How Not To Write A CV

How Not To Write A CV

There's plenty of advice available online talking about how to write a good CV: what to do, what to include, how to write it. But what shouldn't you do? What makes a bad CV, a CV that could potentially put recruiters off?

I asked Computer Recruiter Ltd - an agency that provides IT recruitment in Cardiff - about their experiences with CVs for jobs in the IT industry. Having been established as a recruitment agency for over 20 years, they have seen thousands upon thousands of CVs, and along with many very good ones, they have also seen a few that have committed one or more of the following CV sins:

(Note: Although some of Computer Recruiter's comments focus on CVs in the IT industry in particular, most if not all of the issues below will be applicable to all CVs in all industries.)

Too long: A CV might run onto a few pages, but it can't be War and Peace. Computer Recruiter once received a CV from an IT contractor that was 40 pages long, with each contract on a separate page. It is unlikely that a recruiter will read from start to finish if it's that long (nor will they really like to print it either). The optimum length of a CV is 2-4 pages and absolutely no more than 6 pages.

Too short: On the other hand, a project manager with 30 years' experience who sends a brief, one page summary covering all of their work may need to expand a little. In either instance, whether too long or too short, jobseekers should focus on writing about their most relevant and most recent jobs. Older, less relevant jobs should also be included, but only a quick, brief summary should be included with each one.

Disjointed: Ideally, jobs listed on a CV should run in reverse chronological order: newest to oldest. The other way around isn't too bad, but make sure it flows one way or another - jobs ordered in any other way (e.g. by industry, then by time) can be very confusing to read and digest for a recruiter.

No dates (or just years): Some jobseekers have been known to leave out the number of years they have worked at each job, so the recruiter has no idea how long they were employed in each instance. Just as bad is leaving out the months and only including the years: if someone worked "2009-2010," did they work two years (January 2009 to December 2010) or less than two months (December 2009 to January 2010)?

Gaps in employment: The jobs you have held should be continuous and any gaps should be explained, e.g. in education, in hospital, travelling abroad. Give a "reason for leaving" - if it's a fair enough reason, it shouldn't be a hindrance in getting a job.

No skills?: For IT jobs in particular, candidates need to include details of their skills. As you can imagine, it's not great if a technical support person does not list which operating systems and software they are experienced with.

Writing in the 3rd person: Steve's employment history? Steve's skills? Steve's interests? Sounds odd, doesn't it? Not many CVs get written in the 3rd person: admittedly, it sometimes happens when a company has written about a candidate elsewhere and the candidate has simply copied and pasted that info into their CV. CVs should be personal, so they should really be written in the 1st person.

Poor spelling and grammar: This one is obvious, but make sure to look beyond using your word processor's Spell Check to check for spelling mistakes in a CV. For example, for an IT jobseeker, the software Novell won't be picked up by a Spell Checker if it's been spelt as "Novel," so remember to look out for things like that. Grammar is important as well: if you know you're not the best when it comes to grammar then be sure to ask someone to proof read your CV before you pass it on to recruiters.

Unusual fonts and font sizes: Using a fancy font may seem like a good idea, but your CV must be readable. Also, avoid reducing the font size too much, which is a technique implemented by some jobseekers trying desperately to squeeze a long CV into fewer pages.

Incorrect paper size for printing: Use A4 as the paper size if you're in the UK. Many CVs arrive to Computer Recruiter in letter size and they don't always print out as they should. You wouldn't want a bit missed from your CV because it's been chopped off or - worse still - for the recruiter or potential employer to have difficulty printing it off properly.

Non-standard file types: CVs in PDF format might seem like a good idea and are fine when forwarding a CV directly to an employer, but recruitment agencies often need to make minor alterations to CVs, such as removing contact details and putting their name and reference on instead. Microsoft Word format is preferred (and if you can, make sure it's a .doc file instead of a .docx, as the latter is not recognised by older versions of Word).

Incorrect contact details: So you've spent hours updating your CV and it's finally ready to send out. Just double-check that your address, email and phone numbers are up-to-date and correct, arguably some of the most important bits of information on a CV. It's surprising how many people overlook this and they could potentially miss out on a great job opportunity simply because a recruiter or employer cannot get in touch with them.

A big thank you goes to Computer Recruiter for providing information on their experiences and observations over the years in the recruitment industry. For more information on them, visit their profile on or their website:

Steve Morgan

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