Steps to an error-free CV

A woman smiling while working on her laptop


We all know that applying for a new job can be a time-consuming and sometimes all-encompassing task. It’s one that requires dedication, concentration and focus, and that extends to the seemingly minor details – for instance, checking and double checking each element of your application for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, formatting and consistency.

Neglecting this vital stage of your application, and submitting a CV packed with errors could prevent you from being invited to interview, no matter how qualified you might be for the role.
This scenario is completely avoidable and the good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to ensure this doesn’t happen to you, even if, admittedly, your attention to detail can be somewhat lacking.
Here are the most common errors that I have come across throughout my years in recruitment, and how you can overcome them:

1. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors:

This is one of my real bug bears. With all the technology and software available today, I believe it is inexcusable. So, before submitting your CV and cover letter, you must always:
  • Use the spell checking software on your computer (ensure it is set to the correct language)
  • Print off your CV and/or cover letter, you will find it easier to pick up on mistakes
  • Read your CV aloud, again this will highlight any glaring errors to you
  • Read your CV backwards – it might sound odd, but this is a proven way to pick up errors
  • Ask a friend or relative to proof read the documents for you
  • Make use of free online software such as Grammarly, Slick Write, or Paper Rater to help you spot any grammatical errors
  • It can also help to change the font or colour of the font used, to help you see your application in an unfamiliar light, and therefore make it easier to spot mistakes. Just remember to change it back before you send it off.

2. A lack of consistency:

Ensure all elements of your application are consistent. Here’s how:
  • Ensure you are consistent in your use of abbreviations and capitalisations. In my experience, there is always plenty of scope for inconsistencies in job applications, because of the frequency of proper and improper nouns such as job titles, company names and training courses. For example sometimes a candidate will capitalise their job title in the wrong context, or use an abbreviation to refer to their company in one instance, but not another
  • Consistently use the same simple font and font size throughout your application – the same goes for bold and italicised copy
  • Don’t switch from writing in the first person, to the third person, and vice versa. Write in the first person throughout
  • Similarly, ensure you maintain a professional tone throughout. Avoid using a casual tone at all costs

3. The application is poorly formatted:

Formatting is often one of the first things a recruiter or hiring manager will notice. Here’s how to make the best first impression possible:
  • Keep your reader in mind; your application must be as easy to follow as possible. Therefore, avoid large paragraphs and break key information up using bullet points
  • Avoid using logos and pictures on your CV, not only are they not necessary, but they can result in a poorly formatted CV, and one which doesn’t translate well onto other systems the recruiter/hiring manager may be using
  • Keep it simple – avoid the temptation to get carried away using backgrounds, borders or clipart
  • If using Word, zoom out of the document to get a clearer view of formatting
  • Print the documents out to quickly flag formatting errors – this way, you will soon see if something doesn’t look quite right
  • If your CV is more than one page, ensure your page transitions are smooth. For example, avoid listing one job at the end of the first page, which then leads on to the second page
  • Once you are happy with the formatting, try converting the document into PDF, which should ensure the formatting stays as you intended it to be

4. The application doesn’t flow:

This is particularly important if an email and/or cover letter are part of your job application. Take time to double check the following:
  • Do your paragraphs flow?
  • Does your story make sense to the reader?
  • Read it out loud to get an idea of any tricky to read sentences. Reading out loud should also help you flag any overused words in a particular paragraph or sentence
  • Read it to a friend or relative to double check that they understand what the key messages are
In summary, I strongly advise that you give yourself plenty of time to ensure you have taken each and every one of the above steps before you hit ‘send’ on your next job application. By doing so, you will highlight to the recruiter that you are both diligent and conscientious, thus making it even more likely that you will be asked to attend an interview.
For more tips see: How to get a job

About this author

Jane McNeill, joined Hays in 1987 as a trainee recruitment consultant in London and is now Managing Director of Hays NSW and WA.

After two years with Hays Jane began managing her own office and quickly took on larger and more diversified teams of people and responsibility for a region in the UK.

In 2001 Jane arrived in Perth , Western Australia and shortly after took over as State Director for WA. After six years of significant business growth she was appointed to the Hays Australia & New Zealand management board in 2007.

In 2012 Jane moved to Sydney and now oversees Hays’ operations in New South Wales with board responsibility for Western Australia.

Jane has an MA in Psychology from Edinburgh University.

Follow Jane on LinkedIn

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