How not to write your CV

Given we’ve been in the recruitment business for over 40 years, at Michael Page, we know how to write a CV that stands out from the crowd.

Amongst the hundreds of thousands of job applications we’ve received over the years, it’s evident that some people do know how to write a CV because they are exceptionally well written, and will almost certainly get a second look from a prospective employer. However, competition for roles can be fierce, so those who don’t know how to write a CV that truly sells their skills and experience may well find their application discarded at the first hurdle. 

First and foremost, it’s essential that your CV is checked for spelling and grammar errors before being submitted for any role. This may sound obvious but even the tiniest typo on a CV can dissuade an employer from progressing an application. At best it can appear as if you don’t have an eye for detail, a requirement for most roles you can think of. At worst, it can look lazy and unprofessional – giving a terrible impression from the outset. 

However, mastering how to write a CV is about much more than the basics of professional communication. Here are some other key points to consider:

  • Start with a personal statement, or executive summary. This will introduce you to your prospective new employer ahead of your interview. Use it to highlight your key points.
  • Don’t lie on your CV. There are quite severe consequences for including false information on your CV as it is considered to be fraud.
  • Use a spell-checker. If there are mistakes on your CV it will not look good and will often hinder you from getting shortlisted.
  • Use a professional email address – it helps. Having an unprofessional address gives an insight into your level of professionalism and may work against you.
  • Highlight your key skills. Don’t be afraid to tell your potential recruiter what you can do. Recruiters have to comb through a lot of information so having key points highlighted could make the difference.

Do I need a photograph on my CV?

Given we’re living in the age of Instagram, Snapchat and selfies, it’s perhaps unsurprising that more people are choosing to include a photo of themselves with their CV. Naturally, there are arguments for and against doing so – while on the one hand it can give a dry document more of a human, personal feel, on the other many employers will see it as largely irrelevant. While including a self-portrait may not actively harm your application in sectors such as fashion or media, in IT, finance, HR and the vast majority of professional industry sectors, jobs go to the person with the best CV, not picture. For this reason, it’s best to make your decision based on the job you are applying for. If you’re unsure, speak to the consultant recruiting for the job – after all, they will know the employer and what they’re looking for in an application. 

Discard irrelevant experience and skills

A lot of CV errors are normally misconceived attempts to ‘stand out from the crowd’, which actually results in the candidates’ CV being sifted out. It’s important not to litter your CV with irrelevant information. Instead, when you write your CV, focus on the relevant skills and experience that you have to give yourself the best chance of employability and getting the job. Competition is tough, so make the most of your experience because your employability will in many respects depend on what you’ve put on your CV. 

What to include when you write your CV

  • Think about the layout of your CV. It needs to be clear and structured.
  • Consider the language that you use. Say, ‘I did, instead of ‘The task was.’
  • Provide up-to-date contact details.
  • Employment history – highlight your strengths and showcase your relevant skill set.
  • Education and qualifications – pinpoint anything that relates to the job.
  • References – you can say that they are available on request.
  • Check your CV for punctuation and grammar – employers don’t like mistakes on CVs.


HR and recruitment professionals are busy people so your CV needs to reflect all of your selling points and nothing else. Keeping it clear and concise is key. You may have been advised to chop out hobbies or early jobs on the CV, both of which might have merit. However, a few hobbies do break the ice at an interview so the art is as much about what to leave out, as what to include.

While a CV needs to include all of your key selling points, by leaving out unnecessary bits and irrelevant skills which divert attention away from your core capabilities, you make it easier for recruiters to identify you as a suitable candidate. 

For more resources please view our CV template.

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