The top 10 most common CV mistakes and how to avoid them, plus key questions to ask at interview

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It's all too easy to fall into the trap of just dashing off a CV without too much thought, especially when you have 15 jobs to apply for in half an hour of free time. 

But sending out a stock CV without proper attention to layout, spelling or a level of detail that's tailored to the job in question can cost you that precious first interview in one swift click of a delete key.

New research has indicated that employers spend just 8.8 seconds on average reviewing each CV they receive; an incredibly short window of time in which to make a good impression.

The survey of 500 UK organisations by the National Citizen Service (published in the Independent) also highlights the top 10 no-nos that are most likely to land your résumé on the slush pile.

Take a look at what these common gaffes are and how to avoid them, below, along with tips on key questions that will help nail you the job - no matter what it is - if you are lucky enough to get to interview stage. 

The 10 worst CV errors you can make

1. Bad grammar

How to avoid it: Don't just rely on your own assumptions or spell check programmes, which often miss contextual errors. Get an English graduate or teacher friend to proofread your CV before you send it out, to pick up on any slips that might be picked up by grammar pedants. Also read your CV out loud to ensure that it sounds right and makes sense; are you using tenses correctly (past tense for past experience etc.)? Are you employing a wide enough vocabulary? Double check for simple mistakes such as "your" versus "you're" , "then" or "than". They're easier than you think to make and indicate a lack of attention to detail that no amount of university degrees can compensate for. 

2. Spelling mistakes

How to avoid it: Proofread as if your life depended on it! "Proofread your CV very carefully or, better yet, get someone you know or a careers adviser to proofread it for you," suggests Patricia Frazer, of the Department for Employment and Learning’s Careers Service. "Typos happen all too easily. Don’t be like the job seeker who 'revolved customer problems and enquiries' or 'often uses a laptap.'" Also keep an eye out for Americanisms which may have been auto-corrected by spell check. 

3. Poor formatting

How to avoid it: Keep the format simple and slick. "These days your CV will most likely be read on-screen before it's printed off. If indeed, it is ever printed. Therefore, format your CV so that it is easy to read on a screen," reads the official advice from employment website "Stick with fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman at font size 10 or 12. Use italics sparingly and don't use any colours, crazy backgrounds or, heaven forbid, flowery page borders. If you've sent your CV as an attachment to an email, make sure it's a Word attachment."

4. CV longer than two pages

How to avoid it: The ability to be concise is a great way to show off your communication skills. Employers deluged with CVs will be automatically put off anything longer than two pages (one page is perfectly adequate for graduate-level applications). Get rid of any clutter, including mission statements, unnecessary descriptive words (along the lines of "passionate" or "driven"), photos and any irrelevant jobs, or jobs you've held for less than a year. You can fill in the gaps at interview, but until then - less is more. 

5. Casual tone

How to avoid it: You need to strike a balance between being unique and interesting enough to stand out, while also coming across as professional rather than chatty. "'Positively objective' might be a good way of describing the ideal tone," say the experts over at "It’s best to write in third person as this sounds more professional and means you can brag but not sound like you're bragging. The other side of the coin is people hiding their personality. In a CV you simply must allow your personality to shine and find adjectives that best suit you. Make your statements original and interesting."

6. Use of jargon

How to avoid it: "The use of jargon, clumsy expression or clichés can sabotage the chances of even the most capable of candidates," says Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management. "Your communication skills are being judged by your use of language in your CV. Don't waffle, be precise and use positive action words such as 'initiated this' or 'created that' to reinforce the message that you're an upbeat, 'can-do' type of candidate."

7. Unusual font style/size

How to avoid it: "Even if your resume is perfectly written, hiring managers may still over look it if your resume is miserably designed," says , of "Stick with simple black type on high-quality (but not showy) white paper. Use a simple font. Putting bullet points on your resume will make the document easy to scan and more likely to catch somebody’s eye."

8. Exam grades listed in full

How to avoid it: Remember you want your CV to be sharp and concise; don't dilute your message by listing the GCSE grades you got 15 years ago. If you have a good degree, that's all anyone really needs to know - you can summarise any A-Levels if you feel it's needed and ditch the GCSE mention altogether (the same goes for A-Levels once you're a certain way into your career). Reference your most recent education achievements and any related practical qualifications first, as these will generally be the most relevant. Remember that relevant job experience usually trumps education history, so lead with your past jobs if you can.  

9. Generic interests such as cooking and reading listed


10. Lack of activities relating to personal development

How to avoid it: These last two points go hand-in-hand, since you want to appear dynamic and original on a personal level, without simply listing generic interests that anyone could lay a claim to. The personal area can be a useful ice-breaker so think hard about what will make you stand out. Think about the kinds of hobbies you have in terms of the skills they demonstrate, rather than just listing what interests you. And include anything that could be useful on a practical level such as foreign languages or voluntary work that demonstrates your leadership abilities. 

Three important questions that will help you nail the job - no matter what it is

Once you have landed an interview courtesy of your beautifully written CV, you need to keep the momentum going. One of the toughest parts of the process is when an employer asks you what questions you have. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security here; just because you're the one asking the questions, it doesn't mean you're not being judged. Don't waste your questions on logistical things like pay or working hours (you can check these in an email to HR afterwards) or worse, shrug off the offer in polite/ embarrassed fashion. This is an opportunity to show how engaged and on-the-pulse you are, so think big.

Liz Ryan, a contributing careers writer at Forbes, suggests these three questions that could work in any context: 

  1. What items are on your hot list, the things you most want and need to have completed and off your plate three months from now?
  2. What is the biggest goal for your department this year, and how would I as a new team member contribute to that goal?
  3. What is the biggest problem you’re looking to hire someone to solve for you?

These words will frame the kind of relationship you will want from a prospective employer. The last words of (rather wise) advice comes from Liz herself, who says: "Remember, you’re an equal partner with your prospective boss in the hiring decision, not a supplicant. A job interview is a time and place to see whether you have a good match, or not. You are perfect for the right situation and have nothing to apologize for or stress over in your resume or in yourself. You are completely perfect, right now. Only the people who get you, deserve you!"

Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Getty Images

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Stylist Team