The 7 CV Mistakes to Avoid

The 7 CV Mistakes to Avoid

As a former Army Major, Laura Blair understands the transition from military to civilian employment and in her role as OA’s Director of Employment, she often reviews CVsLaura shares her insights on the most common CV mistakes made by Service leavers. 

Your CV remains the single most important tool to help you gain employment. Of course, LinkedIn, networking and covering letters help, but your CV is key to securing that all important interview. Therefore, it is vital your CV clearly demonstrates how you would add value to a business and convince a prospective employer that you’re the right candidate for the job.

Here is a list of common mistakes seen in CVs:

  • Poor formatting
  • Spelling and grammar mistakes
  • Lack of evidence
  • Ignoring gaps in your work history
  • Exaggerating the truth
  • Not tailoring your CV to the specific job you are applying for
  • Not explaining why you want the role.

And here is how to avoid them…

Poor formatting

People see before they read. Your CV should look good if you expect an employer to read it and follow a standard layout. Ideally, a CV should be no more than two sides of A4 paper (although there are exceptions to this general rule) and use a professional font such as Arial or Calibri.

The recommended format is:

  • Name and contact details
  • Personal statement, 3 or 4 lines
  • Key skills and/or key achievements
  • Career history in a reverse chronological format and use bullet points (include your earlier career history in outline only)
  • Qualifications and awards
  • Personal/interests

If you have lots of information, avoid cramming everything in by reducing the text size as this will only put employers off. The text should be 11-12 points, with clear spacing and margins of 2cm around. Give each section a clear subheading and present the main body copy with extended bullet points.

If the information goes beyond two pages, then cut it down. Keep only the content that matches the job description that will help get you get the role.

Remember to leave some ‘white space’ in your CV.

Spelling and grammar mistakes

Your CV must have no spelling or grammar mistakes. This should be obvious, but it is a surprisingly common error to make. If you cannot check for simple mistakes on an important document, how can an employer trust you can complete work to a high standard?

Use a spelling and grammar checker like Grammarly to help. However, it can be challenging to check your own work because you are often too close to the content. Instead, ask a friend or a family member to proofread your CV. They can be more objective and share their views on other aspects of your CV, such as tone and style.

Word choice is important.  Avoid littering your CV with ‘empty’ adjectives/superlatives which are subjective and cliched, for example, dynamic/motivated/versatile/flexible. Employers prefer definitive terms, so stick to the facts about yourself and previous job roles.

A common mistake is providing incorrect contact information. You could miss an interview simply because an invite was sent to a misspelt email address. Ensure your contact information is accurate, including your full name, address, mobile phone number, email address and where possible, your LinkedIn address.

Lack of evidence

Every claim in your CV should be supported with evidence. Otherwise, how will an employer know you can actually do the job? Do not simply list all your responsibilities under each job title but instead, focus on tangible, measurable achievements which demonstrate your capabilities.

Did you improve a process, increase training outcomes, reduce time, save money or solve a problem? Where possible, use relevant data and statistics. For example: ‘I am experienced in change management. I was responsible for introducing a new safety check, which resulted in a 22% reduction in incidents.”

An excellent way to demonstrate this is to use the STAR format – Situation, Task, Action, Result. The result is the outcome or consequence of the actions you took or the responsibilities you held and should be quantified where possible with figures.

Providing evidence is your opportunity to demonstrate what makes you a strong candidate and employers will be able to better understand your impact, and how your experience could benefit them.

Ignoring gaps in your work history

It is understandable why you would ignore gaps in your work history. You may feel it reflects poorly on you, and it can sometimes be difficult to know what to tell an employer, especially if you took time out for personal reasons.

Careers are more complex than ever, and it is natural and of course human to have gaps in your work history – it is no reflection on you. If you served for many years, it can be sensible to take some time out after leaving to relax and reset before pursuing a civilian career. Most employers understand this, and many will applaud you for it.

Be honest but avoid being self-deprecating. In your career history section on your CV, simply include the career gap, the reasons why and what career steps you took during this period. Did you research different industries or learn new skills to increase your employability? Perhaps you volunteered for a charity. Employers will respect that you remained motivated and proactive during your time off.

Here is a good example: ‘Career break taken to retrain as a cyber security project manager. (May 2020-April 2021)’ or Career break: ‘Full-time parent’.

Remember, you can always elaborate and provide context and more information if asked during the interview.

Your CV must be an honest reflection of you and who you are. It can be tempting to overstate the value of your military experience.

Laura Blair, Former Army Major, OA's Director of Employment

Exaggerating the truth 

Your CV must be an honest reflection of you and who you are. It can be tempting to overstate the value of your military experience. However, you risk appearing arrogant, and could fail to meet the employer’s expectations in the interview.  

For example, you may claim to have experience as a HR Manager, when the reality is you were responsible for your team’s welfare. However, the employer could expect you to have HR qualifications or be familiar with specific processes. In addition, when translating military work titles to their civilian equivalents, try to avoid grandiose titles like Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or Chief Operating Officer (COO).  

Instead, be honest with employers and avoid military jargon and acronyms. Review each job title listed and decide if a civilian employer would understand the role. Do not remove the military descriptors but instead, add a civilian qualifier. For example: ‘Platoon Commander – Junior Project Manager’. Try to match the civilian qualifier to job roles in the industry you are applying for. You can always ask a civilian friend or former colleague to sense-check these elements if in doubt. 

Not tailoring your CV to the specific job you are applying for 

No doubt, in your covering letter you mention why you want that specific role. Not any role, in any industry or at any organisation. That role. Therefore, your CV should be tailored to explain why you are a strong candidate for that specific role. 

Read the job description carefully, then list all the skills and experience required. Against each requirement write an achievement that demonstrates how you fulfil those criteria. Then include that example under the relevant job title in your career history section or in the skills section. 

For example, if the job requires someone with experience managing budgets, then ensure your CV includes a relevant example. ‘When I led the training exercise, I was responsible for managing a budget of £500k. This included ordering equipment and paying suppliers, while ensuring we met our project objectives.’ 

Not explaining why you want the role 

Employers need to understand why you want the role and what motivates you. The profile or personal statement is key to helping employers ‘understand your why’. These are 2-3 sentences at the top of your CV, which should help ‘sell’ you to employers.  

A weak profile would be: ‘I’m a veteran looking to work in cyber security.’ 

A stronger profile might be: ‘I believe in keeping organisations safe by using the latest technology and processes. I am motivated and highly experienced at managing risk in challenging environments. I now want to develop my career within the cyber security industry.’  

If you are struggling to articulate why you want the role, ask yourself:  

Why do you want this role in particular? 

  • What one thing do you want employers to know about you? 
  • What makes you different from the other candidates, and why is this good for the role? 

Write down your answers and then edit them together to create your profile. Sometimes, it can be easier to develop your personal statement last, after mapping out the other sections. The ‘why’ is the single most important part of your CV, so spend time carefully developing it. 

Remember your military experience 

Your military experience has helped to make you a strong candidate in whatever career you pursue. Avoid these common mistakes and ensure that your CV clearly demonstrates your value to civilian employers.  

If you need further CV support, please book your free one-to-one career consultation with our career experts.

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