How to write the perfect CV: Avoid common errors that ruin your chances

Running things over with a fine-tooth comb is a necessity when it comes to job applications
Keep it clear – no one knows what you mean by “results-oriented”.
Spot the mistake in this list of skills, taken from a real CV and published on Amy Joyce’s Resume Bloopers blog for the Washington Post: “Strong Work Ethic, Attention to Detail, Team Player, Self Motivated, Attention to Detail.” Actually, there are several, including needless capitalisation, use of empty cliches and the fantastically ironic repetition of “attention to detail.”
But even if you’d never fall victim to such crass carelessness, chances are you’re still vulnerable to a CV blunder or two. Google’s HR boss Laszlo Bock, writing for LinkedIn, recently cited a 2013 CareerBuilder survey claiming that 58 per cent of CVs contain at least one typo. Bock’s team sometimes receives more than 50,000 applications in a single week, and the paucity of error-free CVs is alarming – “most are just OK, many are disasters,” he says. Recruiters are so flooded with CVs that they’re often looking for an excuse to throw your application in the bin. Avoiding these mistakes should at least keep you in the “maybe” pile.

SPELLING AND GRAMMAR

No one needs to be told that typos must be avoided at all costs – they undermine any claim to being focused on details. Yet still they persist. Bock thinks that some of the best-qualified candidates might even be the most vulnerable to this, since perpetual tweakers and rewriters run the risk of inadvertently mismatching a subject and verb. And the more you read something, the easier it can be to blind yourself to errors.
Bock suggests rereading the whole document in reverse order – sentence by sentence, bottom to top, in order to help refocus attention on individual sections. Copying and pasting the text into a new document with a different font and larger text size should also help.

SHOW, DON’T TELL

It’s common for recruiters to list job requirements in terms of “competencies” these days. The PwC Professional Leadership Framework, for example, lists “business acumen”, “whole leadership” and “technical capabilities” (although “attributes” seem to be the new “competencies”). According to business communication trainer Clare Whitmell, a surprising number of applicants seem to think that simply name-dropping the right jargon (“team-player”, “results-oriented” etc) will suffice. It won’t.
“Be as specific as possible, giving facts and details rather than fuzzy buzzwords,” she says. If the person reading your CV has to work hard to find evidence for your claims, you’re unlikely to make a good impression.

JOB HOPPING

Through no fault of their own, some people have CVs that make it look like they’ve struggled to hold down a position for more than a year or two. And few things set off recruiters’ alarm bells quicker than the whiff of a job hopper. Whitmell thinks that, by simply presenting the bare facts in such cases, you might be doing yourself a disservice. Some cosmetic gloss is in order.
If you’re able to list several short-term positions under one heading (“contract work”, “freelancer”), the work history section of your CV will come across as less haphazard. If not, Whitmell recommends refocusing the CV around skills and achievements, rather than trying to detail a string of disconnected jobs.

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