Don't send out a bad CV!

We've all made mistakes, it's a natural part of life. One place you don't want to make a mistake, though, is on your CV. A bad CV could scupper your chances of landing your dream job. Luckily, at TopCV we've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly – and we're ready to share our list of what NOT to do when you're preparing this important document. Read on to avoid the most common CV mistakes. 

What makes a bad CV?

There are some general rules to writing a knock-out CV that should go without saying. Don't send a CV full of typos, don't overshare personal information, don't just include a photo, and don't assume your reader knows what you do. Beyond that, however, things aren't as clear. What was considered best practice 15 years ago doesn't work now and the rules of CV-writing best practice have moved on. Let's look at what makes a bad CV and share some tips to turn it into a stand-out CV. If you want to prepare the best CV possible, avoid these faux pas: 

Writing an objective statement

The objective statement is seen as outdated now, for two reasons. Firstly, your objective is always, presumably, to get the job you've submitted your CV for. It goes without saying. Secondly, an objective statement is all about what you want. A stronger CV would show off what you offer, instead. 

What to do instead: Remove this irrelevant information and make space to sell your skills, experience, and qualifications. 

Having an excessively long or short CV

The perfect length for a CV is a never-ending debate. Anywhere between one and three pages is generally considered acceptable. What is unacceptable, however, is choosing the wrong length for your personal situation. A senior executive is likely to sell themselves short with a one-page CV. Similarly, there's no excuse for a seven-page CV even if you're the prime minister. Choosing the right length for your CV means striking a fine balance between respecting your reader's time and showcasing the attributes that will sell you into the role. 

What to do instead: If you're not sure, two pages is generally a safe bet.  

Listing your responsibilities 

When it comes to bad CV mistakes, this is generally the most common. Don't list every responsibility you've ever had for every role you've ever held. The more experienced you are, the more selective you need to be with the responsibilities you include. As a general rule, try to summarise the responsibilities for each role into two or three sentences. Ask yourself: what is the point and scope of this role? 

What to do instead: Instead of listing responsibilities for each role, list achievements. This will show a hiring manager how you can have a positive impact on a business. 

Using creative formatting 

Another sign of a bad CV is wild formatting and graphics. You may think they show off your creativity, but in fact they're making your CV harder to read for both humans and applicant tracking systems (ATS). There's no place for icons, logos, graphics, charts, or graphs on a professional CV. 

What to do instead: Content is king on your CV, so focus on the wording. Choose a single column format with black text and no images – check out our good CV examples for inspiration.

Ignoring career gaps 

Career gaps are perfectly normal, but ignoring them can raise red flags for recruiters. With no better explanation, they may infer that you were fired, in prison, or simply lazing around. 

What to do instead: Write a brief one- or two-line explanation of the gap – for example, travelling, raising a family, or upskilling following redundancy. As long as you frame it positively, it won't be a concern. 

Not tailoring your CV

We get it, preparing the perfect CV for each job is a time-consuming task. But sending out the same one to multiple vacancies won't increase your chances of success. Employers don't have time to wade through generic details in the hope of identifying the nugget that makes you worth interviewing. With only a few seconds spent on the initial scan of each CV, yours needs to pop every time. 

What to do instead: Rather than sending a CV packed with irrelevant information to several companies, take the time to present a strong, credible application to each one. 

Keyword stuffing 

You've probably heard the advice that your CV needs to contain keywords to get through the applicant tracking systems. Well, there's an element of truth in that. Recruiters can conduct keywords searches on CVs, so having a document that contains keywords relevant to your target role is sensible. Remember, however, that your CV will be read and evaluated by a human. Excessive and unnatural keyword stuffing will do more harm than good. As for the advice that you should hide keywords in white text to beat the bots… well, just remember that not all advice is good advice. If you're wise to do this trick, you can bet the recruiters are too. Trying this will ultimately reflect badly on you. 

What to do instead: Scrutinise the job advert for the most relevant keywords and incorporate them naturally, and in moderation, throughout your CV. 


Really? We shouldn't need to tell you this but lying on your CV is never a good idea. Apart from being unethical, it shows a lack of integrity. If you can't talk in depth about every element of your CV in an interview, you're going to look foolish at best. If you do end up getting the job, you risk being fired if your deception is uncovered. 

What to do instead: Omit details that reflect badly on you, but remember that a CV should be totally honest… always. If you put care and consideration into your wording, you can make whatever you've done sound impressive.  

Going wild with the fonts 

Font choice can be a very personal thing. On one hand, the font can be an easy way to inject a bit of personality into an otherwise dry document. On the other hand, choosing the wrong one can negatively impact readability. A serif font, or one that isn't installed as standard on the majority of devices, is likely to cause difficulty for your reader. Similarly, using a tiny font so that you can cram more words on isn't likely to do you any favours either. 

What to do instead: Choose a contemporary, sans serif, widely available font, and use a maximum of two different ones. 

Choosing an online template

Yes, some of the CV templates you can find online look amazing! The problem is, they're rarely developed with applicant tracking systems in mind and they're NEVER developed with you in mind. Your CV is a personal document that needs to fit around your career and aspirations. Most of the formats you'll see won't perform well if your CV is scanned into an applicant tracking system. More importantly, they tend to have quite a rigid layout. That forces you to fit your words into the available space, rather than the other way round. It's critical to have the right amount of space for each part of your career, in order to adequately sell yourself. Online templates don't offer the flexibility you need. 

What to do instead: Take inspiration from the designs you like online, but always write the words before considering formatting. Prioritise the content that will sell you and always bear ATS compatibility in mind.

Omitting the profile

Rather than diving into your career history as soon as you've got your contact details on the page, every good CV these days has a Professional Profile (also known as a Summary). The top third of your CV is considered the most vital part – it's what the recruiter will read first, so it's here that you have to make an impact. A bad CV will either omit or underestimate the importance of the profile, leading to a weak introduction. 

What to do instead: Spend time crafting a high-impact elevator pitch stating exactly what you do, what you specialise in, your unique selling point, and how you can add value to a business – all in four or five lines. 

Banish bad CVs for good!

Equipped with this list of CV mistakes, you're ready to prepare your own interview-winning document. You know what not to do but, most importantly, you know what you should do instead to land your CV on the “YES” pile. 

If you want to check that you've avoided the most common mistakes found on a bad CV, why not request a free CV review? Our experts will let you know if there are any red flags. 

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