Common CV Mistakes

12 CV Mistakes And How To Fix Them (2020 Update)

At Hired By Startups we see hundreds of CVs every day, from the perfectly crafted to the weird and not-so-wonderful. 

Most CV’s we see aren’t perfect and often fall victim to one or more of the following basic mistakes which are a big turn off for both recruiters and hiring managers. 

If you’re looking for a new startup job, review your own CV and see how many of these mistakes you’re making… 

1. Lazy Formatting

This is the most common and basic mistake to fix – terrible CV formatting. Different fonts, font sizes, bullet styles, uneven spacing, role structure etc… 

A poorly formatted CV instantly gives the reader you’re lazy, don’t care about the success of your application or have poor attention to detail – none of which are traits they’re going to be looking for.

Fortunately it’s quick and easy to fix and will automatically make your CV look 10x better.

Really take the time to make sure all formatting is standardised across our CV and you’re off to a good start in the eyes of the hiring manager or recruiter reading your CV.

Side note – avoid tables!

A quick note on formatting – please, please, please don’t write your CV as a table in a Word doc. If the reader opens your CV on a Mac or Google Docs there’s a strong chance it won’t display correctly.

If you must write your CV in a table, send it as a PDF – at least that way the recipient is sure to see exactly what you see when you send it! That’s point number two… 

2. Wrong File Type

This is a really simple one but often overlooked. It’s best to have your CV in two formats, one PDF and one as a Word doc. 

When you apply to a role, use your PDF CV. At least then you can be sure there will be no issues with the hiring manager viewing or saving your CV.

It’s always a good idea to have a word version to hand if you’re speaking with external recruiters.

If you’re happy for the recruiter to add you to their database to keep you updated with other roles, a word CV will parse onto their applicant tracking system far better than a PDF and so you’re more likely to appear in their searches.

It’s also likely they’ll add their logo to your CV and perhaps even convert it to their standard formatting, all of which is easier when you send a word doc.

At Hired By Startups, we don’t format candidate CVs and stick with PDF versions but it’s always appreciated when a candidate sends us a PDF and Word version. Let’s make that point three…

3. CV Not Ready To Send

Most recruitment processes move fairly quickly, particularly in the wonderful world of startups.

Even if you’re not actively looking for a new job, it’s a good idea to have an updated copy of your CV saved on your phone so you can share it in an instant.

4. Not Tailoring Your CV

This is a really quick and easy way to give yourself the best chance of progressing through to the first interview stage – just tailor your CV slightly to the actual company and role. 

An opening paragraph which states you’re actively pursuing a career in a specific industry when the company you’re applying for is in another is a quick way to get your CV rejected.

Don’t bend the truth but, for example, if you’re applying to a startup in the food industry – highlighting you’re a real foodie (who doesn’t love food) would be a good idea. 

5. Unevenly Weighting Roles

Your CV isn’t your your life history. It’s a summary of your professional experience to show a hiring manager or recruiter why you’re a candidate they need to speak with about a specific role they’re hiring.

There are two approaches to this. Either provide more detail on your most recent roles, or provide more detail around your experience which is most relevant to the role. My suggestion is usually the latter but it’s up to you.

Just make sure you haven’t included ten points covering your responsibilities for your part-time job at McDonald’s ten years ago when you’ve only included three points covering your current role as a Sales Manager.

6. Not Updating Your Whole CV

Another sure way to show a hiring manager you’re lazy is to simply add each new role on to your CV without reviewing the rest of your CV.

This is the primary reason some candidate’s CVs simply become a timeline of their life since leaving school and this never looks good.

The best approach is to keep your CV to a specific length, 1-2 pages, and every time you add something new, take out something old.

7. Including An Unsuitable Photo

There’s an ongoing debate as to whether you should include your photo on your CV. On one hand, it gives a face to the information. On the other, it could lead to unconscious bias. 

At Hired By Startups, we’re firmly in the no photo CV camp but if you do want to include one, make sure it’s a professional-ish looking profile photo. 

This doesn’t mean a photo of you at the beach, or with a group of friends at a party, or from your dating profile or with a minor celebrity – and yes, we’ve seen all of these on candidate’s CVs.

8. Too Much Information

We live in a world where data privacy is an ever increasing concern and so it’s always surprising to see how much personal information some candidates disclose on their CV.

Does the recruiter or hiring manger really need to know your exact date of birth, your exact home address, your marital status, how many kids you have and what their names are? No, they really don’t so it’s best you don’t include any of it.

I would simply suggest including your name, email address, phone number and possibly the city you live in, no need for anything more.

9. CV Doesn’t Grab Attention

Generally speaking you have around 6 seconds to grab the hiring manager or recruiters attention with your CV to keep them reading before they move on.

This doesn’t sound like much but we average around 500 applications per startup job we advertise and with such specific requirements we, like most recruiters and hiring managers, simply don’t have time to read your CV line by line to decide if your application is relevant.

With this in mind, keep it short and easy to read. Try and stick to 2 pages and don’t title it ‘Curriculum Vitae’ – we all know what it is so save the space. Keep your paragraphs short, include full dates (month & year is fine) for each role and use bullet points as much as possible.

10. Can You Really Speak French?

Some of the startup roles we recruit at Hired By Startups come with additional language requirements and it’s always surprising just how many candidates have these on their CV or LinkedIn profile.

The problem though is, what does ‘Basic French’ really mean? Getting a ‘B’ in your GCSE French 10 years ago and not speaking it since doesn’t count. Being able to tell me your name, age and ask where the library is doesn’t count either.

If you can’t speak a language to a standard at which it will help you with your role, it’s best not to include it at all on your CV.

Side note – this goes for lies & exaggerations in general

Language abilities are a common culprit but any exaggerations on your CV should be re-evaluated and changed.

If you say you’re also proficient at Photoshop don’t be surprised if you get questions on it from your interviewer.

Likewise don’t say you have ‘intermediate data analysis skills’ if you can barely use Excel or Google Sheets. Even if this doesn’t get picked on during the interview, if your new manager asks you to do some data analysis (because it’s on your CV) it’ll likely lead to an uncomfortable conversation when it becomes clear you don’t actually know what you’re doing.

11. Qualifications Galore

Regardless of whether a startup hires based on academic qualifications it’s always a good idea to add qualifications and achievements to your CV as a way to stand out.

Do keep relevance in mind though. It’s a good idea to include details of your university degree if you have one, maybe even your individual A-levels too.

There’s no need to list each individual GCSE and grade – that ‘B’ in English probably won’t be a deciding factor in you getting hired and so ’10 GCSE’s Grade A-C’ will probably suffice.

Non-Academic achievements are also fine to include but only if you can draw some parallel to the role – this probably doesn’t include your 25m swimming badge.

12. Comments & Placeholder Text

At some point most of us have shared our CV with a friend or relative looking for some constructive feedback.

Sometimes that feedback is left as comments attached to the document and so you should take great care to make sure these are removed before sending your CV to anyone else.

The same goes for CV templates. If you choose to use many of the free templates available online, do make sure you remove the placeholder text. Reading ‘Lorem ipsum’ as a skill or ‘Write about yourself here’ in the bio section will probably result in the hiring manager or recruiter moving on to the next candidate pretty quickly.

Anything else?

That’s the most common CV mistakes we see with candidates applying to startup jobs.

If you think I’ve missed any please let me know in the comments below.


At Hired By Startups we’re a leading startup recruitment agency, specialising in helping post-Seed & Series A startups hire the best Sales, Marketing, Ops & CX talent. Find out more about how we can help your startup hire or get in touch.


About the author 

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Tom Ladds

Hi, I’m Tom – Founder & CEO at Hired By Startups. You can connect with me on LinkedIn here.

This post was first published March 2019 and updated April 2020.

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One thought on “12 CV Mistakes And How To Fix Them (2020 Update)

  1. Will Martin on

    Don’t forget about CV’s which focus on looking good rather than providing any real info on experience. Usually a one page template – I’ve seen plenty and they’re rarely good.

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