tools that many businesses and recruiters use to provide an initial assessment of a candidate's application.
As well as correct formatting, which we’ll talk about below, one of the major features that ATS look for are certain keywords that show you’re suitable for the role. But how do you know which to include? Great places to look for keywords include:
- The job description – in particular, scour the requirements and responsibilities sections.
- The company website – check out their values/mission/culture pages. Here, you might find buzzwords (that relate to how the company sees itself, which you can then use.
- Similar listings – if you’re still struggling, look at similar listings from other organisations. If the same terms crop up over and over, it might be an idea to include these too.
7. Poor formatting
As well as keeping the length of your CV to no more than two pages, there are some other formatting issues to watch out for:
- Font size: A font size of 12 is the most usual for NZ CVs.
- Font style: Nothing too wacky – stick with something neutral like Arial or Calibri.
- Page margins: Your CV margins should be around 2.5 cm.
- Images: there’s no need to include any images on your CV, save the space for text.
- Putting information in the header and footer: ATS often struggle to read info contained in the header or footer, so writing your contact details in there might mean they get missed.
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