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CV Writing: What NOT to Do

This article was originally published by Zonotho on 21 January 2020 and later republished on Careers24 on 29 July 2022.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“We regret to inform you that your application has been unsuccessful”. These are words we’ve all seen at some point, leaving us wondering why we got rejected. There can be many reasons, and one of them could be because your CV didn’t represent you well enough.

In a previous article, we touched on the essentials of CV writing. In this one, we will discuss what’s less obvious: what should NOT be in your CV.

Your Profile:

Your profile is a representation of who you are, so take good care with this section.

Profile Pictures:

  • If you decide to have a picture, don’t use selfies. They don’t look professional. Rather have a picture taken of you. You’d think this is obvious, but I once saw a CV where a candidate’s picture was a selfie of her, sitting on her bed!
  • Be conscious of the background in your picture. It is not a good idea to use a picture that was taken at a nightclub. What’s good for Instagram can be suicide for your professional image. The safest picture is one with a plain background.
  • Another big no-no is using pictures with revealing clothing. If it’s not good enough for the workplace then it isn’t good enough for your CV.

Email Addresses:

Don’t use weird email addresses. Your high school email address, 2s*****@gm***.com will get you noticed, but not for the right reasons. Remember your CV needs to present a professional view of yourself.

Your Content:

  • Personal Details: Family details or religious beliefs should not be a criterion when looking for the right candidate so leave those details out.
  • Experiences: Unless it’s early on in your career, don’t add old experiences, unrelated to the job. While the number of years of experience is crucial, you don’t need your entire job history from the time you were waitressing in high school.
  • Salary Information: Companies use different pay structures, so you don’t want to come across as too costly, especially if the salary is negotiable for you.
  • References: Don’t use old references. For example, your school teacher from 12 years ago. Your referees are supposed to advise on your work ethic and if you haven’t worked with them in ages, they won’t be able to provide recruiters with information that is relevant.
  • The Golden Rule: Whatever you do, don’t lie on your CV! (It’s better not to lie in general). Lying on your CV is a criminal offence in many countries. Besides risking jail time, you will come across as unprepared if you are questioned in an interview and are unable to answer adequately.

Your Formatting:

  • Spelling/Grammar: Don’t have spelling or grammatical errors. (You’d be surprised at how many people spell Vitae wrong)! It leaves a bad impression and says something about your attention to detail. Proofread your CV or get someone to proofread for you.
  • Layout: Don’t format your CV in a way that makes it too busy. It doesn’t need to look fancy or have all the colours of the rainbow (unless you’re a graphic designer and want to display those skills). If it’s legible and easy on the eye, the content will speak for itself.
  • Length: Don’t make your CV ten pages long, recruiters don’t have time to comb through everything when they’re screening 99 other CVs. Having said that, don’t be too sparse on the details to the point where we can’t determine what experience you have. A focused CV shows your ability to synthesise and convey the most important information, so the emphasis should be on having enough information for recruiters to determine if you have the required expertise or not.
  • Unnecessary information: Having to sift through the CV to get all the important details can be daunting and information can get lost in the process. This includes repetition. If you’ve mentioned a specific skill in one role, you don’t need to mention it again elsewhere.

In Summary:

The above are guidelines, so if you are unsure, use your discretion. A strong CV is all about having the right information presented in an easy-to-read manner. Taking out information is often better than having information that’s unnecessary, or worse, information that will jeopardise your application. So, follow these steps and good luck getting the job you’ve been waiting for!