Top 4 biggest CV mistakes (according to research!)

Top 4 biggest CV mistakes (according to research!)CVs are a cornerstone of the job application process, and there are plenty of articles available that advise candidates on how to optimise their resume and avoid common blunders that could affect their chances of landing a role.


Rather than add to the pile, we thought we’d drill a little deeper into the topic and compile some of the best research into what makes employers and recruiters tick about poorly written CVs. Here’s what we uncovered:

1. Bad spelling and grammar

Perhaps unsurprisingly, spelling and grammar tops the list of gripes across almost every survey of businesses we found. Figures from the New College of Humanities (NCH) revealed that 59 per cent of recruiters listed grammatical errors and typos as the biggest complaint they received about applicants’ CVs.


A 2011 Saddleback College survey of local US employers unveiled similar frustrations, with typos and grammar the number one issue two years running.


The news doesn’t get better for those who struggle with getting ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’ correct. YouGov research on behalf of GSM London revealed 87 per cent of senior executives consider spelling and grammar the worst CV mistake an applicant can make.


Sadly, these errors appear to be rife. A Personal Career Management survey published in the Daily Telegraph showed 81 per cent of CVs have spelling and grammar problems. The most cringeworthy one spotted across 450 surveyed resumes?


“My interests include cooking dogs and interesting people.”

2. An overly casual tone

We’ve established that bad spelling and grammar is far and away the biggest warning sign for employers, but what comes next? It seems survey respondents don’t have a universal second-place grievance, but overly casual applicants come fairly close.


An informal CV came fifth in both the YouGov poll and a 2015 National Citizen Service survey – first and second spot in the latter research went to bad grammar and poor spelling, respectively, of course.


Recruiters appear to be particularly annoyed at a casual tone; the issue came second on the NCH list of top CV hates, with 50 per cent of respondents mentioning it. Signing off with ‘cheers’ or using terms such as ‘you guys’ was considered especially irritating.


Cliches and jargon also displease recruiters – half of those polled said they rolled their eyes when people use tired phrases such as ‘think outside the box’.

3. Poor formatting and font use

Design issues came under a variety of different categories across the research, but they cropped up regularly nonetheless.


Nearly 40 per cent of respondents in the YouGov poll cited poor design as a problem. Meanwhile, the National Citizen Service ranked dodgy formatting as the third most-cited headache among employers (unusual font styles and sizes came seventh).


Among recruiters, 44 per cent said ‘snazzy’ backgrounds and borders didn’t have the intended effect, with 31 per cent claiming that employers don’t appreciate unprofessional fonts.


Research from the National Citizen Service showed Arial (size 11) is the most popular font for employers, indicating that applicants should favour a no-frills, classic approach.


“Make your CV easy to read, with simple bullet points highlighting key skills and experience,” said Piers Linney, Dragon’s Den star and co-CEO of Cloud Service Provider Outsourcery.


“Prioritise the important information at the top in order to catch the eye of the employer; if they like what they see, they will read more.”

4. CV is too long

The average time it takes hiring managers to read a CV is a hotly debated issue, and while the research we examined didn’t provide a definitive answer, we can say one thing: it’s not long.


The NCH research claimed recruiters decide an applicant’s fate in less than 60 seconds, with 20 per cent admitting they discard CVs before reaching the end. National Citizen Service’s survey was even more disheartening; employers apparently take just 8.8 seconds to review each application they receive.


It’s hardly surprising, then, that 46 per cent of employers in the YouGov poll said they consider lengthy CVs to be the biggest blunder a candidate can make. Conversely, only 26 per cent of hiring managers believe a resume can be too short.


CVs that exceed two pages in length were the fourth biggest issue among National Citizen Service respondents, and professional resume-writing service StandOut CV claims long-winded applications are a common problem.


“Keep your CV as close to two pages as possible and make your points short and sharp to ensure that you are communicating the important information quickly and creating a high-impact CV,” the company advises.

The best of the rest

These were the top four biggest mistakes that were most common across the research we reviewed, but they weren’t the only errors bugging employers and recruiters. Let’s close out with a quick list of other complaints:

  • Too much personal information or irrelevant hobbies
  • A photo of the candidate
  • Writing in the third person or cringeworthy quotes
  • Unprofessional email addresses
  • Poorly ordered job experience
  • Unexplained gaps in work experience

Are you having trouble making it to the next stage of the application process? Get in touch with one of our consultants at Barclay Simpson today to see if we can help with your next role.


Our Market Reports combineĀ our review of the prevailing conditions in the corporate governance recruitment market together with the results of our latest employer survey.


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