Common mistakes when preparing a CV

Work at JL

Iain Rainey is the Managing Director of Jameson Legal and specialises in placing lawyers into legal departments in the Middle East.  Here he gives his opinion on some of the common mistakes made when preparing a CV.

A close contact recently asked me for help with their CV.  He is going back on the job market for the first time in some years and he wanted to make sure that his CV looked up to standard.  I looked over his CV and it looked excellent, but the exercise did lead to me consider what is important about a CV and what are the common mistakes.

I review literally thousands of CVs each year and the basic, most common errors that I see on a CV are:

The emphasis of the CV is not relevant to the role in question. 

In this modern competitive world, you need to make sure that each CV aligns with the vacancy it is being sent to.  It’s not like the old days when you popped down to the print shop and paid for 60 identical CVs to be printed.  If the person who is reviewing the CVs has to struggle to find the information he or she is looking for then they will reject the CV.

The CV is an amendment of previous CVs. 

That means that people just “dust off the CV” and add their most recent experience to an old CV.  Over time that means that previous highlights are left on a CV even when they have become irrelevant.  An example/anecdote is when you see a senior applicant with decades of experience list “Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award – 1982” or “Senior Prefect” under his/her accomplishments.  

Don’t apply for roles that have no relevance to your experience. 

If you become a serial CV sender then recruiters naturally spend less time considering you for a role that could actually be relevant for you when it becomes available.  They start thinking “Oh, its him/her again.”

Make sure all relevant information is on the CV. 

Cover letters should be short and simply outline where you currently work, what you do and what you are applying for.  Covering letters can become separated from a CV and if it has relevant information on it, that can be lost. 

Other Points

  • Have a basic CV ready.  Then have a number of paragraphs stored elsewhere that you can add or remove from the CV to align it with the role that you apply for.  
  • If you are a lawyer, state the year that you qualified and the country or jurisdiction in which you qualified. I am baffled by the number of legal applicants who don’t list it under their qualifications. 
  • Give some thoughts to your interests.  Write things that you are genuinely interested in because they will come up at interview.  Try to avoid controversial points: 

Example 1:  If you write “avowed Marxist” it is unlikely that your CV will impress a bank (although as a Marxist, why would you apply?).  Better to write “keen interest in politics”.

Example 2:  You have written “avid XXX United fan” but the HR Manager hates your team.  Will the HR Manager look less favourably on your CV?  Better simply to write “keen interest in football”. 

  • Length of CV:  They can be too long or too short.  American CVs are 1 page but CVs are longer in the rest of the world.  Your CV can be 2-3 pages.  Don’t go longer than that. 

The job market is a competitive place but a well prepared CV gives you the best start to finding that next role.